Does the Religious Right exist?
There’s an interesting article here which argues there is, in fact, no Religious Right. The arguments are convincing; it does sound at first glance there has been an over simplification on whether or not a discernable movement is actually present. It would seem illogical to assume there are secret clandestine meetings involving hundreds of pastors and clergymen, all agreeing on the best course of action to defend their vision of America as a Christian nation. Still, there is something there, a visible shift in attitudes that is difficult to characterize.
Movements are started by visible individuals, but they are maintained by a consensus of mostly invisible people who believe in them. In other words, one does not need a structured system in order to propagate certain ideals; so long as the values of these ideas are accepted by a significant portion of the population. In other words, the religious right isn’t a physical entity that can be isolated. Instead, the ‘Religious Right’ can only be understood as a series of values that are being inculcated in individuals.
These values can often transcend political leanings. Consider how overwhelmingly African Americans voted yes on Proposition 8 in California, this despite the fact that politically, they are more left leaning. This is because their political strategies do not always coincide with their own personal values. African Americans are among the most religious minorities, and Prop 8 in California was discussed as a religious issue, and not a civil rights one.
Conservatism is powerful because it does not initially require a homogeny of belief in order to make individuals value some of its ideologies. But as these values gain acceptance and power, they become increasingly likely to create bitter division and resentment from those who would disagree. Homogeny is eventually required. It is why the Right has begun to demand of its members a singularity of belief. This comes, of course, at a great cost; individual dissenters within conservative movements are viewed as enemies. The battle lines are drawn.
This also explains why liberal movements are typically far less powerful and organized, since the values are those of decency, experimentation, and freedom of thought. The only way to ensure the Right does not become too powerful is to encourage individuals within the movement to question their assumptions; help them see they do not possess all the answers, and many of their assumptions may be flawed. It is every citizen’s duty to ask questions, to be skeptical. The fact the movement of the Religious Right refuses to acknowledge any dissent shows us there are elements of their ideologies that cannot survive intense scrutiny. The righteous indignation they claim to have, and the deep paranoia they feel from individuals who do not share their values is also telling. What world would we be living in if we could no longer question the institutions we are a part of? I suppose the easy answer to that would simply be a theocracy; a government built on unchanging values that frown upon dissent. The irony here of course is this same system of government is a complete violation of the very principles America was founded on. It is a great irony conservatives shield themselves under the banner of patriotism when in fact their own values so threaten the liberal ideas which made the United States possible. Is it in the nature of all liberal movements to be destroyed by the fear, bigotry, and mistrust of conservatives? I cannot say for sure, for an overly liberal state is built on trust that all the members of its society are working towards the same ends. It is this trust that enables those with far different agendas to slowly change and erode the system in an effort to change it entirely. Unless all the members of society can regain one other’s trust, there will continue to be vicious fighting between liberals and conservatives. And so far, we’re all losing.
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