August 08, 2003

Is politics really about liberal vs. conservative?

Was reading a post at Little Tiny Lies (which is going on my blogroll Right. Now.) It's about the whole gay thing, an excellent and interesting post: but what piqued my interest the most was this disclaimer:

I've covered gay topics from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to the recent decision that it's okay for Episcopal bishops to be gay, so I figure I might as well go on, get myself in real trouble, and discuss the morality itself of gayness.

I start with the premises that the God of the Bible is real, and that the Bible, while not perfect, is the best guide we have to His thoughts and intentions. That's where the trouble starts. If you're an atheist, gay sex is very, very hard to condemn. It's consensual (except in prisons, boarding schools, fraternities, certain Catholic churches, and at Neverland Ranch), people seem to enjoy it, and it's good aerobic exercise. I think a rational person can only criticize it from a religious perspective, because outside of that context, it's just something you do with your body, and it shouldn't concern other people unless it harms them in some way.

If you're not religious and you say gay sex is swell, I say, "Fine and dandy," because you and I necessarily discuss things in a secular context. Me telling you gay sex is wrong is like a rabbi telling me I can't have cheeseburgers.

That interests me because I've had the same struggle while doing this blog: I have justifications for some things that are purely religious, and I don't expect non-Christians to agree at all. For instance, Dean at Dean's World has a thread going on Calvinism which as a debate-lover and a Calvinist you would expect me to jump into headfirst. But I haven't; not because I'm afraid of being proved wrong or offending or being offended, but because I'm almost certain that the medium wouldn't let me justify my beliefs. If I sat down with Dean (who is by the way a self-described Bright and whom I do think is quite bright although I hate the term) I'd probably be able to explain my beliefs; possibly through email. But this isn't what I really want to get to.

The Little Tiny Lies posting started me thinking about something else I read recently about how the Democrats are becoming the secular party. That makes a lot of sense, and explains a lot of things that the liberal/conservative division can't.

My thesis is that the Democratic Party is being taken over by those who hold to a fairly strict utilitarian, secular view of morality, while the Republican Party stands as a place for those who adhere to traditional morality (they need not be Christians, but clearly believe in a Christian-based morality.) There's also of course a libertarian wing, but it's not that powerful and is generally more concerned with fiscal conservatism and so is able to remain under the Republican tent.

The only major group for whom this doesn't fit at all is Catholics. For whatever reason (I'm not really up on my political history) Catholics have tended toward the Democratic Party. Socially liberal Catholics have pretty much spurned the Church's teachings on abortion and homosexuality, and the Church is beginning to call them on this, the Pope calling Catholics to make political decisions informed by their religious views. See, because one side of the political spectrum has begun to base its morality outside of Christianity on purely rational grounds, traditional religious institutions have gravitated to the other. The first picture of this might be the rise of the Religious Right (vastly over-rated but definitely real) in the 80s and early 90s. The second is going on right now and in the next few years and, I think, will involve a shift in orthodox Catholics (and possibly Orthodox Jews, I don't know much about their political affiliations) to the Republican tent.

If this polarization continues -- and I see no reason for it not to -- we'll end up with two parties which base their morality (and by extension, their laws) on completely different grounds. This will not be church vs. secular. The nation has been based on Christian principles since its founding; we are not a theocracy, or anywhere near it. But we have held that certain things (prostitution, sodomy, pretty much everything that conservatives and libertarians argue about) should be illegal, and that many other practices should receive social disapproval, like extramarital and premarital sex, lying, etc.

We are beginning to move away from that foundation and build a new one based purely on self-interest, with the government banning only that which directly harms another. The positions are clear; the battle lines are being drawn. You thought the Culture Wars were over?

You ain't seen nothing yet. Have a great decade.

*I have no formal learning about any of this stuff. This is all a thought experiment, I'm probably horribly wrong. Please tell me how I've messed up. Comment. Link. I'm really interested in what you have to say, both Christian readers and non-.

Update: I realized I left out another important religious group with conservative morals aligned with the Democratic Party -- Black Protestants. But their affiliations are not really relevant here, because they don't really base their allegiance on self-interest or morality as much as the race issue. It's a whole 'nother ball game, an important one that I'll maybe address in the future but which I think is not tied to the issue at hand.

Hmm, maybe I should do an Anticipatory Retaliation-type poll on what to write about. Topics would probably deal with the interplay of religion and politics, or just religion (lots of people write much more intelligently than I about straight politics). What do you think?

Posted by Tim at August 8, 2003 11:19 PM

Tim, this is a really great essay, and I think you are correct in your assessment (although ALL Catholics aren't Democrats--my Dad voted for Richard Nixon when the rest of the Parish backed Kennedy), that the parties seem to be moving to representativeness of the "moral" and "amoral"...

Posted by: Susie at August 9, 2003 12:59 AM

Thanks. One thing -- my point is less that the Democrats represent the 'amoral' side (though certain recent figures come to mind) than a new morality based in utilitarianism. Where traditional morality finds its basis in the teachings of the Christian Bible and the Judeo-Christian traditions, this new morality has basically one rule: "don't infringe on others' freedom". Problem is that some things (the traditionalist argues) aren't cut-and-dried infringements on freedom but allowing them leads to limitations on freedom. That seems to be the moral basis for the war on drugs, that certain addictive substances should be banned because addicts are not free and end up living their whole lives around getting x substance.*

*Don't debate that here, though; I'm not saying I agree with either side**

**Though I do have an opinion, but that's for some other post***

***Do I remind you of anyone yet?

Posted by: Tim the Michigander at August 9, 2003 01:13 AM

From my point of view, religion has no place in government. The Democrats are right about this; if something doesn't harm anyone, the government should keep its nose out.

Too bad the current Democrats are otherwise hopelessly insane.

And War on Drugs = Prohibition. Same arguments, same methods, same results.

(Also, though I'm the "Brights" target market, I think they're a bunch of wankers.)

Posted by: Pixy Misa at August 9, 2003 09:28 AM

Well religion per se doesn't belong in government, in the sense of the government being theocratic. But I argue that the foundation of our government is Christian morality, specifically the belief that power must be decentralized, since people are by nature inclined to evil -- including leaders of the church, which is why religious toleration is built into the Constitution. As I pointed out in my Episcopal Bishops post below, the Bible's "political philosophy is 'moderation in all things'". I think the US government is in fact based on religious principles, but that there is an emerging group which believes this should not be the case and is already working to undermine the system by centralizing power, liberalizing social mores and rejecting any hint of religion in public life. This group is taking over, or has already taken over, the Democratic Party.

Posted by: Tim the Michigander at August 9, 2003 01:09 PM

Excellent essay, Tim. I think there is definately a trend toward a more Libertarian approach within the Republican party.
But, I also think you're right that a Judeo-Christian morality still guides many of even the most secular members. Even as staunch a conservative as Clarence Thomas wrote that state anti-sodomy laws are silly, even as he made the case that overturning them is not the business of a federal court.
The morality still shows up in many secular conservatives when you suggest to them that, say, prostitution should be legal. Even if they can agree that it's a consentual relationship between adults, there's a gutteral idea that legalizing it would be "condoning" it, and they recoil at the thought of that. (same goes for mild drug use.)
This puts Conservatives in a spot between the Religous Right and Libertarians; too secular to ban sodomy, too "moral" too legalize prostitution. Religeous conservatives and Libertarians can each explain, in no uncertain terms, what they stand for and why. The "moral but secular" conservatives, I think, have a tougher time explaining themselves and sounding philosophically anchored.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at August 9, 2003 08:15 PM

Right, Tuning Spork: one need not be an evangelical or even religious at all to have a Christian-based morality. That group fits into the Republican Party fine under my model.

Posted by: Tim the Michigander at August 9, 2003 08:19 PM

The US government - it seems to me - is based on certain moral principles that can be found (along with lots of other stuff) in the bible, but which are not in themselves religious. Certainly it's not a religious government. Nor are these moral concepts exclusively or originally Christian.

As for the Democrats, they have traditionally been the party of big government (hence centralised power) and social liberalism. The latter I see as a good thing, the former bad.

Despite the general insanity of the Dems, they have one thing right (if indeed they do indeed follow the rule you suggest): Blindly applying a fixed moral code to new situations will inevitable lead to disaster.

Of course, shallow analysis of new situations according to the rule "don't infringe on others' freedom" tends to lead to disaster too.

A major problem with both the left and the right is the assumption that they can simply apply their existing rules to everything without having to think about the situation. X is always bad, Y is always good. Ban X and make Y mandatory.

Which is how I've ended up on the Far Centre myself.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at August 10, 2003 12:32 AM

Outside the abortion issue, there is no longer much difference between liberals and conservatives when it comes to Globalism. Free Trade degraded human dignity of the workers everywhere- here in the USA and abroad. It created a working poor class in the USA and wage slave class outside of our country. It was a Democratic President - President Clinton- and a Democratic controlled Congress that passed both NAFTA and GATT unfair trade agreements and "commoditised" the American worker and workers everywhere. Both parties did nothing while the USA suffered the most massive dislocation of jobs in history. As matter of fact, the Republicans and the Democrats joined hands in a Pearl Harbor attack on workers. President Bush followed President Clinton, Dole, Gingrich and the likes of Limbaugh in the "bombing" of American workers.

Real terrorism started with the massive losses of real jobs. In the workday and the world of business, religion was left in church on Sunday and radical survival of the fittest ruled Monday morning at work. Globalism and Free Trade launched a new "ism" where it no longer matters if are for socialism, communism or capitalism because all governments have become power brokers in the transactions of business. International organizations like the WTO and the World Banks control the flow of wealth outside any democratic process. NAFTA has secret tribunals ruling on trade issues outside individual nations' judicial systems. The new "ism" came as a thief in the night while the old stale debate of liberalism and conservatism goes on and on.

Ethics in the workday are dismissed and a survival of the fittest attitudes rule the game.
Documents like Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo are discarded after being a base for human interaction in the workday between employers and workers. Captialism is supposed to make it easy for all to be good in competing for their daily bread. Now the USA has over 2 million in prison and this by itself has become big business.

It is no longer enough to debate the liberal stance versus the conservative stance when the workday is left out of the picture. Today the real issue of our times outside the issue of abortion is the need for real jobs and not wars. Today workers are handcuffed and no one seems to have the key to unlock their chains.

Globalism now even breeds more than this with it leading to wars and terrorism. As Franklin Roosevelt said, economic diseases are highly communicable. Today these "diseases" are an epidemic while the same stale difference between liberal and conservatives go on. Our economy is going down the drain with a working poor class created in the USA and a wage slave class outside the USA.

View the Cross 9-11 Tangle of Terror artwork by Ray Tapajna asking who will untangle the terror Globalism has bred. Read America in Terror by Chuck Harder and the House of Cards economy by Paul Donovan at the above site or at See Power to the People art featured in top newspaper story at

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