Dogmatic Politics - Island of Sanity

Island of Sanity




Liberals & Conservatives

Dogmatic Politics


I saw an interview on TV last night with Andrew Sullivan, a writer who has apparently just come out with a book, "The Conservative Soul", in which he argues that the Christian Right is hurting the conservative movement. I don't know much about Andrew Sullivan. He called himself a conservative trying to save conservatism, but in the interview he advocated several positions generally regarded as liberal.

His position could be summed up as: The Christian Right is hurting the American political scene in general and the conservative movement in particular because these Christians are so dogmatic. Once you introduce God into the equation, he said, there is no longer any room for debate. Christian conservatives aren't willing to debate or compromise because they are convinced that they have God's truth. In his book, Sullivan writes, "The fundamentalist doesn't guess or argue or wonder or question. He doesn't have to. He knows."

This criticism of the Christian Right is hardly original with Sullivan, of course. We've heard it many times from moderate Republicans and liberals.

So let me see if I understand this argument: They're saying that liberals and moderates are superior to fundamentalists because they have no principles that they stand for, no point on which they are unwilling to compromise. The Christian Right is dangerous because they will foolishly stand against injustice and ignorance even when it is not to their political advantage.

What a curious boast: "Yes, I'm proud to say that I am always willing to sell out my principles if the price is right. And I'm even prouder to say that the question rarely comes up because I really don't have any principles that I sincerely believe in."

I'm tempted to leave it there: Liberals admit -- or rather boast -- that they have no principles. But of course, that isn't really true. Liberals have principles that they stand for, and on which they are unwilling to compromise. Liberals are very firm on opposing racism and advocating tolerance, for example. I can't imagine a liberal saying, "I'm opposed to racism and bigotry, but I don't want to be dogmatic about it. The Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis have some interesting points that we should consider, also." Quite the contrary, liberals do not believe that there is anything to discuss on these issues, and they don't hesitate to condemn anyone who disagrees with them. Indeed, their dogmatism is often not limited to the issue itself, but even to appropriate solutions. When conservatives say that they agree with liberal goals but they believe that the solutions advocated by liberals are counterproductive, liberals are often unwilling to even discuss the matter. For example, when conservatives say that affirmative action sends the message that black people can't compete on a level playing field or that it aggravates racial hostility by discriminating against whites, the typical liberal reply is not to rationally discuss the arguments pro and con, but to denounce their opponents as racists.

So ... the Christian Right has some issues where we are so sure of our position that we have little interest in debating the matter, like opposition to abortion. Liberals have some issues where they are so sure of their position that they have little interest in debating the matter, like support for abortion. The only difference I see is that Christians say the matter is settled because God said so. Liberals say the matter is settled because ... well, because they say so.

Their real objection is not that the Christian Right is dogmatic and uncompromising, but rather that the Christian Right is dogmatic and uncompromising about the wrong issues. That is, the real objection is not that we are too dogmatic, but that we disagree with liberals. So instead of these silly attacks about the source of our beliefs or how strongly we believe in them, why can't we just debate the issues?

© 2006 by Jay Johansen


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