op-ed

Christianity is not conservative

Phillip Mencken Contributor

To read a response to this article, “Christianity is conservative,” by the Family Research Council’s Rob Schwarzwalder, click here. To read “Christianity is neither conservative nor socialist,” click here.

In the aftermath of the recent decision to admit GOProud to CPAC, the socially conservative wing of the blogosphere has been throwing a hissy fit. In one corner, Joseph Farah continues to beg the question by arguing that GOProud’s inclusion is morally on par with a fictional “conservative” swingers’ group joining the Right. It may not be a sin against God to assume that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice while trying to prove it, but someone should tell Farah that it is a sin against common sense.

In another corner, Ryan Sorba continues to prove himself a hypocrite by disapproving of sodomy while simultaneously visiting it upon the doctrines of St. Thomas Aquinas. Someone should remind Sorba that Aquinas was arguing for natural law being rationally intelligible at a time when the only people who could read the scriptures were highly trained professionals. These days, to the extent that such experts exist, they tend to be published by credible houses — you know, not the sort that publish the entirety of their authors’ work online, to be downloaded free of charge months in advance of the publication date.

But perhaps the most interesting objection comes from one Francisco Gonzales, who poses the following thought experiment:

“On the flip side of this — what if someone started an organization called “Christians for Total Healthcare.” They could claim they should be allowed at CPAC because they are in line with conservatism’s commitment to family values, and that their group believes, from a Judeo-Christian perspective, that government should provide health care for all.”

The easy answer is that groups such as this exist already under the stewardship of the so-called “Religious Left,” and so have made their allegiances an easy subject to understand. This doesn’t answer the general question of what is to be done with socialist Christians.

However, I think even this question is too easy because when you get right down to it, “socialist Christian” is simply redundant. Whatever ingenious tactics its figures of authority have used to hide its true meaning, Christianity, if you read its scriptures, is plainly a socialist religion. Its God is a leveler. The irresponsibility of the doctrines put forward by its Messiah put Che Guevara to shame. It does not speak of government executing its aims because the person who came up with it was a rebel against the existing government, and because there’s no reason you should settle for government enforcing your nonsensical system when you have a God to do it for you.

And I, for one, am tired of tip-toeing around this. I don’t expect that the Right will listen — in fact, I expect to be refuted by millions of different voices. If one of those refutations manages to quell my objections, I will be eternally grateful because it will put me at ease about being in allegiance with people who seem to hold moral precepts that are completely alien to conservatism.

I can already anticipate two red herrings on this subject. People who defend Christianity as the bedrock of the Right will often argue, firstly, that the Western tradition is defined at least halfway by the Christian tradition, and secondly, that without God, everything is permitted. The first objection is only true if you think that reading the Sparknotes version of Hamlet makes a high school student a Shakespeare scholar. Christianity, at heart, is nothing but an oversimplified, New Agey version of Judaism with all its teeth removed.

Most of the contributions to Western moral theory that really count — the Ten Commandments, for instance — come from Judaism, not Christianity. This is particularly true when it comes to conservative objections to gay rights, which usually borrow at least part of their firepower from Leviticus, a Jewish text. This is almost as revealing as the fact that paleoconservatives — the most consistently, if not conspicuously, Christian of the Right’s denizens — have let their religion’s eternal penis envy against unbaptized Jews poison them against the state of Israel. How’s that for a blood libel, Ms. Palin?

Having said this, the second objection is plainly a distraction. I am not arguing against God. Far from it — I am trying to stop my political ideology from embracing what I believe to be a neutered and perverse portrayal of Him. Just because we need a God to constrain the human mind, it doesn’t follow that we need a passive aggressive heavenly sap whose son talks like a broken record of Woodstock-era poetry.

Having dispensed with those two taglines, I can move forward with my indictment. I accuse Christianity of being fundamentally unconservative in three senses — firstly, its aspiration to equalize; secondly, its aspiration to forgive; thirdly, its aspiration to annihilate the human race.

Start with the equalization. It’s a favorite line of Leftists to accuse Christians of being inconsistent in their opposition to wealth redistribution because of the line “it’s easier for a Camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” It’s a sign of the intellectual laziness of the Left that they can only come up with one such line. Even in the same Gospel, you get “the first shall be last,” as well as some truly bizarre injunctions by Christ not to plan for the future, but just to put our trust in Him. Even the supposedly pro-capitalist “parable of the talents” is more about doing well by your master than about any sort of entrepreneurial individualism. Christ even tells his followers to pay their taxes like good little sheep (Grover Norquist, where are you when we need you), a far cry from the warning in Samuel (again, a Jewish text) that “those that submit to the government of the world and the flesh, are told plainly, what hard masters they are, and what tyranny the dominion of sin is.” And that’s nothing compared with the actions of Christ.

In one particularly memorable exchange, National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr. found himself confronted with a man who claimed to be the second coming of Christ, and who pleaded to be admitted to Buckley’s show, Firing Line. Buckley responded, jokingly, “Beware, I am the second coming of Pontius Pilate.”

He may as well have not been joking, for what conservative, in a moment of undisciplined passion, hasn’t wished that they could crucify every filthy hippie anarchist who throws bricks through the windows of the World Bank? Yet look at what Christ did to the moneychangers in the temple and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a difference.

This brings us neatly to the second problem — the Christian doctrine of a forgiving God. I don’t deny that if you suffered from severe child abuse, this might be an attractive doctrine, but do we call it conservative? I think not.

Leftists often complain that the Christian God sends people to Hell for all eternity. Never mind the justice of a system like this for some people (Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot), but moreover, if you believe that the Christian God is real, then you have to not only be horridly evil to go to Hell, but also incomprehensibly stupid. Consider the fact that the Christian God rarely, if ever, intervenes in this world, and leaves His vengeance for after death. In effect, this means that the Christian God is perfectly content to let violent criminals, sociopaths and thugs wander His creation for as long as a century before finally taking them off the streets. Not only that, but He’ll let them off the hook completely if they pledge allegiance to His son and occasionally tell Him they’re sorry for being so naughty (ask the Catholics about that one).

Imagine that Barack Obama gave automatic clemency to any criminal who claimed that he loved Sasha, and occasionally called her to tell her how sorry he was for being such a bad boy. What conservative outfit would think that was a fair justice system?

Christians are aware of this problem, which is why they’ve called it by the dirty name of antinomianism and tried desperately to rid their doctrines of it. The only person to get even vaguely close to success is a man named R. J. Rushdoony, whose book The Institutes of Biblical Law is a fully fledged blueprint for reorganizing society around the laws of the Old Testament. In other words, Mr. Rushdoony is such a good Christian that he’s actually a Jew!

And finally, there’s the third problem with Christianity — its urge to annihilate the human race. Interestingly, the person who best summed up this problem is an avowed atheist and socialist, Richard Dawkins, who once wrote a long essay about how Christianity might be a nasty religion, but Christ himself was okay because he encouraged people to act counter to their evolutionary impulses. By contrast, Dawkins wrote, “if biological processes could vote, evolution would vote Republican.”

It probably scandalizes Christians everywhere that Dawkins was right. But if you try reading even a small sample of the squawks of anti-evolutionary cranks in the Christian Right, you realize that he was, for these squawks often contain some of the best critiques of capitalism ever written. In fact, substitute “capitalism” for “Darwinism” and with minimal editing, your average Discovery Institute tract could become the next Das Kapital.

And like Das Kapital, these tracts are plagued with red herrings. Especially the oft-cited claim that if you believe in evolution, you have to believe in eugenics. Actually, eugenics is the most anti-evolutionary policy ever conceived, since it assumes that a species, rather than its surrounding ecosystem, can control the direction of its own evolution. Evolution is, if you think about it, nothing but Hayekian spontaneous order projected onto nature, and its workings are as infinitely difficult to understand as the workings of Thomas Sowell’s market. And if you disagree, I have a challenge for you — name the government policy that created the opposable thumb.

In fact, much of social conservatism arguably makes more sense if you ground it in evolutionary biology. Evolution, contrary to another creationist straw man, is not about being the fittest person around, but the most capable of passing on your genes through reproduction. You don’t need Ryan Sorba’s Thomist sputterings to tell you homosexuality is a strike against evolutionary fitness. Nor do you need Robert George to tell you that abortion is basically the evolutionary equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot.

Christianity, purely by accident, also gets both of these issues right. What it doesn’t get right is the idea that you’re obliged to watch your cystic fibrosis-afflicted child die of misery because it’s God’s will, or that people have a moral obligation to donate to a charity that will keep that poor wreck of a child alive. But perhaps most perversely of all, Christianity practically screams the notion that human beings should look forward to the end of the world. They’ve even devoted an entire area of theological study — eschatology — to determining what this wonderful event will be like.

The fact that Christians look forward to the decimation of all life not just on earth, but in the universe, because it will put an end to our horrible, evolutionary way of existing now, is profoundly sick. But even if you’re not willing to concede its similarity to mental illness, if a religion can’t even agree that it wants to conserve the universe, then it’s got no place at all calling itself “conservative.” Christians usually respond to this by saying that they want to conserve the universe because it’s not the right time yet. This is like Lenin saying he’s a conservative because he wants to be the one leading the revolution, and any revolution that starts before him is too soon.

I want to be wrong. It would be much easier to be wrong. The worst of it is that I know that individual Christians have a great record of furthering freedom in the world, and I’ve got nothing but respect for those Christians. But I also respect Erwin Rommel for keeping the Judaism of his prisoners of war secret from the Nazis, even though he was a German commander. Just because I respect Rommel doesn’t mean I’m under obligation to respect the evil belief system he was fighting for, nor do his actions have to be consistent with that belief system. I don’t, and they aren’t. Neither, I believe, are the actions of freedom-loving Christians consistent with their beliefs. If I am wrong, I will be glad to hear it. If not, then I suggest that the Right take up the words of another great (and consistent) conservative, H. L. Mencken:

“The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous.”

Phillip Mencken is the pseudonym of a conservative author.