Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind'

Conservatism and extremism

Those who have been following these notes over the past five and a half years will not be surprised when I say that I do not flinch at defending the term "conservative" as an appropriate adjective for the worldview I bring to what social scientists these days call "the public square." I've defined it, as I see and use it, several times before here: Conservatism is dedicated to conserving the underpinnings of Western civilization, meaning what is properly called "Judeo-Christian" first principles. I don't have much affinity for people who call themselves primarily "economic" (as opposed to "social") conservatives, as I think that's just a euphemism for "self-centered greedy misers." But on the other hand, a healthy skepticism of political action as our savior in any sense of that word is part of social conservatism, too, especially in an increasingly post-Christian or post-Judeo-Christian nation and world, so we won't be quick to amen those political voices that see the solution of every social problem as more government money or paid agents. Liberalism (which most theoreticians identify with secular humanism) likes nothing more than leading people to shift their faith from God to government.

On Thursday I encountered two current news items about liberals who are beginning to "get" religion, or at least to appreciate the importance of religion in the daily lives of most Americans. Though some conservatives might be cynically dismissive of such declarations as "too little too late," I think that to the extent we can give them credence, they represent a healthy development. Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean's recent calls to evangelical Christians to join him don't impress me as credible, but Democratic Congressman Barack Obama's speech at a Call to Renewal Conference, as reported in Christianity Today blog, does ring true. And although I suspect that her turn to religion is more cerebral than noetic (more from the intellect than from the heart), I was also impressed by several statements made by Madeleine Albright in an interview in the Christianity Today website on the same day. The former United Nations Ambassador and Secretary of State under the Clinton Administration has a new book out entitled The Mighty & the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs from HarperCollins. I found the following especially heartening:

I think there's a difference between conservative and extremist. I think an extremist is somebody who is totally disrespectful of other people's views. An extremist is unwilling to make any movement toward finding common ground. Conservative is a way of interpreting things that may not recognize much change, but it is respectful of other people's views

Though I've never been much impressed with the use of "extremist" as a term to demonize one's political opponents, Albright's parsing of the term is helpful. For of course any Christian and, as I understand the word, every conservative, is honor bound to respect other people's views and look for common ground. There are some people who demonize everyone who doesn't see things as they do, and "extremists" may be aptly applied to them. One thinks of "the Rev." Fred Phelps and his team of demonstrators at the funerals of military personnel killed in the Iraq war on the grounds that they are there to fight for rights for homosexuals. Or it might also be applied to those who claim that C. S. Lewis was not a Christian or "hardly a Christian" because he didn't formulate some biblical doctrines in the same terms they use, as discussed here on March 20.

Obama's and Albright's efforts to nudge the Democratic party toward greater appreciation of religion and the influence of Christianity in American society are not likely to inspire me to get enthusiastic about any Democratic candidate, as Jimmy Carter once did. But their efforts are a good thing for the Christian cause and for the Republic, as far as they go.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy



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