Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What is "Conservative"?

Now, to be fair, what do we mean when we use the term “conservative”?

In current US culture, the term has fallen on hard times, too often equating it with some form of radical fundamentalism or hard line obstructionism. Whether referring to religion or politics, it seems to be a term, like “progressive,” that has lost its way.

At its heart, conservatism seeks to maintain things of value, whether those things are traditions, practices, institutions, or beliefs. Even the most liberal of people are conservative somewhere in their lives (go into a liberal church and change the paint color or the seating, and watch the fur fly; or alter the way a liberal family celebrates certain holiday traditions and watch the children and grandchildren howl in protest).

People who seek to protect the environment are usually referred to as liberals, and yet their official label is “conservationalists.” Pretty crazy.

Right now, in the US, what is it that we are attempting to conserve?

In the political arena, it seems to be something that is grounded in economics. I do find myself a bit stunned by the increased revelation that many of our conservative politicians over the last few decades have claimed an allegiance to Ayn Rand’s so-called objectivism, illustrated in her novel Atlas Shrugged. Yet, even that staunch, conservative intellectual William F. Buckley, Jr., felt that Rand’s dismissal of all things charitable was unacceptable. Recently Paul Ryan (who has been characterized as a Rand devotee) was chastised by the Roman Catholic Church for embracing a Randian social and economic policy that turned its back on the poor.

The problem for people of faith (like Paul Ryan) is that while Ayn Rand left her oppressive communism behind, she brought her atheism with her. So is that progressive or conservative?

I find too many of my Christian brothers and sisters morphing religious conservatism with American conservatism, and seeing it as one thing. That is, in my view, a very dangerous and possibly poisonous cocktail.

Are there things to conserve? Probably so. Do we dare seek to conserve those things we have come to value without some form of theological reflection? Can we read the “conservative” works of people like Ayn Rand (and her contemporary followers like Ronald Reagan, Paul Ryan, Ron Paul, and others) and then turn and read Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and draw the conclusion that they are compatible?

In my book, it’s unthinkable.

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