Bret: I’m here tonight with Heathen Republican, from the blog of the same name. HR, do you think atheism is under-represented in the Republican party?
HR: Officially, yes. I believe there are several prominent secular conservatives out there... the ones that never refer to God... but for the most part, the Party is assumed to be primarily religious. I still run into plenty of conservative bloggers who just don’t believe it’s possible to be both conservative and atheist.
Bret: Are there any core issues of Republicanism that you disagree with, and does your atheism play any part in that?
HR: I’ll address it as conservatism. Even though I’ve named myself The Heathen Republican, I still consider myself conservative first. Anyway, I don’t think there are any core conservative issues that I disagree with. My areas of disagreement are around faith-based positions like teaching creationism/intelligent design in schools, stem cell research, etc. So policy differences, but I can’t think of any core issues.
Bret: What is your stance on abortion?
HR: I’ve written about this some. Basically, I’m pro-choice before (about) 15 weeks, and pro-life after 15 weeks. I believe the entire issue revolves around when we define “human-ness.” Religious conservatives believe that to be at conception, but I think it comes later in the pregnancy.
Bret: So if you find someone living in your attic, you can’t kick them out if they’ve been there like 16 weeks?
HR: If for the first 16 weeks they are simply a mass of cells, have no brain stem, and don’t look like a human baby, then yes. I think that’s a bit of an unfair analogy, but I’ll play along.
Bret: Well, is it really about the fetus or the mother?
HR: It’s about both human beings, not one or the other. I’m sure we can both agree that at some point, the baby is a person and has its own rights. This is independent of the mother. Once the baby is its own person, the mother loses some rights to how she treats it. I don’t think that’s a controversial position.
Bret: Right, but no one has the right to use someone else against their will after their born. If I needed a liver transplant, and I only need 1/3rd of your liver to stay alive, I can’t force you to give it to me, even though yours will heal back completely. Why does a fetus have privileges a person with a birth certificate doesn’t have?
HR: I’m not seeing the connection. Are you saying aborting a 16 week fetus is like forcing someone to share their liver?
Bret: No, I’m saying forcing a woman into being a concubine after a certain arbitrary point in a pregnancy is a violation of a woman’s sovereignty over her own body.
HR: Okay, but I don’t think the point in time we’re talking about is arbitrary. 15 weeks is the line I draw, but I can’t make a scientific case for it. What I know is that there is a point in time when a fetus is its own individual person. Is your position that that point in time is the moment of birth?
Bret: It doesn’t matter if the fetus is a human or not, is what I’m saying. You’re focused solely on the fetus and its personhood. Let me ask you another question, then... Do you believe we have the right to use force to defend ourselves from a home invader?
HR: Of course.
Bret: Is a home invader a person? Assuming it’s not a bear looking for food of course.
HR: I assume so.
Bret: So it’s okay to use force when someone is doing something to you against your will?
Bret: Then why can’t a woman stop a fetus from ruining her life?
HR: Maybe you only heard the last part of my answer, but I believe that a woman CAN stop a fetus from ruining her life for the first 3 1/2 months of her pregnancy. I think after that, abortion is immoral.
Bret: Do you support planned parenthood funding?
HR: No, but on different grounds. I believe that our government has a very limited role, and that doesn’t include Planned Parenthood.
Bret: Do you realize that Planned Parenthood is one tool that helps women detect pregnancies earlier and take care of abortions before 15 weeks? Not to mention prevent the need for an abortion at all.
HR: I’ll save you some time. You can tell me all of the wonderful things that Planned Parenthood does, and I’ll agree with most of them. I believe they fill an important role in society (as I make your Republican readers’ heads explode). No matter how many good things they do, it’s not the role of our federal government to give them tax dollars. There are a lot of good things in the world. That doesn’t mean I’ll support giving tax dollars to support them.
Bret: But stem cell research is okay?
HR: Again, there are two factors here. I think stem cell research is okay. If it has as much promise as proponents suggest, then I see no reason why private industry won’t finance it. There’s a big payoff at the end if they’re right. That doesn’t mean I would support federal funding of research. And I would oppose banning of the research.
Bret: But that’s what Bush did, I believe. He banned federal dollars from funding stem cell research, which really means any university that receives tax dollars can’t do the research, which is every public university. Opposing a ban is essentially lifting the restriction from public research institutions.
HR: My understanding is that he banned federal dollars, but he didn’t ban the research itself. If he banned the research, then that’s something I would disagree with.
Bret: Right, but most money for research comes from the government. It’s certainly not coming from pharmaceutical companies who make billions selling overpriced pills. Which is why the research isn’t done if it can’t be funded using tax dollars.
HR: Assuming you’re right, I think that’s outside the role of government. I think there are arguments to be made for some kinds of research that fit within the government’s constitutionally-defined role. But the two examples you’ve offered I don’t think need funding from government sources.
Bret: What about abstinence education?
HR: You’re hitting me on a lot of issues I haven’t dug into before. My blog is more about big ideas than specific policy issues. I’ll get repetitive here, but the answer really doesn’t change no matter how many issues you throw out: when I read the words that define the government’s role, I don’t see anything that would include abstinence education. In my opinion, the federal government is involved in way too many social issues.
Bret: When you say that, are you simply deferring all of these decisions onto states?
HR: That’s one option, and the states have very different constitutions that could allow that kind of funding. There are also plenty of private organizations that raise money for a variety of causes. There’s no reason to think there aren’t some wealthy donors out there that would support an education program like that.
Bret: Well unfortunately there are, mostly churches. And abstinence education is a state choice, I believe, as are nearly all issues of school programs. So knowing that, how do you feel about abstinence education, keeping in mind that I will point out that it increases teen pregnancies and STD infection rates where it’s taught.
HR: Respectfully, I’m not comfortable offering an opinion based on your stated statistics. Personally, I’m not involved in those programs. If someone knocked on my door looking for a donation, I would turn them away. I support the right of people to create abstinence educational programs as much as contraceptive education programs.
Bret: I’m not sure why you’re so socially callous. It makes me think of the comment you left [on my blog] about how you see homosexual marriage as inevitable. Why do you see that particular issue as inevitable, but still something worth fighting against?
HR: Have we transitioned from the friendly portion of the interview? Naturally, I don’t see myself as socially callous. If you think I’m socially callous because I am not against an education program that increases teen pregnancy and STD infection rates, then I understand your position. I don’t know the source of your statistics, so I’m not going to jump on board quite yet. If it were demonstrated to me that a program was having the opposite effect that its proponents intended, I would agree that something should change. I would hope those proponents would also say the same thing. So I think you’re being unfair to throw statistics at me now, and when I don’t automatically accept them to label me as socially callous. As for same-sex marriage...
Bret: Sometimes I take for granted certain pieces of what I consider “common knowledge.”
HR: One of the things I’ve developed at The Heathen Republican is the idea of the three tensions of politics: the ideological, the political, and the pragmatic. From an ideological perspective, I’m predisposed to prefer tradition over change unless I see very compelling reasons to change. I’m not a fan of change for the sake of change (as most people are not). I think the traditional definition of marriage is a good one, and I have not heard good reasons why it should change. I know that you’re familiar with my post [The Non-Faith-Based Case Against Same-Sex Marriage], so I won’t rehash it here. My statement about inevitability is me being pragmatic: I assume that the progressive movement will win this cultural battle, and eventually same-sex marriage will be the law of the land.
Bret: I know you don’t hate gay people, and I am tempted to say, “Why not just join the winning side,” but on the other hand, I know you’ll be voting Republican regardless of your view on gay marriage, or abortion, or abstinence education... which basically means it doesn’t matter if you change your mind. Do you ever feel like Republican candidates don’t represent you or conservatives as a whole, who I have found to not be as homogenized as the Republican party’s politicians?
HR: Republicans generally represent my ideological views and Democrats never do, so my voting decision is an easy one. The problem that I see with politics is that people like me, a self-described ideologue, expect our politicians to always fight the fight and stand their ground. But there are always political and pragmatic reasons for compromising, which annoys the hell out of the ideologues. I see that this is also happening with the left right now. Many people are upset with Obama because he’s not toeing the ideological line, and they can’t stand to see him compromise. Frankly, the idea of the three political tensions has helped me to cope with the cognitive dissonance I sometimes feel when I watch Republicans and how they behave.
Bret: I have no problem understanding why politicians do what they do. It’s pretty similar to understanding why an old guy has a hot, young wife: money. Is that usually the “pragmatic” tension?
HR: Yes, but that’s true for both sides, so knowing that doesn’t help decide who to vote for.
Bret: I should tell you I’m not a Democrat, not that it matters. But I have nothing to sell in the political race. I’m of the opinion that voting for someone who doesn’t represent you is not worth doing.
HR: But am I wrong that you tend toward the progressive side? Based on what I’ve read, that seems true.
Bret: Oh, I’m left of liberal. I think Democrats are just Republicans who minorities vote for.
HR: So yes, it’s pragmatic, but also political. The Politico says things like “Republicans want to kill seniors.” The Pragmatist looks for people to make a deal with because they think voters measure them by what they get done.
Bret: So then you’re for cutting Medicare?
HR: I recognize that we have an established social safety net that includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, welfare, etc. While ideologically I think these are outside the realm of the government’s role, I recognize that we can’t take it away. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to. If I had been around at its inception, I probably would’ve opposed Medicare. Now that it’s established law, I’d rather get it so that it’s self-funded and doesn’t break the bank.
Bret: What do you see the role of government being then, just shooting foreigners and defending whatever laws are already on the books?
HR: If you read my post on limited government (in depth), it outlines the basics. The usual: common defense, administer justice, foreign affairs, ensure free commerce, coin money, post offices, and don’t infringe on individual rights. But remember, that’s the ideology talking. When I say things like maintain a social safety net, that’s the pragmatic side of me coming out.
Bret: Wouldn’t you say the government also has a role to defend rights, not just avoid infringing?
HR: That feels a little like a trick question (I realize you probably don’t mean it as one). I’ll give it more thought and post something if my answer changes, but off the top of my head, no, it’s not the government’s role to defend rights. Rights belong to individuals and the government is the greatest risk to those rights. I would not ask a fox to guard my hen house, either.
Bret: So I don’t have the right to drink unpolluted water or breathe unpolluted air?
HR: That’s a very broad definition of rights. But no, you don’t have an inherent right to those things, nor do you have a right to health care, a good paying job, or annual vacations (unless you’re in Scandinavia). I’d say we have a societal obligation to clean up our water and our air, but describing these things as rights takes it too far.
Bret: So we have the right to life... unless we’re being slowly killed for profit?
HR: I don’t have a brilliant retort for that one.
Bret: Well, I only say because I don’t see things so black and white. I don’t see government as the biggest threat in my life. I don’t even interact with the government on a day-to-day basis, but I do interact with private organizations, and many of them don’t treat me as though I have any rights at all.
HR: Do I really sound black and white? I used to think the one thing that progressives and conservatives shared was a distrust for government. But that only lasted while Bush was in the White House. Now it’s only conservatives that don’t trust government.
Bret: Don’t misunderstand me, I know government has the potential to infringe on my rights. What I see as a problem is, I look at the problem of individual rights being infringed by individuals, private organizations and government, while conservatives have tunnel vision and only blame government... unless a Republican is in office. When a Republican is in office, they blame Democrats and Muslims. And who can tell the difference between those two, right?
HR: I don’t think that’s accurate. We conservatives recognize when corporations do evil things, and they do them often. More accurately, they are amoral so they don’t actively do good things. We have faith in a system... capitalism... to control most corporations and to punish those that do wrong. When the system doesn’t do it, we believe that some government regulation is appropriate. We’re not whacky libertarians who think we don’t need regulation (that’s for Free). What I see is that progressives ONLY blame corporations. That’s who’s wearing the blinders when they can’t see the problems in government. I happily blame government even when Republicans are in office. There’s an inertia to government that it interferes and grows no matter who’s running it. While I trusted Bush, I never trusted “government” while he was in charge. And I’m ignoring the Muslim comment.
Bret: Does it bother you that we lost civil liberties in a big way under Bush?
HR: I’m not aware of any civil liberties that I lost. Which one did you lose?
Bret: Well for one, I don’t fly anymore for obvious reasons.
HR: I fly 25% for work, so I can tell you I haven’t lost any civil liberties there.
Bret: But it’s not about you and what you’re okay with sacrificing. Just as you don’t see what’s wrong with gay people not being allowed to marry someone of the same gender since neither can you, your own tolerance for tyranny isn’t really justification for nullifying freedoms we should all be afforded. Why does the government get to ignore its own basic bill of rights whenever it gets scared?
HR: You do realize that you just altered the argument because you couldn’t respond to mine? You made the question about me when you asked “does it bother YOU that WE lost civil liberties...”
Bret: Well, I’m asking why you’re callous to the feelings of others and only self-concerned. Like asking a white person in the South during the sixties if they have a problem with racism, and them saying “Well, it doesn’t bother me.”
HR: Sorry, I’ll try next time to answer your question as you meant to write it instead of how you actually wrote it. I’m not aware of the government under Bush ignoring the Bill of Rights. If you can offer me an example, I’ll be happy to respond to it. I’m angry that Obama is nullifying my freedom not to purchase health insurance, but I don’t see your anger over that. That’s my example; let me hear yours.
Bret: Do you have health insurance?
HR: I do.
Bret: So then it doesn’t affect you, why complain?
HR: So let me address the point you’ve repeated a few times: that I’m callous to the feelings of others. I opine on the topics of religion and politics. I try to talk about big ideas. I don’t believe a government can craft legislation based on its compassion or feelings for individuals. This way lies ruin. I am compassionate. I feel for the people around me. I want my government to abide by its defined role and make broad policy decisions that are good for everyone as a whole, not everyone individually. I realize my mistake has been to answer you in the same language that I blog, which has led you to think that I don’t care for the feelings of individuals. It’s not true, but I don’t write about my gay friend at work; I write about ideology.
Bret: Well, here’s what I see: I see someone who claims that they care about other people, but when it comes to changing anything that doesn’t directly affect themselves, they don’t really see the need to change anything... unless a Democrat came up with the idea fairly recently (but 80 years ago is okay now). I could say I love gay people all day long, that I have gay friends, and I could even have gay sex in bathrooms on weekends. If I oppose an issue like gay marriage, it doesn’t much matter what else I do, I’m standing in the way of people’s dreams for no reason.
HR: I’ll have to read back through the text of this and see how I gave you that impression. As you describe me, I don’t like me either.
Bret: That’s just it, you might be the most polite and nice guy in the world, but it doesn’t much matter what a person’s personality is if they support policies which ignore the rights of others. Like when you ask me if the PATRIOT ACT or some other Bush policy ever affected me, it’s not about me. I don’t make my choices about what to believe based on what I am, I base it on the concept that we live in a society with different people with different goals and aspirations.
HR: Sounds like we can’t leave the same-sex marriage issue behind. Just because you don’t like the reason stated, doesn’t mean I’m standing in the way of their dreams for no reason. I say it clearly at The Heathen Republican, but for those readers who don’t click that far, I fully support civil unions. I think they are the perfect compromise to allow equal rights for homosexuals and maintain the traditional definition of marriage. Our federal government should recognize them.
Bret: Right, but the “separate but equal” doctrine is always abused. It’s always been a tool used to try to placate people and stall the expansion of liberty.
HR: I don’t find the possibility for abuse to be a compelling reason not to support something. For the record, civil unions are one thing that progressives came up with that I support. On the Patriot Act, let’s not talk about you and me. Tell me the “concept” that violated the Bill of Rights. I love big ideas, but I haven’t heard specifics on what rights were lost conceptually, either.
Bret: Well let’s start with the basic principle of expanding the federal government’s power. I guess that’s only a problem when a Democrat does it?
HR: Do you have any specifics in mind? As I’ve said, common defense is a prescribed role for the government, so I won’t automatically object to government expansion for the purpose of national defense.
Bret: Well we’ll get back to that, since our interview has to wrap up. Final question, which for me is always a random tangent: would you rather have the right to bear arms or privatized health care? If you had to choose one.
HR: I think a government-run health care system would kill me faster, so I guess I’d have to choose privatized health care. Thank god (sic) it’s not a real choice that has to be made.
Bret: We also would have accepted “The right to bear arms, so conservatives could fight a Civil War to end universal healthcare.”
HR: Yeah, but that’s cheating. Basically a way to get both. I’m a conservative so I try to play by the rules.
Bret: Thanks for taking the time, and I’m sure we’ll do this again soon.
HR: It was fun.