27 August 2010

The cloak of conservatism

Kind of a follow-up to this post.

""Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith -- and I don't care what it is."-Dwight Eisenhower

There are plenty of interesting and baffling things about Glenn Beck. Here is another. Glenn Beck is a Mormon. (Even stranger, apparently a convert.) You may not consider that unusual until you consider that Mormons used to be considered vile heretics by the same sort of evangelical Christians which Beck spends a great deal of time and effort wooing and hobnobbing.

Beck in this way is in the same boat as soon-to-be perennial presidential candidate Mitt Romney. You may recall that Fellow Mormon Romney gave a much-hyped speech during the 2008 primaries for just this purpose, to reassure other religious conservatives that the contents of any theological debate are moot in comparison to the broader shared experience of being pious about something and conservative (I stole the Eisenhower quote from this slacktivist post on the speech. Fred has a couple others as well.)

It's not just Mormons, however. The general trend among conservative public figures of any sort, and the particular stock in trade of the Beck/Palin populist variety, is to talk vaguely about "values" and "faith" while only very rarely making any specific comment on creeds or doctrines. The enemies are no longer people of the wrong religion (with the exception for the moment of Muslims until the Middle East runs out of natural resources), it's people of no faith, or at least people who don't believe faith should interfere with the political process. It's oddly ecumenical for people who would otherwise regard ecumenism as a dangerously relativistic liberal subversion. These are people (various Protestant sects vs. each other and Catholics, Christians vs. Jews etc.) who have historically been at each others' throats over doctrinal minutiae, who adhere to strict scriptural literalism, and regard the tiniest heresy as tempting damnation. Why are they suddenly able to handwave all of these differences and get together in a friendly drum circle?

It's because they do not believe in any creed so much as the ecumenical creed of conservatism. They have discovered that their shared interests--preservation of sexual/gender hierarchies, etc--and a shared duty to act as a barrier between the elite and the working class trumps any temporary concern they might have about eternity and damnation and all the rest. So shockingly, religious conservatives are not sincere in their beliefs. Hoocoodanode?