The Conscience of a Conservative
“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”
—Barry Goldwater, Conservative Republican, 1981
There are many good people from other cultures, with quite different faiths, who live moral and productive lives. Judeo-Christian principles are not the only path to morality. Hinduism and Buddhism teach similar principals and have equally interesting mythical histories. The very fact that similar sets of principles were developed simultaneously by different cultures implies that rather than being handed down from the gods, they evolved along with their respective cultures.
Western culture is rooted in ancient Greece. Plato’s rules of logic defined how we reason, and Socrates, who lived 400 years before Christ, was the first moral philosopher. He developed his moral principles using reason. He did not rely on Christian revelation.
Christianity and Islam, argue that each of their moral codes is their God’s law and is therefore supreme. That argument did not sit well with the framers of the Constitution who treated all religions equally and based our government and laws on reason, not religion or mysticism or superstition.
The Enlightenment thinkers rejected Christian revelation and replaced it with reason. Consequently our Constitution, the most important document to come out of the Age of Enlightenment, is derived from reason. It is neither an endorsement nor a denial of God or religion. That does not mean that the founders were indifferent to religion. On the contrary, they believed in God and defended religious beliefs. Many were Deists and Christians. But when it came to writing the Constitution, they took the Deist’s position and wisely rejected revelation as its foundation. Consequently, our Constitution is a secular document that guarantees religious freedom.
So it is that politicians must reconcile their personal religious beliefs with reason and a secular constitution. With courage and grace Senator Mitt Romney recently showed how that is done. Faith guided his conscience, but his objective consideration of the facts led to the truth, and his decision to vote “guilty” in the Trump impeachment trial on one Article of Impeachment.
The idea that one can appeal to a “higher power,” as some members of Congress claim, is contrary to the entire concept of America. To allow religious belief to trump the Constitution invites lawlessness. “Honor killings,” for example, while not uncommon in some countries, could never be acceptable here. For obvious reasons the Constitution overrides the any religious code that egregiously violates our rights.
Interestingly, the Christian Bible also demands honor killings, though Christians no longer believe that preserving a man’s honor requires that he kill his daughter for promiscuity. Here common sense has clearly triumphed over the Biblical mandate.
Democracy requires thoughtful deliberation, debate based in fact and truth, not faith, or fantasy. Members of Congress who refuse to reason, who appeal to scripture and reject evidence, fail to understand what the Constitution requires of them. They do a great disservice to our nation. To choose Christian revelation over reason is to do what our enlightened founders rejected. It is not the American way. As Goldwater remarked 40 years ago, “politics and governing require compromise.”
Goldwater also had this to say:
“I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.'”
Unfortunately the religious right has changed what it means to be a conservative. The Republican Party of today bears little resemblance to Goldwater’s. And the religious right seems hell-bent on dictating “their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism,’” as they try to rewrite American history, and change the meaning of the Constitution. Should they succeed, it will be sad day for everyone,…Christians included.
Bob Topper is a retired engineer