July 15, 2010


The Jesus Litmus Test: In today’s Republican Party, racial barriers may be falling, but religious barriers are alive and well. Just ask Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley. Peter Beinart on the GOP’s phony diversity. (Peter Beinart, 7/15/10, Daily Beast)

[F]or many Republicans, ideology doesn’t just mean lower taxation and higher military spending. It also means Christianity (or at least Judeo-Christianity). In the United States today, and in particular in the GOP, racial barriers may be falling, but religious barriers are alive and well.

Jindal was raised Hindu and converted to Catholicism; Haley is a Sikh who became evangelical. There’s no reason to doubt the sincerity of their conversions. But both also seem aware that maintaining the non-Western religious traditions of their birth would have imperiled their political careers. In 2007, when Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution recognizing the Hindu and Sikh festival of Diwali, Jindal abstained. Before running for governor, Haley noted that her family attended a Sikh Temple as well as a Methodist Church, but today she studiously avoids any reference to being born Sikh and as the campaign has progressed, her website has been updated to stress in increasingly emphatic terms her devotion to Jesus Christ. That’s hardly surprising given that the co-chairman of one of her Republican gubernatorial rivals circulated an email claiming that Haley “can’t seem to make up her mind about her faith.”

Explaining a faith that is not strictly monotheistic would be challenging in any political environment, but the barriers to religious diversity are clearly highest in the GOP. The South Carolina Republican Platform, for instance, declares, “We recognize the Judeo-Christian ethic embraced by our founding fathers and call upon our state and nation to return again to the values that made America and the American people great.” It’s less likely that Haley would have had to hide her Sikh heritage had she been running in, say, a Democratic primary in California, as opposed to a Republican primary in a state whose GOP-dominated legislature recently tried to put a Christian message on license plates.

Bully for Mr. Beinart. Losing track of that central fact about conservatism is how analysts tend to confuse themselves about the relative power of libertarians, neocons, and the like within the party and how they get the primaries so wrong.

A New Conservatism?: Either it will be Christian or not at all (ANTHONY ESOLEN, February 2010, Catholic World Report)

It must be rooted in natural piety. Our schoolchildren these days know next to nothing about the heroes of their native land, flawed though these heroes certainly were. They know little enough about the place where they live, as their days are devoured by the institutional school and the place-denying un-world of the television and the Internet. They are taught to dissociate themselves, in pride, from the narrow prejudices of their parents, thus enabling them all the more easily to absorb the narrow prejudices of their keepers in the schools and in the media.

The result of all this dissociation is that we hardly have citizens at all, who take pride in their localities and exert themselves to preserve them and pass their beauty along to the next generation. We have instead a mass of rootless people, isolated in time – since they come from nowhere in particular, and are going nowhere but to the place where their untrained wills must lead them – and alienated from one another. We must remember that piety is a natural virtue before it has been baptized; it is a deeply human thing to love one's place merely because it is one's own, and to cherish memories of those who dwelt in it before and helped to make it what it is.

It must recognize zones of authority. Libertarianism is, I am afraid, a false friend. It assumes that my freedom is defined by what others cannot legitimately prevent me from doing: from learning how to play the violin, if I so choose (to use Isaiah Berlin's example), or, far more sinister, from destroying the offspring in the womb. But that is a cramped view of freedom, and assumes that the relationship between freedom and authority is adversarial.

For authority is not opposed to freedom; it is rather its precondition. We can divine this from the suggestive Latin etymology: the auctor is one who gives increase. When, for example, the child cheerfully obeys his father, he liberates himself from both the unruliness of his youthful appetites and from the distractions with which the world besets him. He becomes a responsible young man capable of shingling a roof, or changing the oil in the car, or kneeling before the Lord in humble and exalting prayer.

The family, for instance, ought to be an area of freedom from state intrusion not, principally, because the individuals in it should be allowed to do as they please within the bounds of the civil law, nor even because the family can accomplish what the state cannot, but because it is in itself an area of law-giving and law-abiding. It has its own authority, which demands respect. The school, the parish, the neighborhood, the city, the workplace, the football team, indeed all free associations of human beings – both those that arise by nature and those that men create and choose – should be afforded freedom, not as part of a Madisonian compromise among competing factions, but as an acknowledgment by the state of what is after all human reality.

Such a vision would, paradoxically, help deliver the freedom which libertarians long for while grounding it in the virtue of obedience and breaking the terrible reduction of human life to the conflict between individual will and state control.

It must uphold human nature: both what is human, and what is natural. We will perhaps soon hear scientists, motivated by the lust for glory and power, championing the production of "transhuman" creatures, or suggesting that we take control of our own evolution by placing it in the capable hands of politicians and genetic engineers. This, of course, is rather like looking for one's philosophy of life from mayors and plumbers – meaning no disrespect to mayors and plumbers, so long as they keep to what they know how to do, such as cutting ribbons at a statue-unveiling, or laying pipes in the right direction.

When, for example, the child cheerfully obeys his father, he liberates himself from both the unruliness of his youthful appetites and from the distractions with which the world besets him.

The conservative must reject all violations of the human and the natural. We must treasure the beauty not of some imagined life of indefinite duration, cobbled together with spare parts grown from embryos for our own purposes, reducing ourselves and them to mere machines. We must instead insist upon the holiness of a human life, from conception to natural death; and we must see that yielding to a secular vision of freedom as autonomous choice has now brought us near the disaster of an engineered world, with children pieced together according to our specifications, to fulfill our ambition or vanity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 15, 2010 10:04 PM
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