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What Ails the Conservative Movement

Conservatives in America (and their counterparts in the Republican Party) face a pivotal decision today: whether or not to accept or reject the religious right element within the movement. The outcome of this important debate will impact American politics and our level of political freedom for generations to come.

I applaud the efforts of the anti-religionists—(Heather MacDonald, Christopher Orlet, James Taranto, Theodore Dalrymple, Lou Dobbs and Sam Harris to name a few)—who are speaking out against the religionists’ faith-based rhetoric. I believe this rising tide of challenge to religion in American politics, if taken now, could lead to untold prosperity—ommitted, it could lead men into unforetold misery.

We do face moral crises today, (especially in the realm of foreign policy), that desperately need answers, but infusing religion with politics is not the solution. Continued pandering to the religous right elements will only serve to prolong and compound the economic and social ills in America today. If Republicans do not challenge the religionists in the party, they will ultimately stifle the expansion of laissez-faire capitalism because they will lack the moral base to fight socialism, and the GOP will cease being a viable choice for anyone wanting a pro-growth society, for anyone wanting “free soil, free men.” They will leave pro-growth supporters no choice but to look elsewhere for a strong independent candidate, who is not influenced by the religious right.

There are many conservative thinkers who oppose an “atheist” approach to politics. One such thinker, Stephen Warshawsky, who is admittedly not religious but still comes out on the side of the religionists in his essay, “Atheists, Conservatives, and Christianity,” (www.Americanthinker.com, March 11, 2007) writes:

Indeed, if one were to evaluate my “lifestyle” (non-religious, married to a doctor, no children, living in New York City), one likely would conclude that I should side with the atheists in this debate. I don’t.

I have long believed that part of being a “conservative” is being respectful of religion. Or rather, to be more precise, being respectful of Christianity. Unlike Orlet, I am not offended when someone says that this is a “Christian nation.” It is. America certainly is not a Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist nation. As a Jew, I am deeply grateful for this nation’s Christian heritage. No nation on earth treats Jews better. While there are many reasons for this, I believe that Christianity is part of what makes America the great country that she is. And as a fervently patriotic American, I will support and defend this country’s Christian heritage to my dying days.”

Warshawsky is largely refuting points made by Christopher Orlet, who praises the rise of atheist conservatives in his essay, “Skeptical Conservatives, Weary of the Theocon’s Disdain, are Emerging from the Closet.” (New English Review online, March 2007) He dismisses Orlet’s anti-religious stance and argues that America’s virtues are largely the result of Christian values—ignoring, as Orlet points out, all of Aristotle’s ethics and the entire Age of Enlightenment, which adovated reason, not faith, as supreme.

Warshawsky is a pragmatist and sees nothing wrong with the “libertarian Republicans” accepting a little faith from the religious right if it means gaining allies in the goal of political freedom. He uses the current liberal-socialist trends in America today to make his case for compromise:

Clearly, there still is much, much work to be done to implement a conservative agenda in this country. This being the case, why would anyone who shares a major part of this agenda want to eschew an alliance with largely like-minded folks, just because those folks happen to hold some conflicting views? This makes no sense. There are few “small government” supporters to be found on the liberal/Democratic side of the aisle. There are just as few believers in economic or political liberty over there. If the fundamental “conservative” project is to preserve and protect the American tradition, as represented by the Founding Fathers and their political and philosophical descendents, then both libertarians and Christian conservatives have vital roles to play. My message to atheist conservatives: grow up, have more respect for the Christian majority in this country, and don’t be so sensitive. You’re starting to sound like liberals.”

This is a dangerous idea. Warshawsky believes you can have capitalism without its individualist moral base, but you cannot. Either man lives for the sake of others (God or society) or he lives for his own sake (individualism). You cannot reconcile this contradiction without taking faith, including Christianity, out of the equation.

Taking faith out of American politics is exactly what has to happen in order to promote political freedom in the long run. If you allow faith into the conversation within any branch of our government, you open the door to force; and, if you have force, by definition, you do not have freedom, since political freedom is the absence of coercion.

The correlation between faith and force was identified by Ayn Rand in her lecture delivered at Yale in 1960, “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World.” She stated:

I have said that faith and force are corollaries, and that mysticism will always lead to the rule of brutality. The cause of it is contained in the very nature of mysticism. Reason is the only objective means of communication and of understanding among men; when men deal with one another by means of reason, reality is their objective standard and frame of reference. But when men claim to possess supernatural means of knowledge, no persuasion, communication or understanding are possible…Anyone who resorts to the formula: “It’s so, because I say so,” will have to reach for a gun, sooner or later. Communists, like all materialists, are neo-mystics: it does not matter whether one rejects the mind in favor of revelations or in favor of conditioned reflexes. The basic premise and the results are the same.”

The degree that faith and mysticism are instituted by law in a society is the extent of that society’s suffering. Mysticism is destroying the Middle East. America, by contrast, was not founded on mysticism or Christian ethics, as Warshawsky purports. America was founded on the pro-reason values of the Enlightenment.

Heather MacDonald, arguing against faith-based conservatism in her 2006 article for The American Conservative, said it well:

The presumption of religious belief—not to mention the contradictory thinking that so often accompanies it—does damage to conservatism by resting its claims on revealed truth. But on such truth there can be no agreement without faith. And a lot of us do not have such faith—nor do we need it to be conservative.”

At this precarious stage in our history, when dictators are clamoring for nuclear aresenals in the name of Armageddon and using tactics to draw us into war, we cannot afford to pander to the religious right in politics. To do so will ultimately diminish our society’s moral base and weaken our ability to defend our nation from the theocracies that threaten us. We cannot afford to continue to treat faith-based arguments as reasonable and give them the validity as arguments grounded in the facts of reality. Why, to paraphrase Warshawsky, would anyone want to?

We still have time to challenge the neo-mystics of the twenty-first century—which includes the statist liberals and the religious right conservatives. We still have time to demand that religion be kept out of government, that the wall of separation between church and state remain intact.

We need to recognize that respecting the separation of church and state does not negate religious freedom. It simply ensures no one can force their religious beliefs onto another. Nor does atheism negate morality. Morality is a method of choosing right (or life-sustaining) action. As a science, ethics has an empircal basis in nature and in the nature of man. One does not need religion to be virtuous.

The good news is, it only takes a few people being reasonable to affect the many. And, fortunately, most Americans are inherently individualistic. Most Americans still understand that questions of morality should be left up to the individual, not politicians.

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