PARTNER SITES

Conservatism: The Alabaster Elephant

I ended “Religion vs. The Arts” in The New Romanticist by noting that some of the most magnificent art of the past had religious themes or themes derived from religion (e.g., Michelangelo’s heroic “David,” the somber “Pieta,” and the indescribable Sistine Chapel). The subject of that art was man himself, with religion serving as a vehicle to portray him. I wrote that Romanticism will have come of age when men no longer need an excuse to portray him as the heroic being he has been, is today, and can always be, sans supernatural excuses or nods to religious “first causers.” Just as the Renaissance used religion as a vehicle to express a new and rational idea of man, so did the Greeks in imagining their own gods.

Andrew Klavan’s article, “Crisis in the Arts,” was largely a complaint about his fellow conservatives who limit themselves to fulminating against the Left’s monopoly in the arts; I took exception to his many religious statements and allusions. In that column, I discussed why religion is impotent to aid in the regeneration of American culture and a return (or rediscovery of) to a politics of freedom. In this column I will discuss why conservatives, in a stricter, narrower or secular political context, are equally impotent to bring about any measurable or permanent change in that direction.

But, no matter how vast the doctrinal literature of any given religion, or how ancient its roots may be, religion, as a primitive form of philosophy, still belongs to the caveman’s beliefs that spirits occupied trees and rivers and that illnesses and diseases were caused by malicious gremlins that needed to be exorcised with chants, rattles, and poisonous herbal concoctions.

Instead of being born tabula rasa, statist and religious dogmas separately contend that man is born with an obscenity-marred chalkboard that must be erased with faith and force. Once cleansed of a rational epistemology and inoculated against a rational metaphysics, both wish to write on that sterile tablet.

A friend who read my previous column wrote me about the phenomenon of religion surviving the Enlightenment.

Religionists collide with a brick wall on the issue of religion. For all the brilliance of some conservatives on specific issues, it’s as if their minds slam shut the instant they’re confronted with anything that might threaten to loosen their grip on Yaweh as the core of their intellects. They react almost convulsively. They can’t think in anything but straw man concepts like “materialism”, “consumerism”, believing-in-something-bigger-than-yourself and the rest of the standard thought-stopping bromides.

For example, there is no way I could get one of them to understand that my “inner emotional reality” is the result of my values because to him they have no meaning if not centered on God. And if big close-knit families are essential to morality and personal happiness, does he just write off anyone who doesn’t have one? Jews are the same way and yes, so are “spiritual” liberals.

Having done my master’s thesis on the Eleusinian Mysteries celebration, I suspect that religion survived in classical Greece at least in part because it was fun.

My question is: With what exactly would conservatives replace all of the Left’s movies, documentaries, and art with? Should conservatives come to power and evict leftists from the majority, would they replace both National Endowments (of the Arts and Humanities) with the Christian version of the Saudi religious police (the Mutaween, which should rhyme with Halloween, but doesn’t)? Would they hesitate to abolish and defund the NEA and the NEH? Would they replace Common Core with their own “Core,” which might include Bible studies? Would they encourage the production of more biblical epics, or “wholesome,” saccharine dramas and comedies that don’t denigrate America or American values?

Andrew Klavan doesn’t know.

Now, I can depend on Obama lying. I can count on a RINO to be so adept at flip-flopping on issues that his skills ought to be entered as an Olympic sport. I always expect a career Democrat to obfuscate, lie, and behave like a carnival barker or a used car salesman. But I never know what to expect from a conservative, religious or not. Every time I look at a Republican or a conservative, religious or not, I see a hollow, alabaster elephant.

What values do they uphold? Here’s a clue from the February 10th number of Conservative HQ, “Eric Cantor Earns an Opponent – Dave Brat”:

While we like Dave Brat’s intellectual background (got a business degree from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, then went to Princeton seminary) and especially the way his religious background informs his views on economics: “I’ve always found it amazing how we have the grand swath of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and we lost moral arguments on (fiscal-policy issues) the major issue of our day,” he told NRO’s Woodruff, Dave Brat isn’t some egghead professor – he’s the candidate of the grassroots limited government constitutional conservatives and Tea Party movement activists.

From all the evidence at hand, whether we are speaking of religious or non-religious conservatism, conservatives simply want to “conserve” the status quo, to reach the same end as the Left’s, but at a slower pace, as though that policy will not obliterate the country. Conservatism is bankrupt, empty, as terrified of radical, pro-freedom changes in government as are the Obamas, the Clintons, and the Bushes. Conservatives express horror at the prospect of the Tea Party agenda ascending in influence in political discourse and action. Which is why the Republicans first co-opted it, then diluted it, and finally rebuffed it. Obama and Company express horror by siccing the IRS and the Justice Department on their enemies in broad lawyerly “drone strikes” against individuals and organizations.

Have the conservatives, or the Republicans, indicated a revolt against Obama’s abuse of executive power? Not much. The Republicans, even the conservatives among them, side-lined the Tea Party and any serious challenge to the political status quo. The Democrats side-swiped them and ran them off the road.

But, no matter how vast the doctrinal literature of any given religion, or how ancient its roots may be, religion, as a primitive form of philosophy, still belongs to the caveman’s beliefs that spirits occupied trees and rivers and that illnesses and diseases were caused by malicious gremlins that needed to be exorcised with chants, rattles, and poisonous herbal concoctions.

Instead of being born tabula rasa, statist and religious dogmas contend that man is born with an obscenity-marred chalkboard that must be erased with faith and/or force.

Another reader wrote me that a philosopher called faith “an ice pick to the brain.” Once one defers to feelings (usually fear, or the cowardice that is writ large, “I’d better believe in God, because I might be wrong about the illogic of the existence of a supernatural being”), and abandons reason and reality, one allows the systematic corrosion of one’s mind to establish itself and work inexorably to its complete destruction. Faith is a cancer that can destroy the best of minds and lead to death-bed conversions that negate an otherwise spotless career and life.

The only reason the Left wants to kill off religion is because it’s a rival for the unreserved allegiance of “the masses.” Others who believe in freedom of thought and action do not want to “kill off” religion, but let it die a natural death.  Those “others” are also the enemies of the Left. They are not the intrinsic or automatic enemies of religion.  Religion is a primitive form of philosophy, but a tenacious one. it’s easier to accept because it requires only a modicum of adherence. Religion was able to survive even in classical Greece, the birthplace of reason. There is an element in religion, faith, which is guaranteed to neutralize even the most rational, reason-committed individuals.

The troubling problem with strictly political conservatives, even when they don’t bring up faith and family and “traditional” values, is that they assume that big, managerial government is here to stay, but assure everyone that they’ll do a better job of it than will intrusive, looting, spendthrift socialists, liberals, or Democrats.

I would no more trust Andrew Klavan holding the reins of government than do now Obama or any other politician at large today.

The alabaster elephant is empty.

  • Margaret Trombley

    Excellent.

  • Vovka Ashkenazy

    Some paragraphs were pasted twice.

  • Christopher Budden

    I fear that conservatism, with its inherent inability to deal seriously with intellectual issues from a rational perspective sans mysticism, may very well be this country’s final undoing. Excellent article–I’ve been preaching this same thing to the mystic choirs of the Right for ages now–much of it having fallen on deaf ears.