Saturday, August 27, 2005

Listen Up Conservatives - Religion Is Dead And Its No Use to Us

Conservatism has no lasting hope of surviving and libertarianism no chance of growing if we are represented by those who defend their political creed by appeal to faith. Religion is a dying force in the West (40% of New Zealanders have no religious affiliation) and has become a means of justifying all sorts of political positions (Brian Tamaki is still far apart from mainstream anglican or presbysterian churches).
Only in the United States does it thrive, ever since Reagan back courting the religous vote in the early 1980s. Everyone by now should be aware of the considerable voting power of evangelical christains - they got millions out to vote in 2004 and allowed Bush to secure his second election victory. James Taranto of OpinionJournal has argued that the reason there are more (religious)conservatives is that abortion and birth control has allowed left-leaning "liberal" parents to have only 1-2 children whilst religious parents continue on as before. I'm skeptical but he is right that that there a general change in America, often compared to the 17th century great awakening, in which Christainity (Protestantism obviously) has become a political phenomenon that is stripped of its metaphysical and spiritual importance. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson popularised this change in America by having tv shows, promoting "Christain" music (which have quite violent moshpits I hear), and generally trying to make religion fun. It is an attempt to commericalise religious belief. They essentially market religion like a product, only it is extremely deceitful and dangerous. Yet in doing this they do not fundamentally alter American society. This is where I disagree with quite a few people. I do not think the growth of religion in America is so serious as it is often portrayed. This is because this new form of Christainity is tolerant of other peoples beliefs and opinions. I'm well aware that the Bible and their intepretation may be extremely intolerant and aggressive but their practice is something different. Speaking from personal experience, I think this is the case with many Christains today who are outwardly tolerant but in effect hold beliefs that are offensive. Just consider how many people you've met who have identified themselves as Christain but have broken basic moral commandments often (sex before marriage? skipping church?). The basic point is that most Christains do not take their faith seriously and hence their faith has changed to suite them. As Fareed Zakaria, a well-known American commentator says:

America's most conservative social movement, evangelical Christainity, went up against modern democratic culture and found itself utterly transformed. The tale of evangelical Christainity highlights the more rapid and widespread decline of all religious authority in American life.

This is one of the main reasons why conservatives ought to not base their policy decisions on appeals to religion. The Bush administration continues to do so and has yet to learn that religion is a spent force*. Intectually it has not been revived, despite numerous attempts to do so. Since the Enlightenment it has been forced to adopt numerous truths that were undeniable (like acknowledging the claims of science to truth, adopting new attitudes towards women and accepting state neutrality in matters of religion). These have harmed it irreversibly and ever since then it has been under attack. Frederick Nietzsche was right when he wrote 'God is dead'. Man killed god by science and reason and ever since he has sort to find values 'faithful to the earth'. The intellectual critique of religion is overwhelming if one is aware of it** (Coming from such diverse thinkers as Marx, Ludwig Feuerbach, Hume, Rand. Online there is Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not A Christain avaliable).
I think one example will suffice of what happens when you mix religious ideas with secular ideas. Click here to read "Rights-worship fetish ruining our society" by Michael Coren. Anyone who has an even rudimentary understanding of political theory will notice how confused and muddled this guys thinking is. No definition of rights is provided nor does he show any understanding of the two polar traditions (human rights vs individual rights) that have defined the term. The author confuses rights with privileges and later on even attacks the notion of "the right to be wrong." Later on he also paraphases U.S. president John F. Kennedy who uttered the famous line of "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country".
What this author (who just represents a long line of commentators and thinkers) depends on is you granting him the acknowledgment that you have responsibilitys towards others and our failing to demand that we live up to these is why society is falling apart (even though it clearly isnt). This moral claim ought not to be accepted but I believe religion is the main reason why those from the Right accept this point. Rather than saying we have duties to society (which promotes collectivism) we ought to be promoting individualism and freedom. Our vision shouldn't be reactionary (promoting duties sounds like something from the 17th century, where we have to die for some grand idea). There is no point in attempting to outlaw activites one thinks are immoral (prostitution, drugs) because this is only a superifical change. Cultural change must occur for people to change their ways. By encouraging freedom and demanding the corresponding responsibility (i.e. to accept the consequences and live with them) the virtues of personal independence, self-reliance, individual initative, accountability are cultivated. Forcing religion down people's faces hardly converts them to your position and if anything makes them despise you more. So conservatives out there, stop using religion to justify you're political positions. It won't work and it ought not to.
For those who continue to believe in religion and are conservative, here's a few suggestions. It's not often I give tactical advice to those I disagree with, but their approach is so stupid and dangerous that it needs to be done.

- Think evolution undermines religious belief? Well argue for private schools where you can indoctrinate your kids with your own money, not mine. Don't force it down our throats.
- Don't like your kids doing drugs and becoming bums? Well in you're personal life don't lie to your kids and be honest about you're own use. Lying isn't good, mmm kay? - Politically, that means a leader like President Bush or even Helen Clark, should be honest about their use and not hide behind justifications like setting a bad example for the youth of the country
- Don't like a gay marriage to be considered as socially as your hetrosexual one? well no one said you had to adopt the current way of doing things. The issue of gay marriage would have given religious conseratives a chance to stop the drift "toward a redefinition of marriage as a bundle of legally defined benefits bestowed by the state". Read this article to see what I mean. In short, conservatives could have approached the issue in very different fashion but instead they promoted the idea that the government ought to control peoples personal lives.
Marriage should not be materalistic (in the sense of providing benefits and privileges) but ought to be spiritual. Few conservatives made this point.
- Think abortion is murder? well even if true (it is not), the tactic of treating teenager mothers like murderers isn't going to get you far. Promote more moderate proposals, such as birth control :)

*Read Hitchens latest article here. He argues that if we are to give equal time to every new controversey (which is what intelligent design is. It is not scientific theory, to say otherwise is to lie) then churches in the US should not be allowed tax-exempt status unless they distribute pro-evolution propoganda!
** Sure, some may be very well-educated and hold theists beliefs. I believe they are irrational people (unable to apply reason due to emotion etc), and often dishonest.


At 9:31 AM, Blogger Jesus Crux said...

i kinda skimmed through your article but you can't separate religion from someone when they go to vote, they'll vote for what fits closest with their religion

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