For what it’s worth, it seems to me that Charlie’s piece about the compatibility of atheism and conservatism and A. J. Delgado’s piece supporting CPAC’s decision to dis-invite Atheists of America are both correct. Atheism is compatible with conservatism (though not always easily) and Atheists of America has no business being at CPAC if Delgado’s version is to be believed (and I have no reason to doubt her). I have criticized CPAC many times for this or that. Last year I spoke out against their refusal to let a conservative gay rights group have a booth (and to their credit, CPAC let me do it at CPAC). But the difference between this and that is simple. Atheists for America isn’t a conservative group (at least going by Delgado’s piece and their own website). They are proselytizers for atheism. They have every right to be that, but they don’t have a right to be invited to CPAC to sell their soap.
Many CPAC attendees believe in God. Inviting a non-conservative group that thinks the God-believers are all idiots in need of “enlightenment” makes little sense to me. Put it this way. Most conservatives believe in limited government. Some believe in big government. I think such people are wrong but should be allowed to make their case — because they share a common desire to advance the conservative cause. But there are lots of non-conservatives who also believe in big government to advance the liberal cause. Should they be allowed to attend CPAC, just because their belief in big government is shared by a few conservatives? Should there be a Fabian Socialist booth?
As for Charlie’s position, this is a very old argument on the right and around here. I think it was Bill Buckley who said — amidst a discussion of Ayn Rand — that one didn’t need to be religious or a believer to be conservative, but one needed to have respect for the religious or “the transcendent.” I can’t find the exact quote. This standard put Rand outside the ranks of conservatism, by Bill’s lights. But it leaves plenty of room for people like Charlie, I think. I know plenty of good conservatives who are atheists or agnostics. But because they are conservatives, they understand that simply throwing the bleach of militant atheism on culture, custom, and tradition to dissolve any hint of God or religion would be folly. And because they are liberty-lovers they understand that everyone has the right to their own faith.
I don’t know much about American Atheists, beyond what I’ve read in the last ten minutes. Maybe, like many atheists I know, they’re generous and tolerant people. Or, maybe, like many atheists I’ve dealt with, they revel in belittling and mocking the beliefs of others. If it’s the former, then Brent Bozell was too harsh on CPAC’s decision to allow them to attend. If it’s the latter, then I think Charlie is too harsh on Bozell.