Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mere Orthodoxy: Are Evangelicals Really Conservative? Not everyone is convinced

And thus to D. G. Hart's case that evangelicalism is ultimately going to move in the direction of progressivism and has never had anything substantial to add intellectually to conservatism as a movement.

Irony of ironies: the Religious Right has spawned the Religious Left. Today in many evangelical circles, especially anywhere in the vicinity of a university community, affiliation with conservatism is viewed like membership in a leper colony.

Really?  I've had the impression the Religious Right didn't spawn the Religious Left (as we know it now).  The Religious Right attempted to replicate what they considered to have been the triumph of the Religious Left for the wrong kinds of causes in a rearguard attempt to move things back toward the right ones.  That's my impression of the history, anyway.  Maybe the Religious Left got mobilized because after Reagan they freaked out that the people they thought would never gain any power or influence actually got power and influence at all.  Maybe it wasn't enough power and influence to get the kinds of theocratic police states lefties keep assuming conservative Christians want but enough to make them use that as a sales pitch to mobilize their own base.  Enough, certainly, for Franky Schaeffer to keep acting like that's what his dad was on about and downplaying his own formative, self-admitted role in the whole affair, sordid or glorious as it may be depending on who you talk to.

Nevertheless, Hart awakens evangelicals to five factors that put them at odds with conservatism: (1) habitual appeal to the Bible as the prescriptive standard for national affairs, which abuses the Reformation principle of sola scriptura; (2) failure to differentiate the norms and tasks of the "little platoons" in society (e.g., family, work, church, neighborhood association, political party); (3) conflation of ultimate and proximate realities, thus neglecting "an older Augustinian view of the relationship between the City of God and the City of Man"; (4) naïveté about human depravity, beholden to a perfectionist model of sanctification; and (5) an anti-formalist attitude, which regards "the American political tradition's conventions of federalism, republicanism, and constitutionalism [as] merely formal arrangements that may be discarded if a better option surfaces." Bottom line:
… after thirty years of laboring with and supposedly listening to political conservatives, evangelicals have not expanded their intellectual repertoire significantly beyond the moral imperatives of the Bible. In fact, born-again Protestants show no more capacity to think conservatively than they did in the age of Billy Graham's greatest popularity. They do not know how to yell "stop" to the engines of modernity the way conservatives typically have. They have not learned to be wary of concentrations of power and wealth, frustrated with mass society and popular culture's distraction from "permanent things," or skeptical about any humanitarian plan to end human misery. Instead, evangelicals are more likely to support political plans to improve society, grow the economy, and expand the United States' global presence as long as doctors are not performing abortions and ministers are not presiding over the marriage of gay couples.
I could write more about this but I kinda don't feel like it.  I do, however, want to mention these links and point them out for your consideration.  Right now I've been more interested in blogging about negative critical responses to Haydn and other stuff.


JS Bangs said...

I haven't read the linked articles yet, but my first reaction is: well, duh. Evangelicalism is inherently anti-conservative, having inherited the instincts of the Radical Reformation, with its anti-institutional, anti-formal, and anti-traditional basis. These are the foundations of modern liberalism, which means that outside of a narrow set of religious strictures, Evangelicalism (along with most strands of Protestantism) will naturally tend to the left rather than the right.

To be a real conservative, you pretty much have to be Catholic or Orthodox.

(Half-joking... but only half.)

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I half agree to the half joke. :)

For instance, people could point to R. L. Dabney's warning about the inevitable liberalization and secularization that would come from state schools in America. Modern evangelicals would approve that. Modern evangelicals would have less comfort with Dabney's lament that Jews and Papists and other apostates like Arminians would be given monetary power to decide how kids would be educated. Most evangelicals would feel even LESS comfortable with Dabney's declaration that state schools would be spending white tax dollars to educate black kids and that this would be doomed to failure because it would train black kids to be better criminals than they already are, which Dabney expressed was about all they were good for anyway. Dabney may have been right about expansion of federal power but he made a race-based argument as well that taints any good that could have come from his critique of federal government overstepping constitutional bounds. The secession commisioners who helped build the case for secession grounded their case not merely in states' rights and the compromise of the constitution, they also swung things back to the question of race.

As Mark Noll put it in The Civil War as Theological Crisis, both the North and South claimed to be evangelical Protestants who valued Scripture but neither side managed to resolve the theological question about race that was at the heart of slavery and related issues of federal and state government power. Noll noted that the theological/intellectual schools of thought that did come up with ways to directly address these issues were within Judaism and Catholicism and obviously in 19the century America Jews and Papists didn't count for anything serious to evangelicals. So, arguably, even within the good old days of older evangelicalism in America the intellectual ghetto that had been set up locked the North and South into positions where neither would have broken out of their ruts.