Skip to comments.No Conservatism Without a Religious Foundation
Posted on 10/18/2013 8:33:45 AM PDT by don-o
Not all religious people are conservatives; and not all conservatives are religious people. Christianity prescribes no especial form of politics. There have been famous radicals who were devout Christiansthough most radicals have been nothing of the sort. All the same, there could be no conservatism without a religious foundation, and it is conservative people, by and large, who defend religion in our time.
Lord Hailsham, a talented English conservative of this century, in his little book The Case for Conservatism, remarks, There is nothing I despise more than a politician who seeks to sell his politics by preaching religion, unless it be a preacher who tries to sell his sermons by talking politics. Yet he goes on to say that conservatism and religion cannot be kept in separate compartments, and that the true conservative at heart is a religious man. The social influence of Christianity has been nobly conservative, and a similarly conservative influence has been exerted by Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Judaism, and the other higher religions.
In America, a sense of religious consecration has been joined to our political institutions from the beginning. Almost all the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were religious men. Solemn presidential proclamations, since the beginning of the Republic, have invoked the might and mercy of God. Most of our leading conservative statesmen and writers were men profoundly religious George Washington, an Episcopalian; John Adams, a Unitarian; James Madison, an Episcopalian; John Randolph, an Episcopalian; John C. Calhoun, a Unitarian; Orestes Brownson, a Catholic; Nathaniel Hawthorne, a Congregationalist; Abraham Lincoln, a devout though independent theist; and many more. We know and we feel inwardly that religion is the basis of civil society, and the source of all good and all comfort, Edmund Burke wrote.
Now a conservative is a person who sees human society as an immortal contract between God and man, and between the generations that are dead, and the generation that is living now, and the generations which are yet to be born. It is possible to conceive of such a contract, and to feel a debt toward our ancestors and obligations toward our posterity, only if we are filled with a sense of eternal wisdom and power. We deal charitably and justly by our fellow men and women only because we believe that a divine will commands us to do so, and to love one another. The religious conservative is convinced that we have duties toward society, and that a just government is ruled by moral law, since we participate in our humble way in the divine nature and the divine love. The conservative believes that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
The conservative desires to conserve human naturethat is, to keep men and women truly human, in Gods image. The dread radical ideologies of our century, Communism and Nazism and their allies, endeavor to stamp out religion root and branch because they know that religion is always a barrier to collectivism and tyranny. A religious person has strength and faith; and radical collectivism detests private strength and faith. Throughout Europe and Asia, the real resistance to collectivism has come from men and women who believe that there is a greater authority than the collectivistic state, and that authority is God.
A society which denies religious truth lacks faith, charity, justice and any sanction for its acts. Today, more perhaps than ever before, Americans understand the close connection between religious conviction and just government, so that they have amended their oath of allegiance to read, one nation, under God. There is a divine power higher than any political power. When a nation ignores the divine authority, it soon commits the excesses of fanatic nationalism, intoxicated with its own unchecked power, which have made the twentieth century terrible.
Any religion is always in danger of corruption; and in our time, various people have endeavored to persuade us that the Christian religion endorses some sort of sentimental collectivism, a religion of humanity, in which the Christian idea of equality in Gods sight is converted into a dreary social and economic equality enforced by the state. But an examination of the Christian creeds and the Christian tradition will not sustain such an interpretation of Christian teaching. What Christianity offers is personal redemption, not some system of economic revolution. The human person is the great concern of Christian faithas a person, not as part of a vague People, or The Masses, or The Underprivileged. And when Christians preach charity, they mean the voluntary giving of those who have to those who have not; they do not mean compulsion by the state to take away from some in order to benefit others. Statists that labor to contrive a commonwealth without poverty, old Sir Thomas Browne says, take away the object of our charity; not understanding only the commonwealth of a Christian, but forgetting the prophecy of Christ. The Christian religion does indeed enjoin us to do unto others as we would have others do unto us; it does not enjoin us to employ political power to compel others to surrender their property.
Any great religion is assailed by heresies. In the year of the Communist Manifesto, Orestes Brownson declared that Communism is a heresy from Christianity; and he is echoed today by Arnold Toynbee and Eric Voegelin, Communism perverts the charity and love of Christianity into a fierce leveling doctrine that men must be made equal upon earth; at the same time, it denounces real equality, which is equality in the ultimate judgment of God. And other ideologies which would convert Christianity into an instrument for oppressing one class for the benefit of another are heresies.
Books by Dr. Kirk may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Essays by Dr. Kirk may be found here. This is an excerpt from The Intelligent Womans Guide to Conservatism (1957).
except for including islam, this is right on.
You are not a real conservative unless your are a economic and social conservative.
It is instructive to consider that this was written in 1957. Islam was different then, to state the obvious.
You don’t even have to BE religious, just have a appreciation for the value system and gratefulness for where it brought us the first 175 years.
Amen. But get ready for the "moderate" detractors. They deem to know what conservatism is, but deny that ability to you.
a true conservative is a humble seeker and defender of the Truth. thus, for a true beliver, the conclusion is inescapable, since there is but one place where the Truth resides.
There’s no America without the Christianity-based foundations of our society and government.
If I may. It is the concepts of sovereignty, absoluteness and timelessness that we get from Christianity. We have a right to free press, always had it (was not recognized largely) and always will; timeless. Freedom of press is beyond any man's right to alter it; absolute. Freedom of the press is to be proactively protected within our borders; sovereignty.
These qualities are found in the devout of Christianity.
I was curious about what Kirk had to say about Islam and turned this up
Someone who believes in eternal principles can’t be easily manipulated for long. Someone who walks with God and takes his direction from the Almighty can’t be easily manipulated for long.
The totalitarians use hate and guilt to manipulate the masses, feeding grudges and offering themselves as the solution, feeding guilt and offering themselves as the source of absolution. If you are a man who lays his anger and guilt on the altar, and looks to God to lead him then you aren’t a man who can be easily manipulated for long and the totalitarians will have to mock, attack, marginalize, destroy you.
Or just educate your kids for you. That works.
Most conservatives who live by Biblical principles are also fiscal and social conservatives, as well. Over the past couple decades, the likes of Rick Warren, the “name it and claim it bunch, the faith (over Biblical teachings) group, etc., have drawn people people into their own version of scriptural teaching which has slightly more and more distorted Scripture to mean what they want it to mean, the feel good brand, if you must. People can learn to live high on the hog and do good deeds to feel good about themselves.
However, unless we return to a Bible-based way of living we will continue down the road to destruction. No economic recovery outside a moral recovery will last. But, tell me, who is saying this these days? Almost no one. I wonder what effect the Billy Graham Crusade will have today, and, just who will take the time to listen? I hope we all are praying that MANY will turn it on, even if just for curiosity.
“If you ain’t socon, you ain’t nocon.”
The title say’s ‘religion’, then proceeds to espouse Christianity as *the* religion. Talk about confirmational bias.
There are religions with higher moral standards than Christianity (like Buddhism), or competing hard line standards (like Islam).
So the premise of the article as indicated by the title ... is wrong.
Our founders where largely Deists. Which IMHO is basically a confused state of Agnosticism. They had a western sense of fairness, justice and conditional altruism. Conditional altruism in the sense that greater respect is given to those that adhere to the unwritten social contract of society.
Religion is just a support structure for that unwritten contract and Christianity is just one of those religions. We do, however, run into the pesky question of ‘moral relativity’ which is a very real condition between dissimilar societies.
The difference being, conservatives seek to change moral reference to the individual and the Liberal seeks to change the moral reference to the society.
The net result is the natural constituency of conservatives are hard working individualists with higher and strict morals while the natural constituency for liberals are people on public assistance, victims of fate, sense of entitlement AND the guilty success stories.
That’s not to say there is no crossover.
This is what I and many others have been saying for a long time (and one of my complaints against talk radio). I am encouraged by the replies here to this article.
I am reminded of the passage in Rom. 1:28: “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;”
Look at all the “inconvenient” things we have to endure in our nation today as a result of rejecting God. Unrighteousness makes you stupid.
A few better known founders were Deists. That has been extrapolated to "largely" by revisionist historians with an agenda.
It is gratifying to see some thoughtful posts being made to this thread.
I am not certain that the title, using “Religion” accurately reflects Kirk - the article is a selection from a larger work.
I think it would be an interesting study to track back when and how the argument that the FF’s were Deist rather than Christian.
Found a 2004 FR thread on the subject of deism and the FF’s.
I believe there to be a “stack” of consequences that lead to either a successful society or not. This is a “bottom up” view.
Prosperity (good, bad, everything in-between)
Cultural attitudes (the “in-grained” beliefs we absorb regardless of an individuals spiritual belief, what somebody thinks as “good”)
Religion <- at root of everything
...now, as religion is at the root, consider Christianity vs Islam - and the rest that follows upward. Or, more importantly, Christianity vs. Atheism. Also, every country in the world follows this, yet come to very different results in terms of prosperity. I find it no coincidence that western culture prospered - the underlying ethics basis followed Judeo-Christian thought.
Without God, you can’t have any consistency in Law. There’s no ethics basis for it. It is unworkable. You’d seriously need to re-evaluate certain social norms:
- Why is marriage for 2 people anyway? Many cultures allow more.
- As we’re all just animals, why not marry one?
- Some cultures have considered “strength” to be the definition of “right”, stealing and killing aren’t “wrong”, it’s just survival.
With God, you have opposites with Christianity and Islam, they’re not compatible. In each context a persons idea of what is “right” or “good” becomes very different than the next person. You hear the term “for the greater good”, very dangerous words without God (or wrong God). It is a fact that our law is based on Judeo-Christian ethics but the atheists have a different version of “good”, therefore we get into conflict. You can bet though, given human nature, Christians will be considered “bad” by them - because we have a moral philosophy based in religion (that non-Christians don’t want to live by or even think has merit). Because of their arrogance they’ll force the concept of Christian=bad into law. We already see this happening. The government agencies are basically Democrats, Christians not welcome, especially over “gay marriage”...same in the military.
This is why I hate the phrase “separation of Church and State”....there can be no such thing. It is used to assert that religious philosophy shouldn’t play a part in shaping law. This can only result in law that is devoid of Christian beliefs, mandated as so. The Establishment Clause, to me, reads in the opposite direction - the emphasis is that government has no jurisdiction over the Church...along with not being run by one of those establishments. That is very different than having no ethics basis for shaping law. Liberal atheists demonstrate their lack of understanding here because they keep saying, “it’s time to tax the Church”. They don’t realize the reason it isn’t already, Congress has no power to do so. Is it any surprise that an extremely liberal President asserts that it *does* have that power? ...no, it is a threat to them, they need it to be suppressed. They’ll ignore the constitution, even though they understand it perfectly.
Ultimately I think we’re screwed, for now. So long as people don’t understand how a prosperous society happens it’ll result in laws that aren’t consistent (chaos, innocents are now criminals, etc.) and trample on peoples God given rights. This isn’t going to end well. The good news, I can’t imagine all of this change won’t result in an inevitable “big event”...let the absurd go to the extreme of absurdity. Then it’ll be obvious what is wrong and things will change, probably forever. The sad part is we have to go through it first.
I believe our technology has driven our arrogance. It makes us feel like Gods, along with mitigating the consequences of poor moral choices (antibiotics, antiviral drugs, abortion, etc.). We behave like petulant children spitting in the face of God. If we could learn to merge our technological society with the correct ethics system we would prosper like no other society in history. It is a reality we could create, we just choose not to, rationalizing our poor behavior because we enjoy our dark ways. We need to emphasize that Christian ethics cannot be separate or excluded from shaping law, you can’t separate them, they’re linked. Otherwise you’re saying that Christians can’t be represented in government - there’s no in-between.
Problem is, which religion?
Catholicism, Calvinism, Lutheranism, Mormonism, Etceteraism?
Was Thomas Jefferson a conservative?
Economic conservatism results in social conservatism. What you do not fund, will not grow.
Kirk makes the overall observation that religion conserves the more perennial aspects of human experience: the avoidance of evil, the cultivation of virtue, the correct filial, marital, and parental relation, the control of the passions, and so forth. Above all, religion points to a scale of values and a criterion of judgment which go beyond political control, and therefore emphasizes dimensions of life which must not be dominated by congresses, constitutions or kings.
This idea of human dimensions which are more foundational than, or more overarching than, political power, is really important. There must always be spheres of life which owe nothing to the Powers That Be. Without that, we quickly succumb to totalitarianism.
On another topic: I wouldn't want to start a wrangle between Christians and Buddhists, especially along the lines of a Squeekin FReepin Religious FracasTM (spare us, O Lord) but I would at least footnote that I would dispute that Buddhism is ethically superior to Christianity.
Mind you, I think Buddhism is the noblest of the man-made religious philosophies; moreover I have Buddhist friends whose honor I would not want to diminish with a facile negative judgment.
However, historically, Buddhism was very supportive of a stagnant and stratified feudalism everywhere, especially in Tibet and Nepal, as well as of militarism in Japan. I think there are central concepts within Buddhism --- Karma, Reincarnation, and the Void (Nihilism/Nirvana), as well as the lack of an external criterion or lawgiver for judgment --- which are ethically problematic.
There is a very important nuance here that should never be forgotten. This is that America respects religion but is not ruled by religion. To explain:
Most Americans that came from Europe rejected royalist regimes that claimed *legitimacy* based on the “anointment by heaven”. Thus, if you objected to a decree by the king, you were not just rebelling against the king, but against God, so deserved punishment not just in the name of the king, but in the name of the church. A reprehensible notion.
So when we wrote our constitution, we were very careful to say that “this constitution is written by men, for men, and can be changed by men.” Without any heavenly imprimatur.
What does imprimatur mean?
A 1662 act in Britain required that, according to their subject, books needed to receive the authorization, known as the imprimatur, of the Lord Chancellor, the Earl Marshall, a principal Secretary of State, the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Bishop of London. This meant that before you could publish, you had to have the permission of both the secular government, and the Church of England.
And though this act ended in 1695, it still stuck in the craw of the Americans, who were very aware that if what they had written had to be approved by the crown and the church, most of it would never be published legally.
This is why the first amendment is so carefully written, to respect the rights of the religious to practice their religion, but that the government cannot elevate a religion to the level of government. Religion cannot force itself on others.
But once this basic ground rule was established, it means in practice that while the religious may participate fully in government, and even promulgate their religious ideas in government, they cannot attribute them to their religion.
If say, a Catholic were to advance the idea of a “No fish on Friday” law, it would have to have a secular reason that was at least acceptable enough so that it would not be a “Catholic law”, enforced on non-Catholics.
You don't think exceedingly similar arguments could be crafted against Christianity?
Great read, but a distinction must be made here. Christianity is the only religion that salvation is by God's grace; all others are by works. The Bible is far above all other religious writings; in scope and depth of truth and knowledge.
And it is well known that the Founding Fathers of this country leaned on only one religious book of God - the Bible.
The more I read the article, the more I see i have disagreements with it... be back later.
Do a search of Wahhabism; it's history and when it began.
Oh, yes. Exactly. But immoral Christians can see very readily that they are violating the criteria set by Jesus Christ, both in His precepts and in His spotless example. So in that sense Christianity has criteria which serve as a permanent source of self-criticism and self-correction. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and St. Francis of Assisi are canonized saints. Pope Innocent III and Pope Urban VI are not. There's a reason for that. "Ecclesia semper reformanda."
So I am simply disputing the blanket statement that Buddhism is ethically superior to Christianity. For instance, I think the lack of external criteria is a real problem.
Agreed; excellent read!
Catholicism, Calvinism, Lutheranism, Mormonism, Etceteraism?
As long these denominations adhere to what the Bible states - which leaves out Mormonism; they believe you have to be part of their church in order to have salvation.
Islam has always been Islam. Even in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the US government had to deal with jihadists known as the Barbary pirates, who captured Americans as slaves and demanded that the US government pay jizya.
Unfortunately, some of the Founding Fathers believed in Unitarianism, a belief system that is Islam’s theological cousin (both deny the deity of Christ). I would even say that Unitarianism has more in common with Islam than with Nicene Christianity.
I’ll be sure to mention it next time I see my 6th grade Religious studies teacher from my private Lutheran grade school days.
If that’s not good enough, then we’ll just go by gravitas. I’ll take the top 5 Deist founders, you can have the rest.
Be that as it may, the piece comes across as Christian advocacy -- which is fine, it just doesn't jive with the title and now we know why. Kirk makes the overall observation that religion conserves the more perennial aspects of human experience:
It's sustaining the 'social contract' through motivational devotion. Probably low hanging fruit as it's easier to convince somebody to live by the 'social contract' through intimidation and threats of 'divine justice', rather than logic and reason.
It's also easy to see how others can be influenced and convinced that gaming the 'social contract' is perfectly valid. Religion refers to these people as evil. I just think of them as being the negative aspect of humanity, and there are varying degrees.
Above all, religion points to a scale of values and a criterion of judgment which go beyond political control, and therefore emphasizes dimensions of life which must not be dominated by congresses, constitutions or kings.
We are of this earth. There is no escape from government domination. They are the facilitators, enforcers, and judges of the 'social contract'. Yes, they [the government] starts off homogeneous -- but it will suffer entropy as philosophies start diverging and the entity itself gains influence and power, even if only manifesting itself as inertia.
Survive, thrive, procreate and ascend. Along the way, make sure Caesar gets what's his. Those are the driving factors of human life.
Christianity had it's period of "Stagnant and stratified feudalism". Islam has been stagnant and stratified since the Big Mo took over. Hindi has the class system. Even today Christianity seeks to re-attain it's "stagnant and stratified" philosophies.
I see no reason why one cannot be Christian and a Buddhist. Neither preclude the disbelief in either -- so long as you're not falling into the trap of actually worshiping Buddha as an idol -- something that also happens with crucifix, rosaries and other Christian relics. God is the destination, Jesus is the key, Buddhism is a method.
You seem to think that the life of a religious person like Maximilian Kolbe, Mother Teresa, Antonia Brenner, Edmund Campion, Cornelia Connolly, Saul of Tarsus (Paul), Marianne and Damien of Molokai, Isaac Jogues, Mary of Nazareth, Charles de Foucauld, Dorothy Day, etc. can be explained in terms of "social contract" and "intimidation and threats" -- and devoid of "logic and reason."
This shows, I think, little knowledge and insight into the human subjects of whom we speak, and little penetration into the broader topic of human spiritual freedom vs cultural determinism and political coercion.
Having known Buddhists and Catholics a-plenty over the past 60+ years, I have never seen this, although I am reliably advised that it happens. Stained-glass windows, Heisman Trophies and Bibles, too.
But we don't worship statues anymore. We worship felt banners.
Yes. In fact Christianity relies on it with talk of Satan, Hell, eternal punishment.
This shows, I think, little knowledge and insight into the human subjects of whom we speak, and little penetration into the broader topic of human spiritual freedom vs cultural determinism and political coercion.
I'll address this ad hominem once because you started out so polite.
Christianity is one religious doctrine, there are others. IF you want to focus on Christianity being the sole foundation of morality then I don't want to participate. If you want to talk about religion being the foundation of morality, then we can talk.
See, I like to get to the 'Meta-concepts', and measure the building dimensions from the outside rather than the inside.
So, if you're in a bucket, talk about what's in the bucket. If you want to talk about what's outside the bucket, get out of the bucket. Then talk about what's outside the bucket.
I don’t believe in Buddhist shrines. There are some that do. I think it’s idolatry and Buddha probably does too.
But I do love the art of a good Buddha statue. I’m partial to traveling Buddha and Happy Buddha.
Trade you an ad hominem for a straw man. I didn't say Christianity is the sole foundation of morality. I have never believed that, and I have never written that.
May God stop my mouth if I ever say anything against precious aspects of goodness, truth and value found in the hearts of people of other religions.
And I didn't say anything against you personally. I said "your view" of religious ethics as a product of social contract and intimidation shows little knowledge and insight. I was criticizing this particular view, not you as an individual. For all I know, you are an individual of great knowledge and insight generally ---- but not on the topic of the saints. Saints are not motivated by intimidation. They are impelled by the love of Christ.
As for Satan, hell, and eternal punishment: these are realities, not fables invented to make the kids behave. If there are real perils and I know of them but I fail to warn you, than I am not behaving as your enlightened and rational friend, but as one indifferent to your well-being and redemption, a moral coward, or worse.
But the impetus of the Christian life is not fear, but love. Think of what this means: "Perfect love casts out fear."
Now, continue on with your bucket dimensions, please. Gotta love those meta-concepts!
This one kinda looks like one of my old boyfriends. Man-oh-Manichean, that was a long time ago.
If it wasn’t ad hominem than it was certainly a thinly disguised one, just as your last post is a continuation.
It’s evident that Christianity is your focus and reference point. That’s fine. I entered this thread because the thread title grabbed my attention, but unfortunately what’s represented by the main body is a major distraction. The title promised ‘religion’ the body of the post is all about Christianity.
Is your saying that religious people are motivated by intimidation and fear, without logic or reason, just a wee tiny bit of an ad hominem as well?
But I don’t loike felt banners....
Next you'll be saying you don't bend the knee to macaroni collages...