Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Godless Conservatives

When I first read something by that old conservative stalwart William F. Buckley, Jr., I was impressed by how rational and erudite he was. Surely, I thought, this was a rare conservative who didn't need the vulgar displays of Christian piety I had so long associated with conservatism. Then I picked up Buckley's 1951 book God and Man at Yale. Alas, Buckley was as religious as the next conservative.

Imagine my surprise upon reading the conservative Heather McDonald's frustration with the American intertwining of Christianity and conservatism:
"I find it depressing that every organ of conservative opinion reflexively cheers on creationism and intelligent design, while delivering snide pot shots at the Enlightenment. Which of the astounding fruits of empiricism would these Enlightenment-bashers dispense with: the conquest of cholera and other infectious diseases, emergency room medicine, jet travel, or the internet, to name just a handful of the millions of human triumphs that we take for granted?"
Now that's refreshing.

McDonald, a fellow at the conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute, took a stand in the American Conservative last August, "coming out" as an atheist:
"I have heard it said in the last six years that what makes conservatives superior to liberals is their religious faith -- as if morality is impossible without religion and everything is indeed permitted, as the cliché has it. I wonder whether religious conservatives can spot the atheists among them by their deeds or, for that matter, by their political positions. I very much doubt it. Skeptical conservatives do not look into the abyss when they make ethical choices. Their moral sense is as secure as a believer's. They do not need God or the Christian Bible to discover the golden rule and see themselves in others."
Any secular humanist could stand by this statement. Bravo.

But all is not sunny in the world of conservative atheists. How would a conservative argue against gay marriage, for instance, if not with Jesus as backup?

"They view marriage between a man and a woman as the surest way to raise stable, law-abiding children," she writes. That doesn't sound so rational. And it's funny how conservatives think that "law-abiding" is a virtue. Isn't that setting the bar awfully low? At least these kids obey the law. Unlike the kids those gays have.

In a strange way, I could always forgive religious conservatives their anti-gay stance because I figured they weren't firing on all pistons, so to speak. They were handicapped by their zealotry. But what's McDonald's excuse?



Blogger The Masticator said...

You know what made her turn conservative? It started, she says, with that scourge of English departments across American campuses, deconstruction. Sure, I've had trouble with deconstruction too, you might even say I think it's a dangerous dodge, a lofty diversion from real world questions and an excuse for liberal intellectuals to be disconnected and abstruse. But I didn't turn into a political yahoo.

The next rivet in McDonald's underground bunker was multiculturalism. Oooh, that makes my blood boil. How dare they make us read stuff by minorities. To be fair, a certain academic climate mistakenly put crappy literature on an equal plane with great old stuff for a little while, but the canon ought to be reinvigorated often. And it ought to be questioned. those who disagree with the proposition of questioning one's canons is probably leaning to the right. McDonald was teetering.

She officially became a no-nonsense bootstraps conservative when she saw all those poor people in New York refusing to help themselves. She was a journalist, and she was annoyed by all the blame being passed to racism.

McDonald is one of a most bitter brand of conservatives. She's taken things personally. Like so many conservatives in the last 30 years, nearly everything she says is a reaction to liberal opinion or culture.

Still, there are bright spots in her writing:

"Would I prefer it if our elites had the taste of 18th century aristocratic patrons and were subsidizing the likes of Mozart, Haydn, and Tiepolo, instead of Jeff Koons and Richard Prince? A thousand times, yes! But as much as I yearn to live in a world that could produce such beauty, I have to recognize that this is the best of all possible times to be alive. I don't know how many of us would give up our astounding array of choices, despite their costs above all in family stability, to go back to a time of more restricted individual autonomy."

At least she's reasonable.

11:20 AM  

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