September 7, 2010
Realism and Revival?By Larrey Anderson
America's cultural crisis has both material and spiritual causes. Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally in our capital city was an attempt to address both the material and spiritual issues on what is essentially a political level.
Can spiritual problems be addressed at a political level? The brief reply is "probably not." In the long run, Beck's approach, as noble as his intentions are, is likely to precipitate more -- not less -- divisiveness in the conservative effort to achieve a united front.
Our Founding Fathers were skeptical about merging politics and religion. They were not far removed from a culture whose politics were based on "the divine right of kings." And they were intent on establishing a polity that left no room for a continuing, and incestuous, marriage of politics and religion.
The Founders wanted to severely limit the role of the central state and preempt a state religion. In fact, their intention was to use longstanding religious factions to help maintain a limited government by pitting these camps against each other. The Founders were not for interdenominational understanding; they favored religious rivalry.
This is especially clear in the Federalist Papers. Religion, to the best of my knowledge, is mentioned in only four of the essays [i]. Two of the discussions of religion take us to the heart of the matter:
This is a brutally realistic assessment of what actually goes on between competing religions. The Founders were not concerned with creating religious pluralism. It already existed in America. They were concerned about how to establish and maintain a limited federal government [ii]. Thus, the first critical words (that few people seem to take the time to read) in the First Amendment:
They could not have said this in a simpler fashion: separation of church and state is a one-way street. What really mattered to the Founders was the maintenance of competing factions (religious, social, economic, etc.). They were counting on the competitive nature of human beings to be the linchpin of the republic. The Founders bet on cultural tension, not spiritual unity, as the primary check on the power of the central government [iii].
It was a good wager at the time. Religious zealotry was -- and continues to be for those with eyes to see -- the fountain of much that is good and evil in human beings.
Here are two (of countless) examples of the intensity between rival religious factions in America: Anne Hutchison was prosecuted (and nearly died) in Puritan 17th-century New England for simply interpreting the Bible in an unconventional manner [iv]. Glenn Beck's prophet, Joseph Smith, was murdered in 1844.
In historical chronology, these two events were the day before yesterday. Yesterday, Catholics and Protestants were killing each other in Ireland (and Kentucky). Today, we have radical Islam in the Middle East...and at the World Trade Center, a farm in Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon.
Unlike present-day Americans, our Founding Fathers were hardheaded pragmatists when it came to religious zealotry. We have lost their realism for a reason. The Founding Fathers could not envision our current culture that is based (at least on the surface) on smarmy notions like "diversity" and "tolerance" -- not on competition [v].
We swim in political correctness like fish in water -- totally oblivious. One of the blackboard virtues Glenn Beck attributes to the Restoring Honor project is "diversity." Whether or not Beck is aware of the fact, "diversity" is a buzzword for moral relativism. As I have shown, in the language of the progressive left, diversity = tolerance = political correctness = moral relativism. Beck is using the terms and tactics of his political and cultural enemies. This is a critical mistake.
Progressives have scheduled a counter-demonstration for October. This event will also be a display of "diversity." If the promoters of this counter-rally have any sense, they will stick to generalizations like "hope," "honor," and "family." In short, they will mimic the speeches of the Restoring Honor rally -- with just a bit of progressive twist.
The mainstream media will take care of the rest. The number of people in attendance will be miraculously tripled. The sound bite of the day will be something about "hope" or "the family." The makeup of the audience will be diverse. ("Diversity" will be measured by the color of the demonstrators' skins -- not by their shared ideology.) Most important, the message from the October demonstration will be portrayed as a more sincere version of Beck's 8-28 rally.
This is the danger of using progressive tools to promote conservative causes. When the theological rubber hits the road, and it will hit the road, fundamentalist Christians will still claim that Mormonism is a cult. As Allen Bloom put it in The Closing of the American Mind, "People can readily accept reductionism in everything except what most concerns them."
Diversity is the trump card of progressivism. Diversity reduces all moral principles to this: "Let it be." Beck cannot capture the high ground with abstractions like "faith, hope, and charity" because there is no high ground in our politically correct culture to capture.
America has a long, hard road in front of it. Before we can restore honor, we must rediscover reason. We start by retaking our educational system. Conservatives must run for their school boards even as they walk to their rallies. As the Tea Parties are finding out, taking back the nation has more to do with electing the right precinct person than reading from the Bible. The future of conservatism is in building, not proselytizing; it is blood, sweat, and tears...not faith, hope, and charity.
Larrey Anderson is a writer, philosopher, and submissions editor for American Thinker. He is the author of The Order of the Beloved, and the memoir Underground. His next book, The Idea of the Family, will examine the role of procreation in human self-awareness.
[i] Two of the allusions to religion are trivial. (Persons may run for federal office regardless of their religious affiliation. Federalist Papers #52 and #57.)
[ii] Barack Hussein Obama seems to understand more about the intent of the Founders than do many of the spokespeople on the right:
Yet Obama wants to change the Constitution from a charter of negative liberties to a "living constitution" -- which has whatever positive "rights" the beau monde happen to find politically expedient at the moment. In short, he wants a constitution devoid of guarantees.
[iii] A kind of "spiritual unity" was given lip service by some of the Founders because they were also politicians (much like Obama has been forced to tout his allegiance to Christianity -- although no one seems to know exactly which sect of Christianity our president has chosen). The Founders were from various denominations; some adhered to then-intellectually trendy Deism or Christian Deism.
[iv] A parkway in New York stands dedicated to her courage.
[v] For instance, the word "tolerance" was not used (as we now know it) until John Stuart Mill introduced the concept in 1859 in chapter 3 of On Liberty.