Saturday, January 30, 2010

What is a conservative?

I had a fun day today. Went out with long-time friends and hit some tennis balls, some further off the court than others. It was a beautiful day in Southern California, the best one can hope for outside of an Aero Commander drilling holes in the sky, that is.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before the change-over break took longer than some sets as politics crept into the conversation. That’s what makes playing with these guys so much to look forward to. There are, of course, a diverse set of opinions on everything one can imagine, which happens to be both curious and precious.

Without noticing that I slowly glided into polemical naughtiness, I asked one of the guys to define a conservative. He started listing attributes. I stopped him and asked him for a definition. Obviously shooting wildly around in the hope of striking something, he listed characteristics of conservatives. Things such as lower taxes, less government, supply-side economics, lower welfare, and so on.

After a brief side-bar explaining that supply-side economics is only half the story of capitalism and that for capitalism to fire on all cylinders both a supply-side and a consumer-side are necessary. Another side-bar had him agree that conservative contributions to private charities far outstrip that of any non-conservative, even filthy rich ones and that conservatives are dead set against government welfare because it shares the gene pool with slavery. That was another useful side-bar in the never ending quest to educate.

However, at this point I realized that I might come across as confrontational and I already had enough on him on the tennis court, so I offered to define a conservative for him.

A conservative is someone who adheres to a set of predefined, well published, clearly understood, principles. (I had the word “logical” also in there but I deleted it. It is not required that it should be logical to every one.)

That means there can be conservative Christians that are apart from those who say they follow Christ but what they say and do are not according to their predefined principles. There can also be conservative Jews and those who do not follow their predefined principles. Similarly, there are conservative Americans who follow their predefined principles, the U.S. Constitution and those Americans who do not.

In this manner one can classify Muslims, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Buddhists, and just about everybody else as conservative if they hold to and obey their principles or as something else if they do not.

Except liberals (more recently: progressives) and atheists. They don’t have a predefined, well published, clearly understood set of principles to which they can point and say: there, go and read who I am and what you can expect me to do in certain circumstances. They have nothing.

The world’s most prominent atheist, professor Richard Dawkins, said this about atheists and agnostics: “Indeed, organizing atheists has been compared to herding cats, because they tend to think independently and will not conform to authority.”1

I always wondered if Dr. Dawkins thought that one through before he penned that confession. There are numerous similar shoot-myself-in-the-foot confessions in his book, but I don’t want to critique the book here. Suffice to say that I am sure that I am not taking his confession out of context.

When Dr. Dawkins takes the position that atheists “will not conform to authority” it strikes very hard and wide at the heart of religion (that’s expected and the theme of his book) and any other suggestion of authoritative precept to which they would be obedient, such as the U.S. Constitution, for instance.

The U.S. Constitution is a doctrine that holds no promises of reward or threats of punishment in it. It just contains a set of principles. From it are spawned laws, regulations, codes, and other principles containing promises of rewards and threats of punishment, which are all intimately dependent on the parent principle, the Constitution. So, according to Dr. Dawkins, atheists “will (also) not conform” to the laws of the United States if it were not for the fear or cost of the punishment that is promised upon their violation.

Consequently, if there is a good chance that they can get away with breaking the law or believe that the law doesn't apply to them, there is nothing else that will prohibit them from committing a crime. No sting of the conscience, no moral drag or turbulence that will make them hesitate.

Dr. Dawkins continues: “Even if they cannot be herded, cats in sufficient numbers can make a lot of noise and cannot be ignored.”2

Still no mention of anything which will guide them in the “noise” making department. And to what end would they make the noise, one may ask? There can be only one thing: to destroy those who believe in God, a belief which is, in the first instance, none of his business. Without principles chaos creeps into society and eventually tyranny will take hold. I bet you a dollar to a doughnut Dr. Dawkins didn't connect those dots.

I would suggest that atheists are “unherdable” because they have nothing outside of themselves to which they are obedient: no set of principles, no precepts, no guidance. Truly like herding cats.

In an earlier blog I asked the question why conservatives are considered “right” and liberals “left” of the political or religious spectrum. Right of what? It is a question that suggests there is something nobler to our left. Since there is nothing to our left that has a clearly defined, publicly accessible set of principles, moving to the left can only mean going from set beliefs to chaos, be they Christian, Jew, American or whatever conservative they may be. It cannot be done.

I am not suggesting that atheists cannot be good adherents to the U.S. Constitution, in fact I know an atheist who is as conservative as one can get, but he does not at all fit Richard Dawkins’ definition of an atheist. So, my friend does have a belief in something and can, therefore, be herded – voluntarily.

Finally, if someone claims to be a Christian, for instance, but does not hold to Christian principles, anyone, believer and atheist alike should be able to discern that this is someone who claims to be what he is not. There is no special understanding or illumination required; just the simple language of the principles to which the person claims to be obedient.

Social and sports clubs have their principles and doctrines, too. Continue to violate them and you lose your membership. That goes for churches and other institutions, too. Your employer has a set of principles that will get you fired if you violate them. Your marriage is based on certain principles that can cause its destruction if you violate them. Life is full of doctrines and principles that affect almost all facets of our lives. Atheists and liberals believe they are not bound by any of that. They will not conform to authority.

Isn’t it high time that we expel those who claim to be Americans but who continue to violate the Constitution, or who try to let the Constitution breathe and live through other means than those that have been established by and through which it should live and breathe?


1 Richard Dawkins, The GOD delusion (Boston:Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006),5

2 ibid.

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Seeking the truth until I find it.