"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, April 10, 2015

Causes And Why We Need Them

The biggest difference between liberals and conservatives is moral philosophy.  Conservatives believe that man, society, and human nature have not changed since we came down from the trees.  We are as aggressive, territorial, self-protective, and self-interested as ever; but these innate traits can be positive as well as negative.  Without ambition and the desire for wealth, power, and influence there would be no great civilizations.  Ever since the first primitive communities were formed, human societies have regulated the most extreme forms of human expression and taken advantage of the leadership and vision of the strongest and most able. The economic market with its countervailing forces and laws of supply and demand is but one example of this characteristic. All aspects of life – whether in the family or nation -  are governed by issues of power, dominance, and the acquisition of wealth and resources. The individual is either pitted against other individuals or joined together with them for collective advantage; but no higher moral value involved.

Henry VIII

Liberals on the other hand feel that collective human action can indeed bring about a better, more just, and more equitable world.  Man is indeed perfectible, and the only reason that greed, venality, and untamed ambition still exist in the world is because the most righteous among us have not done enough. Human society is progressing as surely as the soul of the faithful Hindu is evolving over time and many incarnations before finally reaching nirvana.  It is no surprise that progressives resemble evangelicals who also believe that with right behavior we can all enter paradise.  For evangelicals this ascension is to the right hand of God.  For liberals it is to a secular utopia that we all should aspire.


   Oneida (NY) Utopian Colony 19th Century

Both camps have ministers, acolytes, Apostles, and enforcers. The cause of spiritual salvation is as important as deliberate progress towards a secular ideal.  Neither side can understand the other, for passionate belief and rational judgment do not mix.  Progressives feel It is unconscionable for religious conservatives to doubt what they feel is the absolute correctness of gay marriage or a woman’s fundamental right to an abortion in the interest of her individual and civil liberties.  They feel that such conservatives’ insistence on religious expression everywhere is retrograde Bible-thumping and another example of illogical fantasy.  More importantly it is a moral sin to place individualism over social collectivism.

Image result for images socialist collectives

Conservatives cannot understand how anyone could put secularism over spirituality.  After all, they say, we all die alone and must meet our maker on His terms.  Eternal life is certainly more valuable and important than even a hundred thousand years on Earth.  They reject progressive arguments for increase government intervention into social and private affairs because not only is the only important contract the one between Man and God; but because the Founding Fathers incorporated such fundamental principles of religious-based individualism in the Bill of Rights.

Image result for images jesus christ 15th century

America seems to be divided in many ways, but the most serious fissure is between very different moral philosophies.  To characterize the split simply as a political one misses the point; and to dismiss moral philosophy as an academic subject is myopic. One’s political philosophy emerges from a moral one, not the other way around.

Adherence to causes, therefore, is not surprising.  The promotion of a clean, safe environment and the fight against global warming are not only expressions of political principles but moral ones.  It is wrong, say progressives, to sit back and let the world warm disastrously. Social activism is a higher good than individual spiritual evolution. Ironically, this temporal, secular approach to life has much in common with the doctrine of ‘good works’. All progressives are good Catholics, whether they profess allegiance to the Pope or not, for pursuing the goals of a better world based on Christian understanding and compassion (Good Works) will surely fill one’s spiritual treasury and make admittance to paradise that much easier.  In other words, killing two birds with one stone. 

Image result for doctrine of good works images

Conservatives have never wavered from Lutheran principles of faith and grace, predestination, and the Final Judgment. Who’s in or out will only be known at the parousia. Faith in God’s grace may not guarantee salvation, but it is certainly better than twiddling one’s spiritual thumbs.

Image result for images parousia

Evangelicals are not reticent about their beliefs and are as aggressive as anyone in their evangelism.  If they have been born again, taken Jesus Christ as their personal savior, and have seen the face of God, then everyone should be given that opportunity.  Their cause is anointed, higher in value and far more important than any secular one.  What’s a few degrees cooler weather when compared with divine grace?

Political conservatives are no less timid about spreading their particular gospel.  They, like all evangelists since the Apostles, have understood the importance of keeping their message simple and direct, being responsive to basic human instincts, and hammering the word insistently and with supreme confidence from every stump and pulpit. Ronald Reagan is conservatives’ most revered saint.  His principles – God, freedom, individualism, patriotism, and moral values – have been the foundation for conservative platforms for nearly 50 years.  Reagan understood that Americans do not want to hear on-the-one-hand-on-the-other academic debates over public policy.  Reagan understood that his clearly-articulated principles have been the bedrock of Americanism for centuries and haven’t changed since the first days of the Republic.

Image result for images Ronald Reagan white house portrait

The conservative cause has spread so quickly because of a remarkable single-mindedness of purpose, a clarity of vision, and a canny use of communications. Advocates of any cause since that of the Apostles have understood this.

Progressives on the other hand are getting nowhere.  They have misread the tenor of the times, have oversold contentious issues such as abortion and gay rights, have misunderstood the conviction of religious conservatives who believe that God always trumps social issues (Hobby Lobby, Citizens United, etc.), have no real easily identifiable core principles, and have diluted whatever central message they have by diversifying far too much. Progressives have their fingers in everything from fracking to the glass ceiling; from Ferguson to public education; and from gay right to animal welfare.  It may be all well and good that those who espouse these causes are passionately committed; but it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans when voters go to the polls.

There is another more compelling reason why people espouse causes. To feel good about themselves, to raise their self-esteem, and to display their colors.  The hundreds of liberal petitions on the Internet – everything from Bernie Sanders to workers in Bangladesh – are designed for individuals to show their allegiance to a political philosophy without having to do anything more than write an electronic signature. “I am a proud Progressive”.

Image result for images petitions to draft bernie sanders

Christian evangelicals who most certainly believe the Word of God is worth sharing also enjoy the instant community of born-again true believers.  Right wing bumper stickers display personality, character, and belief as much as any rightness of purpose.

One glance at history should put one on the side of political conservatives and religious evangelicals. When has history ever been other than territorial, expansionist, ambitiously greedy, self-interested, and self-protective? What society has ever been equal without social hierarchies, monarchies, or ruling classes?

Whether groups of the first Homo Erectus, the court of Henry VIII, the Mandarins of China, Genghis Khan, the Vatican, or Pol Pot, we humans have always behaved according to the same ineluctable rules of human nature; and unless and until our DNA is radically altered, we will continue to do so.  Progressives may have their causes and their dreams of a communal utopia, but they are just whistlin’ Dixie.

One may cringe at some of the theatrics of charismatic preachers, sniff at the anti-intellectualism of America’s heartland, and turn off Fox News; but they have the right idea. God first, moral values second, and nothing third.

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