Right, Left, Right, Wrong

Politics as a Coat of Sugar

The interplay between politics and religion is much more interesting to watch in the United States than it is in Canada. In Canada, it seems that the political leanings of evangelicals—as well as Christians as a whole—are more moderated and diverse than those in the U.S., where there is a distinct religious right. What are we to make of the divisions of religious views along political lines?

I have a few ideas as to why there is a political bias to the right among evangelicals, at least in some milieus. Suppose we accept that the spectrum is adequately described by the Nolan Chart, which looks like this:

left_right2

Strictly speaking, religious people are actually not that concerned with economic freedom. My own personal views on economic freedom have nothing to do with religion; they are entirely a function of my personal experience, and beliefs about how the government should use money collected from citizens. The concern lies with personal freedom.

What does it mean to increase or reduce personal freedom? This is not nearly as straightforward as it might seem. I have been surprised, at times, to discover which side of the political spectrum supports certain issues, [1] because the issues depend highly on the individual whose freedom is perceived to be in question.

I believe that the increase in personal freedom, as advocated by the left, actually appears as a decrease in personal freedom for many religious conservatives. There is, after all, only so much room on the spectrum. For each additional (public) action that is permitted, the “freedom” to avoid being exposed to this is removed.

People of all sorts believe that certain things should not be publicly permitted. I would suggest, however, that there are proportionally more things that religious people (or evangelical Christians) wish not to be exposed to.

There is more to the story than this, and the topic could be discussed at length. But I believe there are also better things to analyze. Perhaps a more salient question is: what are we to make of the division of truth along political lines?

The following analysis is especially germane for religious people, but I believe that anyone who believes in truth, or a concept of morality that our society (generally) shares, can draw from it:

I would suggest that there is a serious flaw (I will call it a danger, if I may) in the common view of politics and truth. We believe they are related, but we are more likely to argue over the former than the latter. Worse, we regard politics as an objectively legitimate spectrum of viewpoints, even though we would never regard the truth that light. In other words, we are able to accept things that are terribly wrong, so long as they are strategically fed to us in the right political framework.

The examples of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia appear so frequently in armchair logic that I’m loath to mention them, [2] but they are far too appropriate here. While these two regimes demonstrated clearly that political extremity in either direction has disastrous results, they also demonstrated something else—that people whose sense of right and wrong sways with the motion of politics make such disasters possible. The freedom inherent in democracy is not a catchall solution to nationally sanctioned atrocities, because the general population is vulnerable to rhetoric. [3]

I cannot escape the conclusion that politics dangerously normalizes our perception of serious issues, and matters of right and wrong. This seems counter-intuitive, as politics makes us feel even more fervent about how correct we are about things. It may seem that politics has increased the attention we pay to right and wrong, since they are related, and we pay attention to politics. What we must remember, however, is that these are two very different issues, with very different standards. The consequence is this: our ability to discern right from wrong is damped if we believe that we are only discussing politics.

“Of course they don’t support the right side of the argument; they’re the devil’s own raving liberals!”

“It’s only natural that they’re wrong; they’re a bunch of theocratic fascists!”

If people are more open-minded, the problem only changes shape. When a spectrum is created on which people are assumed to have natural, acceptable, varying beliefs, the possibility for right and wrong is eliminated. If certain ideas are associated with the political right, it might be assumed that they cannot be wrong (per se), because there is a legitimate left.

I regularly encourage people to select their political leanings based on principles that have no relationship to party lines, and to renew their perspective as the issues change over time.

For the Christians, I have stronger words. If we use political ideology as our point of reference, we cannot describe ourselves as standing for much of anything. I have beliefs about right and wrong, but I do not care which side of the political spectrum supports them. This is not to say that we should be apolitical, or that one particular side of the political spectrum is not (sometimes) heavier with moral shortcomings. It is to say that voting solely for the imposition your values is to invest in a future where your values may be outlawed. It is to say that if you choose to identify with one-sided politics as a result of your beliefs, you will not be taken seriously when it matters.

We must make our case for right and wrong much more forcefully than our case for right and left. If we allow these to become confused, we shall be treated as everyday political opponents when the chips are down. There is no reason why our conception of morality should belong to either political perspective, and we must interpret the occasional coincidence of these as mere… coincidence.

It follows logically that sometimes the right (or left) will be completely and utterly wrong. It is a myth that the political spectrum will always contain legitimate diversities of opinion. It is for this reason that we must not use it as a point of reference.

In reflecting on this post, I have removed “political views” from my Facebook profile.

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[1] It seems strange to me that the left tends to support abortion, and it seems odd that many evangelicals support right-wing policies that ostensibly snub the poor and disenfranchised. I think the reasons for this become clear upon closer inspection, but I see no value in writing an essay about it.

[2] I learned while writing this essay that the word “loath,” as in “loath to,” is a completely different word from “loathe,” having thought all this time that they were the same.

[3] There is a quote that I read, likely in a recent book, but I cannot remember where I saw it. In any case, it involves a Nazi official who explains (during the Nuremberg trials, I believe) that it is a small thing for the government to manipulate people, with or without democracy.

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