The Republican Reaction Against Modernity

Yesterday I presented an example of how the religious right is resistant to moderating their views and how they reject those who attempt to do so. The mind set of the religious right, and why they are unlikely to ever moderate their views, can be seen in this response by Robert Stacy McCain at The American Spectator:

The real question isn’t the influence of Dobson, but rather the influence of God, and if you’re waiting for God to moderate his views, I suspect you’ll be waiting a long time.

The assumptions behind this comment are rather disturbing in a modern democracy. The basic assumption is that those in the religious right know the actual views of God and therefore have the right to impose these views upon others. Of course even among Christians there are a wide variety of views as to what God really desires. If the Jesus as described in the Bible were to really appear, I believe he would be appalled by the religious right and see this as one of the greatest evils of our society.

Beyond differences of opinion as to the nature of the Christian God, there are other religions with different beliefs. There are also the fundamental questions of whether there is a creator at all, and if so whether we obligated to live under his beliefs. As humans were created with free will it is valid to question whether humans are any more obligated to follow the views of a creator of the universe (assuming such views could ever be established) than a child is obligated to forever follow the views of the parents who created him.

The Founding Fathers recognized the problem of religious groups attempting to impose their views upon others and intentionally created a secular government characterized by separation of church and state. While this view is clear in the writings of the Founding Fathers, along with many court decisions, the religious right has been promoting a revisionist history which denies this. Although many of the Founding Fathers were Deists, who had a radically different view of the role of God in human affairs compared to Christianity, many Republicans also falsely claim that the United States was founded as a Christian country.

I’ve discussed many times, such as here, how religious beliefs do not provide sufficient justification under our system of government for public policy decisions. I’ve also noted that Barack Obama has expressed similar views. This presents the fundamental difference in belief between supporters of modernity and the religious right, and is argued again today in an exchange between Andrew Sullivan and Peter Suderman. Suderman writes:

…it’s always struck as strange when people argue that Christians have every right to their beliefs, and that those beliefs ought to be firmly respected — but that in politics, those beliefs ought to be kept to oneself. For many Christians, it’s integral to their faith that every part of their life, including their work, be comported in accordance with their religious beliefs. The idea that one ought to turn off or conveniently ignore his or her faith when participating in public life is anathema to many devout believers, and when proponents of a purely secular politics suggest that believers should be able to do that without compromising their faith, they misunderstand the entire nature of religious belief. What the most ardent secularists end up saying is, “I’ll respect your beliefs — provided you never act upon them around me.”

Sullivan debunks this in arguing:

Er, no. You can act upon them all you want. It is when you require others to be governed by laws deduced entirely from your own religious convictions that problems emerge.

What modernity requires is not that you cease living according to your faith, but that you accept that others may differ and that therefore politics requires a form of discourse that is reasonable and accessible to believer and non-believer alike. This religious restraint in politics is critical to the maintenance of liberal democracy, and that is why Christianism is so hostile to modernity, though nowhere near as threatening as Islamism.

Allowing others to be other is what we call modernity. In my view, it is worth defending. And that’s why I think of myself as a conservative rather than as a reactionary. I like the pluralism of modernity; it doesn’t threaten me or my faith. And if one’s faith is dependent on being reinforced in every aspect of other people’s lives, then it is a rather insecure faith, don’t you think?

Christians have the right to live their lives based upon the teachings of their religion. If they believe that something is the actual view of God they are free to live based upon this. They do not have the right to use the power of the state to impose these views (or their interpretations of religion) upon others.

I’ve had several recent posts on the problems faced by the Republican Party due to the control exerted by the religious right. Robert Stacy McCain also commented on one of my earlier posts but appears mistaken about the nature of this objection. He responded to my view that the Republican Party will have trouble winning national elections if tied to the views of the religious right by writing:

That’s just atheistic bigotry, and as political analysis, it’s useless. Republicans did not lose the election because of creationism, and if Democrats want to presume that they now have a permanent majority on such a basis, I predict their majority will be remarkably short-lived.

First of all, this is not “atheistic bigotry.” The fundamentalist views of the religious right are certainly opposed by atheists, but are also opposed by many religious individuals who either do not share their religious views or who realize that government should not be used to impose their religious views upon others. He is also mistaken in thinking that I am either a Democrat (except perhaps by default due to the lack of a viable alternative) or see the fall of the GOP as a favorable development.

A strong two-party system is valuable in a liberal democracy and I see it as unfortunate that we now only have one viable option. In a two-party (or multi-party) system we have both greater opportunity for checks and balances upon the power of government and the opportunity for a greater variety of views to be offered by candidates. This is especially important for those of us whose views do not fit neatly into the traditional views of either major political party.

Rather than incorrectly seeing my writing as gloating by a Democrat who thinks they have achieved a permanent majority, Republicans such as McCain should see this as a warning of the dangers the Republicans now face as educated and affluent voters, along with the young, are decreasingly seeing them as a viable choice. Republicans are amazed that many of us affluent independents are now voting for the party which they argue will tax us more, failing to understand that a party which promotes views such as creationism will not even be considered, regardless of where they stand on other issues.

I wish to see a movement away from religious fundamentalism by the Republican Party both because I desire a second viable choice and because I do not believe Democrats have a guaranteed permanent majority. While I do believe the Republicans will eventually go the way of the Whigs if they do not accept modernization of their views, this can be a slow process. History and progress do not always move in a straight line and the Republicans very will might win some more elections before their inevitable decline. I would much rather see a Republican Party which accepts the modern world be in power than to have a repeat of the Bush years.

The Republicans have been in a slow decline for decades as two negative forces have increasingly gained influence. While for years Republicans would pander to the religious right for votes while laughing them off as nuts, the religious right now dominates the party. For a moment it appeared Republicans might be backing away from this with the nomination of John McCain, but now the views of Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee look like the more probable future for the GOP.

While the religious right has increased dominance, other conservative principles have been abandoned in favor of tactics. We have seen the original McCarthyism in the 1950’s followed by a resurgence of McCarthyist techniques by many Republicans. Republican victories in recent years have come more as a result of distorting the views of their opponents than promoting a coherent set of principles of their own. Even William Kristol has recently admitted that conservative talk of small government has little relationship to the reality of Republican rule.

For the most part the Republicans became more concerned about holding and expanding power than promoting principles, leaving the religious right with the only remaining viewpoint which had devoted followers. The religious right found a philosophical vacuum to fill in the GOP, regrettably turning them into a party which will increasingly have difficulty winning outside of the deep south and a handful of sparsely-populated western states. They simply cannot fight the modern world and deny modern science forever and expect to win.

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