Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Dec/08

5

Perception or Power

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What does the secular right want? If you read Kathleen Parker’s latest – and I know she doesn’t speak for all right secularists – you get the strange sense that she wants the way the GOP is perceived to change but not for the GOP to be substantively different.

As long as the religious right is seen as controlling the Republican Party, the GOP will continue to lose some percentage of voters, and that percentage likely will increase over time as younger voters shift away from traditional to more progressive values. (emphasis added).

Perception is not really a persuasive reason for the GOP to be less theocentric. What if the GOP could remain religious, even become more religious, while merely pretending to be secular? I think in many ways that’s what people like Huckabee and Palin represent. I mean, I’ve seen Huckabee on the Tyra Banks show, for God’s sake, and Sarah Palin definitely shops like the East Coast secularists Kathleen Parker identifies with. Such a rope-a-dope may be inauthentic to some degree but then again its politics.

In other words, I predict that Kathleen’s exhortations are going to have absolutely no effect. She’s arguing for a new packaging. Not for a new message. And that, really, is what people on this website have to ask. If you can get a more pro-secular packaging out of the GOP, would you have any other gripes with it.

If so, what.

And just as a follow up: are your policy differences, if any, dependent on your secularity or on something else.

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20 comments

  • Cascadian · December 5, 2008 at 7:35 am

    My pet issue is States Rights and Federalism. I would have no problem with a theocratic face at the helm, if I believed there was a sincere commitment to devolve the national government and that moral/cultural decisions would be left to States to implement.

  • Author comment by Walter Olson · December 5, 2008 at 8:20 am

    Of course no one speaks for “the” secular right; we have five distinctly different views among our five (so far) contributors.

    That said, it would be an enormous advance — though obviously not putting to rest all tensions in this area — if conservative public figures took care to frame their arguments for the benefit of listeners who do not share their religious premises. This is not to be deprecated as mere pretense or concealment. There is a real difference between a state where the Sunday retail ban stays on the books because the governor says shopping on the Sabbath defies God’s will, and one where other arguments (don’t overwork store employees) have to be pressed into service instead. Given my libertarian views, I’d oppose the ban either way, but that doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge that there is great progress in moving the debate from Point A to Point B.

  • Brad S · December 5, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Actually, Walter, it would be an enormous advance if Intellecutal and Media Conservatives would learn to STAND BY THE ELECTED OFFICIALS THEY PROMOTE. You know why Evangelical Conservatives are always mentioned as the first people the GOP should take to the dumpster after an electoral loss? Because the Dems/MSM/Left INSTINCTIVELY KNOW that Intellectual/Media Conservatives have a sense of shame about those Christers, and know that those same Intellectual/Media Conservatives want approval, beyond anything else. Thus the continual calls by the Kathleen Parkers of this world to toss those stupid Christers in the trash.

    Meanwhile, the Dems, after losing in ’04, didn’t throw anybody overboard. They have one simple mantra: “Who’re you voting for Speaker/Majority Leader?” One of these days, I’ll see the Reps/Conservatives work under the same premise.

  • Polichinello · December 5, 2008 at 9:17 am

    In Parker’s defense, I think what she’s saying is in this one sentence:

    By all means, let faith inform one’s values, but let reason inform one’s public arguments.

    IOW, an argument for any given issue–abortion, gay “marriage”, euthanasia, etc–should not start and end with “Because God said so.” It should be based on and explicated with evidence and reason available to anyone, and if you can’t do that, then so much the worse for the argument. In this she’s right, and could have phrased her point more succintly.

    I disagree with her on two points. As the child of Southern Baptist, I instinctively resent the whole “oogedy boogedy” label. Parker wouldn’t dare use that term in reference to a politically protected group, like Muslims, so it betrays a bit bullying cowardice on her part, IMO. Perhaps it’s a bit of childhood resentment working its way out, as she sort of hints at.

    The second problem is her assurance that associating with evangelicals is a losing proposition. She does this, yet later cites Obama and McCain’s paying homage to Rick Warren (hardly a PTL type, himself). But the Evangelicals are such losers, then why did Obama, a master politician and trend reader, court their vote?

  • Caledonian · December 5, 2008 at 10:19 am

    I want a political party to arise that takes the fruits of the Enlightenment seriously. I want Liberalism in the old, conservative sense to take root.

    I want irrational, illogical thinking to be rejected categorically, along with unlimited tolerance for the right of individuals to be irrational and illogical.

    I want politicians who are occasionally capable of owing allegiance to rationality and enlightened self-interest, rather than narrow constituencies and the status quo.

    I want people to hold power who perceive stability as desirable, but not absolutely so, who recognize that government is not an end in itself and must be changed or abolished if it fails to serve its purpose.

    I don’t care what the people who manifest these properties call themselves. Republicans, Democrats, Independents – it is completely irrelevant.

    And I want all political groups, organizations, parties, and leaders not compatible with the above points to be expunged and destroyed.

  • raft · December 5, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    who’s Nietzsche?

    i assume secular right has a 5th contributor now?

  • Heather Mac Donald · December 5, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    The argument that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the soundest form of government because it is consistent with Allah’s Will would presumably not be persuasive to many Westerners, who would look instead at the empirical evidence: How are Iranians faring under the Republic? Are they free and secure in their property and persons? Is the economy relatively dynamic?

    Nor would many Christians or Jews find the Koran relevant as a trump card for any policy discussion in the United States.

    I agree with Caledonian, Polichinello, and Walter Olson: Secular conservatives are just asking for an awareness on the part of American Christians that appeals to their own faith are useless to anyone outside the faith, and don’t always persuade people within it. Conservatives don’t need a religious trump card; they can demonstrate with empirical evidence available to all that the state cannot substitute for the family, that poverty in this country is largely a function of irresponsible personal choices, that the breakdown of marriage in the inner city has had a cataclysmic effect on black advancement. Conservatives don’t need the Bible to argue that race and gender are almost never a job qualification, and that double standards for achievement are poison for their alleged beneficiaries and for the society at large. They can show that government can not productively run an economy or a business.

    If the Religious Right wants to continue making the centerpiece of its politics what the media amazingly agrees to call “values” issues (as if there are no other values or no one else has them), so be it. But if the RR can’t find a universal moral or empirical ground for outlawing abortion, stem cell research, or homosexual marriage, it will not pick up many adherents outside the faith.

    One thing I wonder about: if the claims of the New Testament are as overwhelming in their logic as Christians say they are, how do Christians explain why those claims have failed to persuade the vast majority of Jews, among the most rational and intelligent people on earth, after nearly 2000 years of availability? Is the problem with the argument or with the people hearing the argument? Of course, such a question is no longer allowed in our culture, which pays lip service to religion but is in fact Enlightenment-saturated in its tolerance.

  • Polichinello · December 5, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Ms. MacDonald,

    I’m not aware of any serious Christian claiming that the New Testament can compel through reason or logic alone. St. Paul himself said that the Gospel is a “scandal to Jews and foolishness to the Greeks”, or something to that effect. St. Thomas Aquinas argued that anyone can deduce the existence of God, but the Christian god requires revelation. I believe St. Augustine says something similar. Many of the Protestants, of course, rely more on faith than reason. In fact, C.S. Lewis points out that what Jesus said was said by others, so the argument itself doesn’t move as much as the personality and divinity of Christ.

    Bottom line, Christ’s message is more attuned to moving hearts than minds, and, following Christ’s example, Christians would say that those whose hearts remain unmoved either don’t understand the message or are simply obdurate.

  • Andrew M · December 5, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    As a RC with a strong libertarian pull, I try my best to frame any political arguements is purely rational terms. This serves me well with almost any issue (abortion, stem-cell research, and euthanasia amongst the topics where religion is often cited as a trump card), however, there are a few issues where my views are predominately based on my religious beliefs, and in these I struggle to reconcile them to reason. The vast majority of these are not in the political sphere, and most of them I am happy with the political status quo, but were they to come up in debate, I don’t know that I could give a good, persuasive, atheistic arguement to support them.

    Suffice to say, were the GOP to become the party where religion forms the values, but reason the politics, as Polichinello said, I would be a happy member.

  • Panopaea · December 5, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    >”One thing I wonder about: if the claims of the New Testament are as overwhelming in their logic as Christians say they are, how do Christians explain why those claims have failed to persuade the vast majority of Jews, among the most rational and intelligent people on earth, after nearly 2000 years of availability?”

    This is a subject of biblical revelation itself:

    Rom 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.

  • Author comment by Nietzsche · December 5, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    I would like to remain anonymous for the time being. If this is unbearable or unacceptable then I will happily withdraw. Still, last I checked this was (merely) a blog.

  • Author comment by Nietzsche · December 5, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    This is what always gets me: if a secularist on the right begins from the position that her project requires translating various christian principles from faith-language into reason-speak then what impetus or motivation is there for a christian to ever give a rat’s ass about that secularist.

    isn’t that secularist, in essence, a ‘tool’ by which the christian dupes all the non-christians of the world.

  • JM Hanes · December 5, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Next thing you know, Nietzsche, these guys will be demanding empirical proof of your existence.

  • Polichinello · December 6, 2008 at 9:13 am

    This is what always gets me: if a secularist on the right begins from the position that her project requires translating various christian principles from faith-language into reason-speak then what impetus or motivation is there for a christian to ever give a rat’s ass about that secularist.

    Well, I think the idea is that, as our society is of Christian origin, and conservatives want to conserve what’s good in that society, by necessity it would require translating Christian precepts into secular terms. Mutatis Mutandis, the same would be done in Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim societies if they had their own secular rightists.

    BTW, I would never dare ask you to reveal your identity, but it would be nice if you could sum up your philosophy, whether it’s neoconservative, traditional conservative or libertarian.

  • JM Hanes · December 6, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Polichinello:

    Our putative “Christian origin” is a controversial concept even on the right. Indeed, our colonial origins are more distintively American. In any case, the trail from origins to collective political imperatives is a muddy one at best.

    If however, presreving the Christian good in our culture requires translating conservative Christian precepts into secular terms, surely the obligation falls most logically and productively to the conservative Christians themselves, not to others. Perhaps someone could clarify the wisdom of defaulting to their non-religious brethren as they watch their proportionate share of the body politic decline. Considering how much time religious conservatives end up devoting to the correction of doctrinal misunderstandings amongst themselves, as well as their secular peers, delegating translation to the misguided would seem both bizarre and irresponsible, would it not?

    In contrast, when it’s apparent that religion based rhetoric is alienating increasing numbers within even the conservative coaliton itself, the wisdom of translating religious precepts into secular political principles seems self-evident, so to speak. In a telling irony, however, the religious right consistently raise the religious ante and opt for the language of excommunication, not inclusion. It is an impulse that will ultimately serve them ill.

  • Caledonian · December 6, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    If you find yourself trying to formulate rational defenses for your positions, you’ve already gotten off on the wrong foot.

    What’s wrong with the rational argument that first induced you to accept the position? It should be able to convince any reasoning person of the validity of your point – and if you come across someone who can find a flaw in your reasoning, or data you didn’t possess, so much the better!

    Of course, if you didn’t accept the position on rational grounds, you don’t have such an argument. In which case, I would suggest that you should reconsider whether defending that position, instead of putting it to the test, is the right idea.

  • Polichinello · December 6, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Of course, if you didn’t accept the position on rational grounds, you don’t have such an argument. In which case, I would suggest that you should reconsider whether defending that position, instead of putting it to the test, is the right idea.

    Well, first, I’d say that defending a position intellectually is putting it to the test.

    Second, I’d say that you’re ascribing too much power to reason. Reason, of course, is a good thing, but you can’t justify reason with reason alone. I mean, what reason is there to use reason? At some point, you’ll say it leads to a happier life, which I happen to believe. But “happiness” is a psychological state, a feeling.

    Third, we come out of an historical background. We’re not cartesian creatures who can reconstruct every aspect of our society and ourselves anew. So, we look at the customs and laws already in place, defending them because, in short, they’re our customs and laws. Those that are indefensible, we drop or amend.

  • Polichinello · December 6, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    Our putative “Christian origin” is a controversial concept even on the right.

    I’ve found that “controversy” wholly fictional at bottom. Yes, our social milleu is informed by pre-Christian, extra-Christian and post-Christian influences. There’s no doubt about that. But the vast majority of our culture was formed and evolved in a European Christian environment. In fact a lot of non-Christian influences were themselves mediated through Christian filters or expressed in Christian terms. I’m not saying that’s a good or a bad thing. Merely that that is the way it is. If a conservative wants to conserve what’s in this society, he’s going to be defending a lot of Christian customs and values, on particularistic grounds, if not universal ones. That applies whether he’s a Christian or not. Indeed, the very idea of a secular sphere is a Christian invention.

  • Polichinello · December 6, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Unfortunately, I fat-fingered the bold in my last comment. I apologize. I wanted to emphasize the words “conserve” and “secular.”

  • JM Hanes · December 6, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    Polichinello:

    It reads pretty well bolded either way. I doubt we’d agree on where the fictions lie, but even stipulating that conservative principles described in secular terms often derive from a lot of Christian customs and values, the question of who should most reasonbly be expected to translate religious rhetoric into secular political rhetoric remains. That’s really the question I was addressing.

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