What Is Political Conservatism and Is It Worth Conserving?

Mar 24, 2023 by David Fowler

What Is Political Conservatism and Is It Worth Conserving?
This week the confluence of three things caused me to ask the question posed in the heading. Based on my evaluation of the conservatism that appears to have been expressed by the state Senate this week in relation to a major controversy, my answer is no. But not for the reason you might expect.

The First Decisive Factor—An Upcoming Seminar 

In recent days I have been preparing for a seminar at which I will speak about transgenderism through the lens of two Christian doctrines that receive little emphasis today, the doctrine of the Trinity and of creation ex nihilo. 
My preparation drove home to me the fact that absent these two doctrines as the predicate for interpreting all of reality, blurring the line between the sexes, which transgenderism does, makes perfect sense. 
Without these two doctrines held in unison, the religiously “naked” conservative has no transcendent basis upon which to conserve a belief that differences between men and women (as created beings) do not destroy their ontological equality (“imaged” by the oneness of God), and the belief that differentiation (the “imaged” by the differentiation of Persons in the one God) is required in certain instances to prevent injustices to women.  
Logically speaking, the feminist and the man who ignore the implications of or hate the Trinity and creation ex nihilo, hate women as a category of being. That they may not act that way only means they do not live consistently with what they believe.
Yet, discussion of “religious doctrine” is taboo in conservative political circles. What, then, are conservatives conserving—the same worldview as the atheists?

The Second Decisive Factor—Chance or the Dance

Sunday afternoon I finished reading a book I highly commend that was recommended by an artist friend,[1] Chance or the Dance—A critique of Modern Secularism, by Thomas Howard. 
Howard rightly posits that only one of two possible narratives, what he calls myths, drive the train of reality, and provide a lens through which to interpret everything. 
The first he calls the “old myth,” namely, that God created, and moment-by-moment governs all He created by His appointed means to His appointed ends. 
The second he calls the “new myth,” namely, there is no such God, which leaves us free to define, shape, and direct “stuff,” including ourselves, in the manner and to the end that pleases us.
This is what he wrote that pertains to the struggle I’ve had in discerning what God would have me learn from the entirety of the controversy pertaining to Lt. Governor McNally, discussed below:
It is natural that, with the disappearance of divine sanctions for authority, the notion of authority itself should come under surveillance, since the question of an origin for authority is thrown open. (emphasis supplied)
Howard next describes the “authority” by which the religiously vacuous conservatives held on to what they valued:
It was possible for a while, of course, to supplant the god with the idea of tradition, or history or consensus, as sources of authority, but the very nature of the new myth, since it rises from the notion of autonomy, is to tend toward the idea of autonomy in all regions. (emphasis supplied)
Finally, Howard describes what these conservatives are reaping now that tradition and history are meaningless, and consensus has become impossible among a multitude of people believing “their own truth.” It explains why political conservatives are so angry, particularly with respect to what is happening with and to their children. 
It is a bitter revelation to the generation that has worked so painstakingly over the last seventy-five years to build a liberal society on the foundation of the new myth to be told by the children whom it has nourished on that myth that the whole thing is sour.
If, say these children, we really are autonomous as you have taught us, then we shall enjoy that autonomy. . . You have made as horrible a mess of society as any priestcraft ever did, and we withhold consent. . . Your crusty congresses and parliaments are no better than the medieval privy counsels and diets . . . 
So, just as you built your order on the ashes of the old, we will burn your order and build an authentically new one. . . Police, power structure, prejudice, cupidity—these will have disappeared. Men will enjoy in actuality the autonomy that has been announced in their theories. 
Political conservatives have taught their children the new myth, and to the horror of many, their children and those teachers who they have taught are living it out!

A Decisive Consideration in Answering My Question.

If you do not know about the controversy I alluded to, it involves our Lt. Governor and Speaker of the Senate, a position filled by a majority vote of the Senators. I will only say that he was making sexually suggestive comments about a young homosexual’s racy pictures on Instagram. 
Several things about this situation are important, but I will note the one most decisive to my thinking about the question I have posed: the 19 to 7 vote of confidence Senate Republicans gave the Speaker as the one they want to represent them as leader of their chamber. 
I know not all Senators profess to believe the new myth and live according to it. But because my purpose is to try to understand what is being represented to Christians by the Senate’s actions, the beliefs of particular Senators is not determinative.

Factors to Consider in Evaluating the Senate’s Action

The Speaker was defended in several circles as a “conservative,” a “moderate Republican” akin to Lamar Alexander, and not captive to religious extremists. I will not quibble with those descriptions, particularly in a collective sense, as it would make no difference to my evaluation of the Senate’s action if his defenders described him as left of center or even politically liberal.
However, against even that more favorable description I would juxtapose the following that I think relevant to my initial question about political conservatism.
First, those who believe in the old myth believe that authority is predicated on “divine sanctions” that entail limits on that authority. The Speaker and the Senators hold positions of authority.
Second, believers in the old myth would believe that ignoring created distinctions intended by God to reveal the glory of His triune nature or idly standing by while those distinctions are being obliterated, particularly as regards matrimony, is a fundamental breach of that authority.  
For them, God would not sanction an authority that denies His authority over His intention for that one part of creation intended by Him to bear His image—man and woman—and picture the relationship between His Son and the Church. 
For example, new myth conservatives in the Senate would give (and have given) little attention to the legislation that would allow legal recognition to be given a form of marriage defined exclusively in terms of man and woman, the Marital Contract Recording Act.
Third, those in the legislature who operate under the old myth would consciously consider themselves every bit as much a minister of God (Romans 13:1-4) as the person who occupies their pulpit on Sunday. That means their legislative authority, like that of the pulpit minister, is also constrained by God’s design and purposes.
Fourth, and as a consequence of the first three, old myth legislators understand, per the oath they take to uphold Tennessee’s Constitution,[2] they will give an account to God for every legislative decision they make, and the motivation of their heart with respect to them. They would be mindful of their accountability to God for the decision they make as to who should lead them.
Fifth, those who operate under the old myth deny what the new myth teaches, namely, that power and civil law are the levers by which history moves forward and a culture is shaped. 
Instead, they believe that history moves according to the unseen “word of power” that belongs to God alone (Hebrews 1:3) and according to His purposes. Consequently, they would be more concerned with God’s “power play” than that which may be wielded by the Speaker or voters.
New myth political conservatives deny these old myth considerations. They cannot logically affirm them.

Applying the Foregoing to the Question

Given the foregoing and this week’s Senate vote, it would not be out of bounds to believe the Senate is controlled by new myth conservatives.
If that is correct, Christians must answer this question: Going forward, is there a good reason to “conserve” new myth conservatism and, in politics, their adherents when our problems arise out of adherence to the new myth?
In my view, to think new myth adherents are willing or even capable of restoring the old myth is a myth of gigantic portions divorced from reality.

[1] I encourage you to check out his God-honoring work depicting God’s image bearers doing “truly human” things at http://everygoodwork.art/ as a God-honoring way to adorn your walls.

[2] Tennessee Constitution, Art. IX, Sec. 2 “No person who denies the being of God or a future state of rewards and punishments shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.” 

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