By DAVID BEILSTEIN
PART of what plagues the conservative movements inability to capture a more consistent fealty to constitutional government, lies in the movements indifference or ignorance of the dualistic presumptions of the Christian faith, the Enlightenment — and from there, 18th century liberalism’s ideas about religion and politics.
This is a relatively recent development, and can be glimpsed in two distinct elections as illustration.
In the 1960 election, John F. Kennedy ran against Richard M Nixon for the presidency, conservatives were uncomfortable with the possibility of Sen. Kennedy’s Catholicism impacting public policy because of the long held constitutional separation of Church and state.
The argument no such term exists in the U.S. Constitution — the modern argument of conservatives like Rick Santorum — falls pray to what has been termed the word/concept fallacy. Even still, classical conservatives wanted to make sure a separation of Church and state would not be violated by a possible Kennedy administration.
And Kennedy ran to convince voters in the electoral middle his Roman Catholic faith would not be imposed on public policy decisions. The state of Democrat nominee Kennedy’s personal piety was not the issue, and Kennedy made sure that was clarified.
Fast forward to the Presidential Election of 2004. Swaths of voters were upset that Sen. John F Kerry’s Catholic faith did not run deep enough. American voters sympathetic to a change in 2004 from the Bush administration wanted proof Kerry’s Catholic faith was not simply a cultural accouterment. And Sen. Kerry lost support because of his inability to convince religious conscious voters his catholic confession would not be imposed on matters of public policy.
That’s an immense change of course in only 44 years.
Considering such a stance would have no teeth against any religion (Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic) being imposed on sundry citizens with different ideas of ultimate authority, one wonders when the head of the conservative body politic got screwed on backwards.
Such ideas have been kept in check better now since parents requesting Christian prayer in secular schools now understand that means Christian children will have to also learn Muslim prayers, Native American chants, Hindu, Voodoo, etc.
This is what happens when policy-based-upon preference infects American conservatism. It ceases to be conservative but becomes in a word I coined (all about me now!) paleo-progressive. Such a progressivism has no armor against the neo-progressive aims of the left. It allows government to grow more powerful and ever ready to impose civil servants ideas about how life should be lived on the citizens living in this once free republic.
No conception of a free society lies anywhere near such a schema.
A closer look may clarify. Between 1960 and 2004, the religious right and moral majority convinced swaths of professing evangelicals that sincere faith equaled the imposition of Biblical standards of morality on a pluralistic society, which through the First Amendment and the nation’s founding documents decided upon not an ecclesial order, but a novos ordo seclorum (a new order for the ages).
In essence, sincere Christian faith or some form of generic “faith” for many inside the cultural conservative movement, was not based upon Biblical standards, but cultural — not a profession of Christ and membership in a local Church with an ecclesial order; of attending to Word and sacrament — but bible thumping panegyrics and the imposition of biblical norms of morality (intended for the Church) on secular society at large.
This creates a moralistic conservatism and is not recognizable to non-believers and members of other religions as wafting of the liberalism inherent in the U.S. Constitution. To try to sell such views as merely Constitutional falls upon deaf ears — a problem conservatives have faced over the last few election cycles.
Too many Americans do not see conservatism as individualistic freeing — a protection of the right to choose, to plan and design life according to ones own conceptions of authority.
Part of the problem is theological. Sound theology is difficult in a cultural movement (evangelicalism) more therapeutic dog and pony shenanigans than Christianity, and thus lacks the theological distinctions and confessional adherence to recognise God’s law is applied differently to believers than non-believers. Also, evangelicalism implicitly presumes Christian faith and piety is something Christians do, rather than is done to them, by God’s act and work, in God’s timing, for God’s ends, until the world without end is upon us.
Such developments are major reasons Republicans and conservatives find it increasingly hard to win over voters who are increasingly unchurched and non-Christian. Whilst this is not a “wonderful” turn of events, if conservative proposals limited themselves to what the Constitutional actually stipulates such disconnect would be mitigated substantially.
When an American conservative sits down to defend his or her ideological convictions, at some point the conservative will basically say American conservatism is about the conservation of the U.S. Constitution (in some cases the defense of the Articles of Confederation with paleo-cons and libertarians) and the preservation of the 18th liberalism that is apart of the philosophical makeup of those documents.
But once the debate turns to sundry social issues, far too many conservatives will not limit themselves to the preservation of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights but sundry presumptions about what individuals should be able to do and should not. This confuses more than a few surface level leftists who walk away from such an engagement unconvinced that conservatism is really about the U.S. Constitution at all, but just another ideological pathway to put boot to neck of individuality through state power, to control people from atop the Federal perch.
In the last twenty-years, many conservatives have had as many problems with the Tenth Amendment as progressive leftists — because the Tenth Amendment leaves too much over to the state’s to decide. But this is not a truly conservative outlook. The conservative preserves and protects the Tenth Amendment (and the rest of the Amendments) even if such realizations limit his or her ability to have their policy preferences legislated.
There are a host of things and behaviours I do not think people should do. Things I might add, paying attention to natural law, which impedes individual flourishing and people’s potential to rise to better stations in life. I have a truckload of personal convictions I’d love to see banned and people thrown in jail for — like driving too slow, being rude, using the f-word in front of women, etc. But such actions would not animate a free society, but would construct a tyranny of the worst hue.
As a conservative — as a libertarian — I would have to repeal or refuse to sign any legislation enforcing those personal convictions into policy on Americans if I’m being constitutional which is another word for being libertarian or an American conservative.
If I’m conservative, I may think wearing a baseball cap backwards is the worst form of punk rebellion (and awful style) — but I’m equally convicted, because I’m a classical liberal, I must blast and subvert any law prohibiting backwards hat wearing.
Be it said. I have come by God’s grace alone to love the Church of Jesus Christ and His signs and seals of His promises; glimpsed in Word and sacrament in His Church.
But I want religion as far away from politics as I can get it. There was a time this was a natural conservative idea — a Christian idea, concerning the dualistic relationship between the sacred and the secular. It is within the Christian revelation in history, which presupposes the notion of secular in the first place.
Times have changed. And until the change again conservatism will ever more have less to say against the progressive statist edifice, which in all honesty, is destroying the country fiscally and culturally.