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Conservative Convergence

1 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?

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9 comments

  1. And, by the by, that was my 100th post. And the next comment will be comment number 750.


  2. Woo hoo, number 750. I believe right-wing Christian fundamentalists are attracted to Republicans because Republican abhor diversity. A large part of the fundie movement is an intense and unusual nationalism. They seem to honestly believe that America was formed by God for God (of course, their definition of God). And apparently God loves white anglo-saxon Protestent males. So diversity of any kind is shunned, and acceptance of any other belief is an anathema. Whereas Democrats (who are for the majority Christian) seem to accept diversity and differences among people, and try to accept and celebrate them, Republicans want a land governed by what they deem “moral” and “godly”. I believe just the thought of anyone advocating for a belief contrary to right-wing Christian values is seen as demonic. (I am not talking about the leaders, I think the leaders are interested in power not ideals). Thats why conservative Christians will throw the poor to the wolves, as long as their vision of America is upheld: a land of homogenous Christians with no gays, atheists, abortions, or feminism.


  3. There is a certain ironic satisfaction in watching the extremely right wing and extremely Christian attacking liberal ideas in the name of the world’s most famous liberal revolutionary, who lived a communist lifestyle with 12 close hippy friends…

    America was born out of a religious persecution, so I have alway shad the sense that the Puritan pilgrims left an indelible mark on the nation. Firstly, in puritanical attitudes (sex is dirty, alcohol is evil (to steal your paranthetical technique, may I digress just to say that Catholicism loves sex and alcohol…)). Secondly, in the sense that the Pilgrims felt guided by God to a land that would allow them to be free. Therefore the land is there’s by divine right (God led them there) so the nation must be founded by God on godly principles (what’s that? Constitution? Separation of Church and State? Freedom of religion also means freedom FROM religion? Details, details….)

    I wonder whether the convergance of the two has other roots? If you want to control a population, control their core beliefs. Hijack the religion, identify yourself with their fundamental belief system, and you have their loyalty. You are one of them after all. So the right-wing identifies itself as Christian, and the Christians remain loyal. You can see this in action in a recent scam that was set up that fleeced churchgoers out of thousands. The fraudsters represented that they were church members, selling cars at low prices, and they fell for it. See http://www.snopes.com/fraud/autos/miracle.asp

    Interestingly, the NeoConservatives used to be liberals. Neoconservative thought is just a new name for the neoliberals. Many of them still suffer from the delusion that they are somehow “liberal”, but I can’t even fathom how they rationalise that one!


  4. Sabrina and Paul: Interesting convergence on your comments. Sabrina correctly points out the xenophobia of many Christian sects. Part of the root of the American version of that xenophobia comes from what Paul pointed out. Paul correctly points out that the New England colonies were founded in an attempt to escape relgious persecution. However (except for Rhode Island and Providence Plantations) the ‘religious freedom’ of the new world applied only to the dissident sect founding the colony.

    I do also have to point out that the Puritans had a rather healthy attitude toward sex. Bundling was not unheard of and, in Middlesex County of Massachusetts in the late 1600s, a significant number of first births happened well before the nine-month mark of the marriage. This was considered normal.

    Regarding the idea of hijacking a populations core beliefs, I have to wonder who hijacked whom? Did the radical Christian Right adopt the Republican Party in order to gain political power? Or did the Republican Party adopt radical right Christianity in order convince people to vote against their economic best interest?


  5. I’m not sure but I think the first time the radical Christian right was really integral to politics was under Reagan. I remember reading about how he managed to unite a lot of different groups under one party, including the elusive Southern Democratic white males. He united fiscal and social conservatives, war hawks, and the radical Christian Right under one roof. I think it was the Republican Convention of 1980 (?) that they made it the party platform to make abortion illegal. Since then, as an easy way to pull at least 30% of the vote, the Republicans will throw a bone to the Christian Right to keep them loyal. Karl Rove is a genius at this, manipulating the office of faith-based initiatives to pump money into Christian groups during key local elections. I think the Republicans saw an untapped resource, and ambitious pastors saw a way to bring people to a frenzy, thus ensuring power for themselves. This is in no way a scholarly opinion, just kind of the way I see it 🙂


  6. Nothing complicated about this, guys. Simplicity is the operative virtue. Good. Evil. White. Black. Easy. Hard.

    It’s much easier to get on in the world if you divide the world into black and white (sometimes quite literally). Emotionally and mentally humans take the easiest path, which is always the path of least thought, least effort, least understanding. Fundamentalism appeals to so many because it lays everything out in rules and attributes the rules to an unquestionable authority. As Paul said, hijack that process and you’re in.

    Reality is too hard for these people. For people generally, but especially for people who find it just so damn hard to think for themselves. Shades of gray just don’t cut it. Black. White.

    Couple that (non)thinking with tribalism and the drive to survive and dominate, and voila, you have today’s version of idiots driving the bus, the United States.

    Now then, I really should work on getting bundled. Ya think it might make me less cynical, angry, and bitter?


  7. OK, now I’m going to have to find out what bundling is…


  8. <i)”I have to wonder who hijacked whom? Did the radical Christian Right adopt the Republican Party in order to gain political power? Or did the Republican Party adopt radical right Christianity in order convince people to vote against their economic best interest?”

    Reagan’s 1980 presidential bid and Falwell’s Moral Majority arose at about the same time. I think the coalition between religious and economic conservatives had less to do with hijacking and more to do with symbiosis. The politicians saw that they could gain a lot of voters by courting the RR; the RR saw that they could gain a lot of political influence by aligning themselves with the politicians.


  9. I think its all about the money. When you look flash, can spend the money, then you get the power. How else do we end up with great big churches that cost millions to build while the poor starve. America and christianity is truly bizzare. The British don’t let it sway them so much, and their head of state is defender of the faith. Here is Australia we have a bit of the christian right, but no where near the sheep level in the states.



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