A couple of weeks ago I noted that many Christians are anything but Christian. In fact, it would be hard to find a group that looked more like the anti-Christ. So many modern Christians these days are obsessed with hating people. One of them was profiled on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday. Bryan Fischer is a rather obscure radio host associated with the American Family Association with about a million listeners. He was largely responsible for getting Richard Grenell fired from Mitt Romney’s team of advisors. Grenell was guilty of being gay, and that’s pretty much all that mattered to Fischer.
Grenell of course is hardly alone. Closer to (my) home was the recent case of Tracey Thorne-Begland, nominated by our conservative governor for a Richmond judgeship. The Virginia General Assembly rejected him on May 14th, because he was guilty of being gay. I mean it stands to reason that if someone is gay, they are by definition sinful and thus unqualified for public office, let alone judgeship. Duh! What was Governor McDonnell smoking? Yet despite this, the Richmond General District Court gave him a temporary appointment, and is hoping that when the general assembly meets next year it will have a change of heart. That seems unlikely. And this is a judgment from legislators who are overwhelmingly Christian who presumably would take to heart Jesus’s admonition not to judge others.
Today, I note something which should also not be too startling but which surprisingly gets little press. Most conservatives simply are not conservative. It’s hard to say exactly what they are, but I suspect a psychiatrist would suggest they suffer from multiple personality disorder.
Conservatives in general want to retain things they way things were. Many of these conservatives are conservative, if you don’t mind going back 500 years or so. The problem is that they frame themselves as constitutional conservatives. In doing so they assert that the original intent of those who wrote our constitution was quite a bit different than it actually was. Bryan Fischer, for example, can be fairly described as a Dominionist. Fischer asserts that what our founding fathers wanted was a Christian-only nation, and all our laws should have their basis in biblical law. The ultimate goal of Dominionists should look familiar to the religious conservatism also sweeping Islamic countries. The Muslim brotherhood hopes that this weekend Egyptians will elect their candidate as the new president. He is someone who wants to implement Sharia law in Egypt. Sharia law is religious law made secular law. It forces everyone to follow religious law. Dominionists want the United States to implement Christian law (whatever that is), and force everyone to abide by it as well, even if they are not Christian.
Never mind that “Christian law” is something of an oxymoron. Dominionists and many conservatives simply fail to recognize that this is the exact antithesis of the original intent of the constitution. It’s quite clear in the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Our founders went out of their way to make it clear that someone’s religion was irrelevant to their public office: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
How much more original intent could possibly be required? As if the plain text of the Constitution and Bill of Rights were not enough, there are also the Federalist Papers, which make it clear this was the exact intent of our founding fathers. Nor did they intend to limit freedom of religions to Christians only. Writing to a Hebrew congregation in Rhode Island in 1790, George Washington wrote:
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
This of course is but just one small example of where today’s conservatives are completely against the conservatism they claim to champion. Here are some others.
- Environmentalism. Conservatives should treasure the environment. Teddy Roosevelt, for example, was very pro-environment and spent much of his presidency expanding our national parks and promoting the value and enjoyment of nature. Today’s conservatives think everyone has the right to trash the environment. Pretty soon the only use for guns will be to shoot your neighbor; there won’t be any animals left to shoot. Moreover, the glaciers will be gone, much of our shorelines will be underwater and our climate will be forever transformed specifically due to our controllable, human interactions with the environment. This is the “conserve” in conservatism?
- Freedom. The original intent of our founding fathers was clearly to allow all citizens to enjoy the maximum amount of freedom and to tightly control how much of your freedom governments could take away. They were pro civil liberties, not anti civil liberties. The Declaration of Independence declares all men have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Specifically we were granted freedoms of religion (including tight controls on the regulation of religion by the government), freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of petition. Citizens were specifically permitted Habeas Corpus, allowed trials by jury, could not be subjected to double jeopardy and were permitted not to incriminate themselves. All powers not specifically delegated to the federal or state governments were left to the people as a liberty by default.
- Original intent. A true conservative who respects the constitution must also respect its amendment process, not assert that everything in it should be interpreted as it existed in 1790. Our founders specifically understood that circumstances change, but set a rather onerous bar for amending the constitution. The amendment process is clearly constitutional and because it is hard to do conservatives should respect it. They should be waiving flags of freedom that women and blacks got the right to vote, that eighteen year olds can vote and that citizens can now directly elect their senators.
- Abortion. If personal freedom is the foundation of conservatism, why does a woman not have the freedom to choose what to do with her own pregnant body?
- School vouchers. Public schools did not exist in 1790, with the possible exception of scattered public state universities. The government for the most part was not in the business of public education at all. Why should conservatives support giving government money to people so they can send their children to school? Why do the same with welfare, or health care? Isn’t this more redistribution of wealth?
- Euthanasia and assisted suicide. If a good conservative believes in maximum freedom, why should a person not be allowed to die with dignity at a time of his or her own choosing?
- Gun control. If a state and the federal government declare it has no need for a militia, why cannot a state regulate guns when the text of the Second Amendment specifically says that freedom to own guns is predicated on the need for the state to have a militia?
- Same sex marriage. Why shouldn’t a citizen have the freedom to marry whoever they choose? Isn’t this in accord with conservative principles to maximize individual freedom?
I suspect that I, a progressive, am far more of a traditional conservative than the vast majority of conservatives who claim that label. I don’t know what these conservatives actually are, but they should stop soiling such a good term.