Conservative Convergence1 May, 2008
I have noticed an amazing convergence between right wing politics and right wing religion (wow, now there’s a big surprise), especially Christianity (although Israel has much the same problem). I find this, in at least one aspect, to be an odd situation. After all, the teachings which have been attributed to the pseudonymous and/or fictional and/or real rabble rousing rabbi Jesus stress compassion, care for those less fortunate, helping others, sharing — you know, ‘Liberal’ ideas. On the surface, one would think that all Christians (especially the ones who view the Bible as the absolute word of God as sent through Jesus to the Disciples) would be in favour of universal health care, taxing the rich to care for the poor, and other ‘Liberal’ causes. Instead, the more doctrinaire the Christian, the more likely they are to vote Republican (the party of and for the rich and big corporations). Why?
The early history of Christianity was, to say the least, interesting. Early Christians argued about whether Jesus was pure spirit, pure human, or a mix of the two. They argued about whether the God of the old testament was the same as the new testament God, or whether there was one God, two Gods, or hundreds of Gods. They argued about the viability of secret teachings. They argued whether one needed to become a Jew (circumcision (ouch)) before one could be a Christian. They argued incessantly over which books were gospel, which were forgeries (and some of the forgeries became canonical gospel), which were anonymous, which were pseudonymous, and which could genuinely be attributed to an historical personage. In short, the range of Christianities we see today is veritable chickenfeed compared to what it was prior to the Nicene Creed’s promulgation.
The Nicene Creed, for the first time, set out exactly what a person must believe in order to be a Christian. It didn’t stop the arguing, but it did downgrade the arguments. Rather than arguing adoptionist heresies, the a post-Nicene arguments were about shades of belief — the gray areas. This idea, though, that there is one, and only one, proper way to be a Christian has made battles about the gray areas vicious (sometimes literally) and, to those arguing positions, a matter of black and white.
Christianity is a religion of black and white. There is no room for those gray areas. Everything on earth is either a product of God (the good stuff — children, the Inquisition, most food) or a product of the Devil (the bad (but fun) stuff — sex, most alcohol, new ideas). Because the new or different is attributable to the Devil, there is no limit to the tactics which can be used. Lying, murdering and stealing are acceptable ways of defeating the enemy. Destroying your opponent, figuratively or literally, is the goal.
Bring that forward to today and it is easy to understand the attraction many Christians have for conservative politics. The modern Republican Party is built on black and white issues. Conservatives have no truck with gray areas. They don’t do ‘nuance.’
Communism was an absolute evil. Under no circumstances could the conservative American admit that, in certain situations, communism could have some benefits. This has lead to an absolute aversion to anything even remotely resembling communism or socialism. Communists have universal health care, therefore it is evil.
Anyone espousing an idea which smacks of socialism and communism is, therefore, evil. This leads to the demonization of any progressive. Bill Clinton was about as middle of the road as you can get, but Rush Limbaugh, Jerry Falwell, Newt Gingrich, and other right-wing leaders demonized him as a liberal socialist out to turn America into the Soviet Union. Barack Obama is mildly progressive, so the secular and religious right is attempting to paint him as a full-blown Marxist. Any lie, any distortion, any tactic may be used to defeat him.
This black and white approach to people and problems appeals to the more conservative Christian. It is the same set of tactics which have been used for over 1,500 years — demonize your enemy. Don’t bother actually debating the stands the person has made, destroy the person. Under no circumstance argue or debate the idea. Just destroy the person through lies, distortions, ad hominem attacks, associative attacks, anything.
The Christian world is, for the most part, a matter of absolutes. Either devil or God. There is nothing in between. The Republican world is also a world of absolutes. Us versus them. No compromise. There is nothing in between. It is easy to understand the natural attraction that the uncompromising religious worldview has for the uncompromising polictically conservative worldview. And vice versa.
Did modern conservatism come from the absolutism of Christianity? Or did they develop independently and converge in the post-1960s reaction to the new left?