Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Crunchy Cons: Religion

Here's the chapter of Dreher's Crunchy Cons that is sure to offend -- but also to cause some to cheer. All along, we've seen Dreher showing how there is a segment of conservatives who are actually concerned about the environment, education, simplicity, urban renewal, etc. Now he has a chapter that hits upon the distinguishing factor between the "crunchy" wing of the conservative movement and the unfettered libertarian wing -- faith. Dreher writes that religion "…gives crunchy cons the impetus to orient their lives and their efforts toward an ultimate end: serving God, not the self. By way of contrast, a libertarian conservative sees the point of life as exercising freedom of choice to serve his self-chosen ends, and will support a political arrangement that best serves those principles." (179)

Faith, in sum, provides a comprehensive worldview. Abraham Kupier expounds this in his still classic work Lectures on Calvinism -- that Calvinistic Christianity provides a comprehensive worldview (and he traces that worldview through the spheres of science, art, politics, religion, and the future). Dreher explains this worldview in terms of seeing creation sacramentally: "To see the world sacramentally is to see material things – objects and human actions – as vessels containing or transmitting ideals. To live in a sacramental world is to live in a world pregnant with meaning, a world in which nothing can be taken for granted, and in which no one or no thing is without intrinsic worth. If we live sacramentally, then everything we do and everything we are reflects the things we value.” (181)

But Dreher doesn't stop there -- he launches into his testimony -- how he personally grew up exposed to things of faith, but he put such thoughts on the back burner until one day as a student at LSU, he went to free speech alley, a place where any one could get up and speak on any topic:
“It usually attracted a fair share of fundamentalist evangelists, and like many other students, I enjoyed jeering at them. That afternoon, one of the most obnoxious campus preachers was finishing up his harangue when up onto the concrete bench leaped Billy, a thin blond kid from my philosophy class. In his left hand he held a copy of the portable Nietzsche. On the edge of its pages he had written in ballpoint pen ‘THE BIBLE’
‘God does not exist.’ He thundered ‘But if he does –‘ Billy looked up at the sky, shot out his right arm, and made an obscene gesture.”

People laughed nervously. Not me. I left the crowd, unnerved by what I had seen. Either Billy’s gesture was merely shocking, or he had just put his immortal soul in danger of hell. When confronted by something like that, the refusal to take sides on the question seemed like a luxury I couldn’t afford.(183).

From reflecation after that incident, Dreher decided to convert to Catholicism.

However, Dreher doesn't stop there -- he posits that crunch con-dom has its roots in a particular expression of relgion. He cites sociologist James Davidson Hunter, who saw two different impulses between the orthodox/traditionalists and the progressives in religion. The traditionalists, according to Hunter, believe that there is transcendent eternal truth -- and that God has revealed truth to us and our task is to bring our lives more and more under the sway of that truth. The progressives, meanwhile, believe that truth is best understood in the context of personal experience and cultural expression -- we don't know of any other way to speak, and thus all our talk of truth is conditioned, nay, determined by context.

Dreher's belief is that the traditionalist model is the only sure standing for building a worldview. “In short, if one’s religion is to mean anything, if it is to last, it has to stand outside of time and place. Its truths have to be transcendent. And though we moderns have to find a way to make the tradition livable in our own situations, we must never forget that we don’t judge the religion; the religion judges us. To be blunt, a god that is no bigger than our own desires is not God at all, but a divinized rationalization for self-worship.” (186)

Now let me say this -- I have a lot of respect for many of my progressive brothers and sisters. I find them many of them to be kind and loving. I find them to be thoughtful and sweet and a lot of fun. But I'm with Dreher on this one. There is transcendent truth, and God has revealed it to us. Yes we may disagree about it, yes, we may overreach in our claims to know it, no we don't live up to it at all, yet even so, there is transcendent truth. And God calls us to learn what it means to bring our lives in conformity with that truth -- to learn the joy and the grace and freedom that comes from living truthfully.

Dreher interviews a Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Jew -- all committed to the conservative expressions of their faith -- all committed to whole life discipleship. Their faith, not their political affiliation, is their guiding principle. The main reason they vote Republican (and they all do) is not that they buy lock stock and barrell into the Republican agenda (for they dont -- indeed they're very critical of much of it) -- they vote Republican because the Democratic party has shown itself to be broadly dismissive and even disdainful of people who have a conviction about transcendent truth expressed in a faith tradition.

And that should be a statement that sets the strategists in both parties on edge....