As I’ve already pointed out in earlier articles, Tribalism is not something I look kindly on, not on the ‘other side’ and not in ‘my side.’ It may not quite be the fountain of all stupidities, but it sure is the source of a great many. Ayn Rand (someone I don’t always agree with, but when she’s right she sure is right) once said something along the lines of “racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of Collectivism.” Quite right! And what I’d add is that if we were to endorse or forgive the racism of others because they were on our side, we would be complicit in that collectivism.
But it’s not racism I’m talking about here today; it’s a much more significant marriage that has happened in the American Right that has turned out to be a major source of tribalist harm to it. The racism quote above is just to set the framework for understanding, I hope, that whatever kind of group-think we end up endorsing that runs contrary to the principles of reason and free-thought, it ends up hurting us. It’s just more obvious when it comes to something like acting as enablers for racists, but it applies just as much in things we might convince ourselves somehow to be more justifiable.
The marriage I’m talking about is the marriage of free-thinking conservatives (NOTE: including Christian free-thinking conservatives) to the politicized Religious Right.
The marriage has been on the rocks for a while now. In modern American (everywhere else this fight is finished, pretty much) Conservatism there is a split, between those who see Christianity as a fundamental value of conservatism, and those who see Reason and Liberty as a fundamental value. Because here’s the deal: the former is, at its core, not really aligned with the latter two.
Now, I’m not saying that you can’t be a Christian who believes in freedom of speech, liberty, the right of every person to their own conscience and expression of that conscience. Far from it; many of the greatest free-thinkers have been Christians. As much as I agree with Ms. Rand in her quote above, one area where she and I don’t see eye to eye is her outright dismissal of religion itself. The problem is not with religion in general, or Christianity in every particular individual case, but with Institutional and most importantly Politicized Christianity as a group-thinking bloc. I think one could make a hell of an argument (pardon the pun) that sticking fast through tribalism to the Hard Christian Right is actually hopelessly damaging Conservatism in the U.S.
I don’t abide by the stupid kind of conservatism, the extreme kind that fetishizes certain concepts to the point of refusing to allow them to be questioned, and assumes that anything coming from the Right must be good and absolutely everything coming from the Left is automatically bad (so that you could almost call it “conservativism”). This conservativism has alienated just about every sector of society including those who should by any measure be the most afraid of Statism. And while it is tied into certain concepts beyond it, this conservativism is part of what has kept the otherwise-crazy marriage of Libertarian and other Free-Thinking conservatives to the Fundamentalist Christian extremists together.
Let me be clear what I mean by “fundamentalist Christian extremists.” I mean the group that goes around dreaming of some Taliban-style Theocracy for America where they get to censor anyone they think Jesus doesn’t like (who just happens to be anyone they don’t like), while fearing their precious bodily fluids will be damaged by things they fear like what they call the “homosex agenda.” Plus, these asses use terms like ‘homosex agenda’. We who are free-thinkers have almost NOTHING in common with these people.
Let me just give you one little example of how this association has created problems for the Right that it doesn’t need to have: gay marriage. The Hard Christian Right is a’gin it, goldarn it! They don’t want Steve to be able to marry Larry or they will corrupt the children, offend the Baby Jesus, and make birds fly backward! And as long as the Hard Christian Right is tied in to the rest of the Right, then the rest of the Right, even if they really don’t give a damn about the subject, will be stuck opposing it by virtue of tribalism. People will often fail to even consider the subject, not getting that the real problem is not the “terrifying” possibility of two men being married, but rather the actually terrifying nature of the Leviathan, and never stopping to question why the State should get to decide whether anyone is married or not in the first place (be it Steve & Lisa or Steve & Larry) only so that they can then impose byzantine taxation standards and social engineering.
The real conservative view should be “Government shouldn’t be involved in marriage AT ALL.” The government shouldn’t get to marry Steve and Larry or Steve and Lisa or Liza and Sally or Steve/Lisa/Larry/Sally all together. That shouldn’t be its business. The only reasons for the government to get to decide that are so that the government can decide how to best tax you, and that’s what we should be arguing against, not who gets or doesn’t get to tick the little ‘married’ box on your IRS form. It’s the money, stupid.
We need to get something here: this alliance is a problem from both an ethical perspective, and a pragmatic perspective. In terms of sheer pragmatism, as long as the Right is seen as the party of Fundamentalist Christianity we scare away all kinds of groups, people who won’t even consider defining themselves as on our side even though they agree with us on much more than what they agree with the “progressive” crowd, just because we have hitched our wagon to the horse of religious exclusion. Never mind people of other religions, there’s also the point that people with “no religion” (note: not Atheists, just no religion) are the fastest growing demographic in North America. And obviously, the vast majority of the Hard Christian Right doesn’t really include large numbers of Christians from African-American or Latino communities, who have never really felt represented by a group of (usually fat) white southern preachers or (usually thin) pasty-white creepy-looking ultra-Catholics, for some reason. But we can go even further: even young people who define themselves AS EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS can’t stand the Hard Christian Right. Note that they’re not giving up Christianity, they’re not turning to the Left either, they’re just not embracing the politics that tell them they have to want a virtual theocracy or that Government is the right way for them to bring Christianity into society. They’ve come to see that this kind of politicized Christianity has actually been toxic to Christian culture in the United States and done nothing but harm to the perspective people have of Christians. Not to mention harming churches themselves, as pulpits become entangled in money-politics.
We are, in short, attracting no one but that ever-aging, ever-diminishing rump of increasingly radical ultra-religious would-be theocrats.
And that brings us to the ethical side of the argument: regardless of the fact that it would be pragmatically wise to move the Right in the United States away from its unholy alliance with religious fanatics in terms of gaining popularity, it is more importantly the right thing to do. This is because there is no real connection between the values of people who want Individual Freedoms and Less Government, and the people who want to use More Government to impose a religious agenda on society.
The Collective is my enemy, be it the ones who want to force me to eat less sugar, or the ones who want to force me to go to their church; to use my money to subsidize their absurd social programs, or to use my money to oppress people doing things they don’t like in their bedrooms; to tell me I can’t smoke tobacco because its a “social harm,” or to tell me my neighbor can’t smoke cannabis because it’s “The Devil’s Weed” and might lead to dancing. The Hard Christian Right is just as collectivist, just as big government, as any Leftists are. Were it not that they were at the opposite end of the social-spectrum, they would fit much more comfortably with the Hard Left, because both are autocrats that believe that a small group of morally superior people should get to decide for all the rest of us how we live; they only disagree on who those people are. I don’t want the Baptist Women’s Decency League or the Portland Womyn’s Collective getting to decide what I look at online. I don’t want Catholic Moral Restoration Alliance or the Community Tolerance Standards Committee getting to decide what I can write, or who gets to read it.
We need to redefine ourselves outside the tribalism of “our side good/their side bad,” especially when some of who we think of as “our side” don’t actually believe in anything we do about how the role of government or the freedom of the individual. And we need to redefine the battle lines between Individualists and Collectivists, and not bulky unwieldy groupings formed out of tradition and the oddities of partisan Washington political intrigues. Be they Evangelical Christian or Godless Atheist (or anything in between), Black, White, Yellow, Brown, Gay, Straight, or Miscellaneous; the person who stands for me having the right to live my own way, to live as I will, to play what I will, to eat and drink what I will, to think, speak and write what I will, to dress how I will, to love how I will and to die how I will so long as I maintain the right of others to do their will likewise, that person is my ally. And be they Christian or Atheist, Black, White, Yellow, Brown, Gay, Straight, or Miscellaneous, the person who would deny me those rights (or deny those rights to others, because that is the same as denying them to me, eventually) is my enemy.
But wait! You say, “What about Christianity’s part in our civilization?” and “Is it even possible for the Right to divorce itself from Christianity in the U.S.?”
The answers to that we will have to wait until next week.
Kasimir Urbanski doesn’t write on a specific subject; he’s EveryJoe’s resident maniac-at-large. A recovering Humanities academic and world-traveler, he now lives in South America and is a researcher of fringe religion, eastern philosophy, and esoteric consciousness-expansion. In his spare time he writes tabletop RPGs, and blogs about them at therpgpundit.blogspot.com.
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