Topic: Political Theory
The political analog now may be the dialog playing out in conservative American political circles, where, as the Republicans seem to be in deeper and deeper trouble as the midterm elections approach, everyone on that side of things is wondering just what went wrong.
One of the ideas floating around is that the conservative movement may have just gotten too mixed up in religion, at least in the evangelical, fundamentalist, born-again, anti-science kind of religion. In terms of conservative political governance, the question is actually being raised. What does God have to do with conservative values - the values that inform how things should be run? How did He get in there? And should He be in there at all? What up with that?
The Tina Turner in this case is Heather MacDonald, dropping her bomb in the August 28, 2006 issue of The American Conservative with this, a major article arguing that the conservatives should make some room for the skeptics in their midst, those for whom their God and their religion is a private matter, and really kind of irrelevant to how the country should be run. And some might even be atheists. Is there room for them - or is that heresy? Do we have a "big tent" here, or just a tent meeting?
MacDonald basically suggests the conservative God business is rather silly, or at least not very logical. She notes that when Attorney General John Ashcroft left office in November 2004 he carefully and sincerely thanked his staff for keeping the country safe since 9/11 - they did their job and that made all the difference. But then he said it really wasn't them - the real credit belonged to God. If you thought about it, it ultimately must really have been "God's solicitude for America that had prevented another attack on the homeland." Well, maybe that's more faith without evidence than it is "thought" - but you see what he was getting at. God did the job, and there were no more attacks.
MacDonald is having none of it -
The answer that "God's funny that way" just won't do. She applies logic and you see the problem. Just what is the God up to?
She senses nonsense here. Ashcroft and the like have made the movement seem just stupid, although she doesn't put it quite that bluntly. She merely thinks maybe folks with different views could make things better for the conservative side. She considers herself a "skeptical conservative" - and she'd like back in the movement.
Here's her main argument -
Well, the alternative is to base your policies, foreign or domestic, on the best facts available as to what happening, carefully thinking through the alternative actions available, and using your best judgment to decide what to do, or not do. Of course that kind of bypasses God, and He might be offended. Still, that's how things used to be done.
And here's the kicker -
Of course that's just a subset of the argument, so often made, that an atheist and agnostic cannot be "moral" - a claim as old as the hills, made over and over in spite of the clear evidence of quite good and moral nonbelievers in every culture and throughout history.
As for what has been said over and over for the last six years - what makes conservatives superior to liberals is their religious faith, "as if morality is impossible without religion and everything is indeed permitted" - she's just not buying it.
There's this argument -
Now that's getting down to basics. The evidence is that secular government makes things better, and faith-based government makes things worse. When you think about the why and how of how the Untied States came to be, she almost makes those excluding her and the other skeptics seem, well, un-American.
Her wrap-up -
As you see, she's a trouble-maker. This kind of was heresy, and it spilled over onto the pages of the National Review, in The Corner, where the hot topics of the day are discussed.
Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor for the magazine - who also writes for The Weekly Standard, Policy Review, The New Republic and First Things - was all over her case, saying there were so few non-believers on the conservative side that they just weren't worth worrying about. The religious conservatives were the ones who really mattered - so be a nice kid and just go away. She was just an oddball.
And her response -
But he was having none of that. He is, after all, the author of The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life, with a blurb form Ann Coulter on the cover. You get the idea. He's the deep religious thinker on the conservative right (see his interview with Steven Colbert here where Colbert urges him to write the sequel - "The Party That Eats Their Own Children.")
It seems the battle lines are drawn - skeptics versus believers, death versus life, reason versus faith. There is no middle ground. Read your Bible.
Here MacDonald responds to the very odd Jonah Goldberg (you remember, his mother, Lucianne Goldberg, advised her friend Linda Tripp to secretly tape her phone conversations with Monica Lewinsky in order to protect herself from reprisals from the Clinton Administration) -
Heather is not playing nice.
In all that dialog at The Corner the oddest may have been this from Andrew Stuttaford -
So the problem isn't religion at all, it's that Bush is turning into a Gaullist? Oh, the irony. The conservatives want to turn us into religiously-centered big-government France, circa 1959 or something. That's amusing, non?
The odd man out here of course is the devout Catholic but quite gay, HIV-positive but old-fashioned conservative, Andrew Sullivan, who says this -
No, there are many who feel that way. They're Democrats. You know, they're the folks who believe on looking at the available and quite empirical evidence at hand and figuring things out - what is best to do or not do. Most are quite religious, but they don't push it, as it's not what matters in, say, environment policy, or healthcare policy, or dealing with trade matters, or with those out to harm us. God may want is to work these things out ourselves, after all, using our brains.
It's that Enlightenment thing - Jefferson's God was the deist God so popular in the Enlightenment, the watchmaker who set things in motion and moved on to whatever was next, assuming we'd work things out down here ourselves just fine without Him.
Well, Sullivan endorsed Kerry last time around, so who knows?
He is, however, writing a new book - The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back. The first part should be interesting, the second part quite Quixotic, as in noble, hopeless but silly battles, tilting at windmills and all that.
One chapter of this upcoming book is supposed to be on what he calls the "fundamentalist psyche," about which he says this -
Sooner or later this guy moves to the other side. He joins the sons and daughters of the Enlightenment. Count on it. He just needs to understand how reasonable the other side can be.
Ah, maybe he isn't coming across. Reasonableness is, as it always has been, relative. At least the other side gives it a go now and then, and doesn't dismiss the whole concept.
In any event, this flare-up inside the conservative movement is interesting. There's something authoritarian in it all, as John Dean pointed out in his new book, and cruelly exclusive. But at least they're organized and unified. They're not Democrats.
It's just too bad they roped in God on their side. It makes you wonder why He agreed.