Confessions of a Former Member of the Religious Right
Forgive me for the unnecessarily provocative title. For all the morbidly curious who saw that title and clicked, let me offer an equally excessive disclaimer/qualification/clarification:
When I say ‘former member of the Religious Right’ I do not mean to say that my faith no longer completely informs my worldview. Neither is it the case that I am no longer right-leaning in my political philosophy. Rather, I would define the Religious Right as that odd marriage of Popular American Christianity with Popular Modern American Conservative politics (99.999% of the time, tied to the Republican Party).
Further, I don’t mean to simply jump on the current popular Criticism bandwagon… but it does seem to me that there are some serious inconsistencies between Christianity and Popular American Christianity as well as between Conservatism and Popular Modern American Conservatism. I’m not trying to just throw argumentative bombs here – rather I am just attempting some additional definition of what I am talking about. It is far too easy to use definitional imprecision for rhetorical gain… so, I will do my best to be as clear as possible.
I believe that Popular American Christianity and Popular Modern American Conservatism have both grown mainly out of Enlightenment thinking. As such, they are certainly a good match for each other… but both their individual as well as corporate identities are far removed from their respective non-adjective laden cousins, ie Christianity and Conservatism.
This post is by no means an academic study of the recent history and development of ideologies, but, I will offer the following premise –
Popular American Christianity and Popular Modern American Conservatism are inextricably linked and are equal parts cause and effect for each other.
Now then, if this were an academic paper or a well-reasoned, intelligent, professional submission to philosophical discourse, I would next spend copious amounts of verbiage and a mind-numbing stretch of time attempting to prove this thesis.
Instead – since this is merely a semi-entertaining, (hopefully) slightly thought-provoking Blog post that about three whole people will actually read – I will just ask you three readers to accept the above premise and move on. I’ve got other things that I actually want to talk about.
You see, what I wish to say is that this strange syncretism (which somehow both birthed and was borne out of the Religious Right movement) has probably done more damage than good (to both Christianity as well as Conservatism).
I feel comfortable saying this because I can pretty safely consider myself a Card Carrying Member of the Religious Right from almost the moment of my political awakening (ca. 1990ish at the age of 11ish) all the way through probably 2007 (at the age of 28). And, in truth, I cannot trace a concrete time when I “stopped” considering myself a member of the Religious Right… rather, from roughly 2007 through today, I find that I have drifted away from those orthodoxies.
This is not to pat myself on the back or to suggest that I have now “seen the light”… for that would imply a sense of superiority that neither exists nor should be added to my quite personal analysis. And it is also true that while the mindset does seem to live on, the Religious Right Movement, such as it was, no longer really exists.
However, if there is one thing I have been learning over the past 5+ years it is this: It is important for professing Christians to turn a critical eye towards all extra-Biblical beliefs they possess.
Paul speaks of taking every thought captive and also of being renewed by the transforming of our minds. I used to think that a Christian Worldview was one which used our faith (and the revelation of God’s Word within the Bible) as a sort of prism or filter with which all our other thoughts should be put through.
But… I think it must be even stronger than that. A Christian Worldview should not just be a filter, but rather, Christ should be both the genesis and catalyst for all our thoughts and actions.
Certainly easier said than done, since we still must deal with our Flesh while we are on this Earth. But… I think that mindset is something we should strive towards.
Bearing all this in mind, let me attempt to get back to the original impetus for this rambling rant.
Popular Modern American Conservatism (hmmm… how about PMAC from here on out…) has been increasingly adopting Objectivism-Lite views over the past 50 years (and the rate at which it is becoming more Ayn-Randian has increased exponentially in the past 5 years especially). Former Religious Righties (certainly including myself) were just sort of caught up in this paradigm shift (perhaps without fully realizing it).
But let me be quite clear –
Objectivist thinking (even objectivist-lite) is wholly incompatible with Christianity.
If any of my three readers are unfamiliar with Ayn Rand or Objectivism, let me sum up my interpretation of that way of thinking: Hyper-Individualism.
In the Randian worldview, extreme self-interest is not only acceptable…. but it is even considered morally superior. There’s no need to delve into the rhetorical gymnastics she used to come up with these justifications. Suffice it to say, the idea is that by looking out for yourself, you remove the burden of others having to do so.
Now, at first blush, that sounds vaguely Conservative-ish… and certainly fits in with the clichés of “rugged individualism” and “self-determination” which still pepper much of PMAC thought. But even these thoughts that are supposedly hallmarks of ‘conservatism’ are a far cry from the sense of Community which animated the philosophy of Robert Nisbet as well as the “little platoon” focus of Burke.
PMAC seems to have dropped the quintessentially conservative notions of community and shared societal responsibility in favor of the hyper-individualism inherent in Objectivism.
This is part of what made/makes the Religious Right such a confused amalgam of incompatible philosophies. There is a distinct gulf that now exists between PMAC and Christianity. And I suppose that is why we have Popular American Christianity (following form, we’ll call it PAC henceforth).
PAC seems to be Christianity which sold itself out to either left-wing or right-wing political ideology. (Right-wing, in the case of the Religious Right, of course… though there are equal examples of Left-Wing Political “Christianity”).
I’m still not quite sure if right-wing PAC came into existence before, during or after the “creation” of the Religious Right mindset. Maybe that’s important, maybe not. But, for my purposes here, I simply want to place attention on the idea that the Religious Right is the melding of right-wing PAC with PMAC.
I think there must be some kind of balance between a Christian’s being aloof/ isolating themselves away from the political process and the kind of faux-Biblical activism that comes along with PAC. Finding that balance is no easy task. My pastor at Gateway Baptist Church (Alan Cross) terms that balance as such: “being prophetic rather than political”. I’ve been struggling with how to live that out for a few years now.
I think that Christians must be willing to operate outside of either Political Party as well as outside of political philosophy. That is especially hard to do (and not simply because it further opens us up to be used to advance one or the other political agendas). But, there is freedom under Christ to hold certain extra-Biblical viewpoints. The trick is making sure our identity is not only first and foremost, but actually solely in Christ.
Those are my conclusions so far… but I’d like to open this up for input.
The point (a la Linda Richman) is that the Religious Right – which is supposed to be a combination of Conservatism and Christianity – is, in practice neither very Conservative nor very Christian… discuss amongst yourselves…