Friday, March 20, 2009

How Fundamentalism Hijacked Conservatism

I am currently reading The Conservative Soul by Andrew Sullivan. I don't consider myself a conservative (I don't really subscribe to any one political philosophy, to be honest), but Sullivan is one of my daily reads, and I like the way he analyzes current events.

In the book, Sullivan claims that modern conservatism has strayed far from its original purpose. According to Sullivan, true conservatism means keeping tabs on government spending and expansion, and promises individual freedom and rule of law. However, under the Bush administration government spending reached an all-time high, torture became acceptable, and many conservatives favored religious dogma over civil liberties. So what went wrong? Sullivan sums it up in one word: fundamentalism.

In fundamentalism, things are either black or white; no greys are allowed. All authority resides in one person/book/ideology. For fundamentalists, whether they are secular (Marxists and Nazis) or religious (Islamic and Christian extremists), the goal is for all citizens to submit to this one authority . . . often by any means necessary.

The result, according to Sullivan, is the Bush administration. An administration that used torture as a interrogation, passed all spending bills, and proposed a Constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.

So how can conservatism bounce back? Sullivan's alternative is a "conservatism of doubt." Ultimate truth exists, but, according to Sullivan, it's so beyond our human understanding that we can never fully grasp it. While the fundamentalist never doubts, Sullivan says the conservative knows there is at least a 1% chance that s/he might be wrong.

Sullivan makes makes some good points. To me, however, the problem isn't believing that the Bible is the infallible Word of God; it's believing that one's own interpretation of the Bible is infallible. As Shakespeare once said, even the devil can use Scripture for his own purposes. And unfortunately, for many fundamentalists the Bible clearly says that if gays are allowed to marry, or if we don't blow up Iran, then God will rain fire and brimstone on America. Or something like that.

As far as Sullivan's "conservatism of doubt," he's got a good point. We humans are imperfect, so there is a good chance that we've got it all wrong. I'm not sure how it translates into politics (I'm only three quarters through the book). But I will say this; contrary to what fundamentalists believe, America is not a "Christian nation." We are a nation made up of various races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, income levels, etc. It would be foolish for the government to cater to only one group of people while completely ignoring the needs of others. But this is what fundamentalism does.

What do you think?


  1. Great review Travis and great distinctions about fundamentalism. To me that was part of the problem, the other was an administration which yielded to power hungry minions like Rove and Cheney.

  2. John 8:31-32 31To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." It is hard to know truth...but Jesus IS the Truth. Truth is not a concept to be sought and understood, but a person who can, will, and has revealed Himself. I understand your viewpoint that America cannot cater only to one group of people, but as confessed Christians who have been revealed the truth through our relationship with Christ, it is our duty to live with integrity and point out that which God has shown us through His word about His character. The Lord made woman to be with man...there is no confusion over God's viewpoint on this subject. Speaking as a fundamentalist, the Bible does not say that He will bring down fire and brimstone on our nation if it allows gay marriage (after all, there are plenty of sins that have run rampant in our country's history) but He will turn His face away from us and away from those who claim to be His yet overtly ignore His will and commandments. Lastly, I understand how hard it is to express Christianity without appearing judgemental. We are not able to truly judge someone because as limited as we are we cannot truly know someone. But we are called to be fruit inspectors...if the fruit of someone's life is not consistent with their public confession of Christ, we are responsible to point that out to them...
    Travis, this is some disturbing fruit...

  3. Brad- I was mostly paraphrasing Andrew Sullivan. I definitely believe that Jesus is the Truth. My main argument was about how politicizing the Gospel isn't going to work. I like to keep the church and the state as separate as possible.

  4. Bradley- are you serious? You have REALLY bad boundaries. It is not your responsibility to force others to behave as you'd have them and even if you could- that doesn't change hearts it only encourages resentment. This country was not founded to legislate morality- in fact, that's what the settlers were fleeing.

    There is no FRUIT to forcing the world to behave like the church. the world is the world. Love and serve the world that they might find Jesus, and let HIM transform them from the inside out. what's the difference between a gay person who is allowed to legally get married vs. a gay person who isn't? In God's eyes- NOTHING. Both of those, along with all of the rest of us, need His grace.

    This idea that you're getting at of using the government to make things look shiny and clean on the surface is disturbing. Sins are sins with or without government approval, so you are not treating the cause but rather putting a legislative band-aid over the symptoms. just love and serve people. share the gospel if and when it comes up. and lighten up about legislating your morality; i promise you that's a losing battle if your goal is to change minds.

    To the writer of this post- it was flipping fantastic. Well done, man.