Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Conservative in a Liberal Faith

A conversation that began on CRAPonSundays and was continued on the ChaliceBlog here and here raises two old questions: 1. Is it proper and/or effective for a church to be involved in politics, and 2. How can a UU be a political conservative? As the political positions are derived from the PPs, a UU shouldn’t be a conservative. I will address the second question first, as the answer to that leads directly to the answer to the first.

Those who don’t understand how a good UU can be a political conservative have fallen afoul of a logical fallacy, mistaking the method or means for the desired end goal, leading to a false choice. Instead of asking “Is method A or method B the best way to achieve our goal?”, they ask “Do you agree with method A, or do you disagree with the goal?” For example, they might say “Do you support the Living Wage, or do you not care about the poor?” A conservative might say, as I did here , that the issue is not whether I care about the poor, but whether or not this program will in fact help the poor- and I know it will not. My concern for the poor is why I’m against it. Unfortunately, this basic question- will the proposed program actually work- never seems to be addressed in depth when “debating” the topic, only whether or not it follows the PPs. To a conservative’s ears, this sounds like “politicians’ logic”: Something must be done. This is something; therefore we must do it.

None of the general principles of a classic (not a religious right) conservative, things like fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility and personal action, that rights reside within the citizen and are only loaned to the government, not vice-versa, least government possible, and even that as local as possible, etc., are in conflict with the PPs- with one possible exception: Conservatives recognize that government is rarely the right vehicle to address the basic issues, that either the marketplace or other citizen organizations (like churches) are far more effective in issues where hearts and minds must be changed. This is in direct opposition to the current mindset of the majority of the UUA, who seem to believe that social justice comes only from the pages of a sternly-worded fax to a congressman.

That last leads me to why we, as a denomination rather than as individuals, should steer clear of politics- if you want to actually do something, rather than just make a statement, you don’t want to go to the government in the first place. If you look at the social advances we’ve made in the last half century or so, almost all of it came from social organizations and social pressure, rather than government action. Martin Luther King made his points from the pulpit talking about God, not from the Washington Advocacy Office talking about votes. MADD has done more to stop drunk driving with social pressure than any lawnorder politician ever accomplished- comedians like Foster Brooks used to base entire careers on how funny public drunkenness is; could you imagine such an act succeeding today? Why do you think there’s no more blackface humor or “I’m Cheryl-fly me!” style sexist advertising on TV? Changing public sensitivities, driven by social activists, not government projects. Disney and other private companies did more for gay rights by using their buying clout to force insurance companies to stop discriminating than anything the government has ever done, and it was groups like GLAD that created the social atmosphere that made it possible. Any government action that aided any of these things followed the social pressure from private groups; they didn’t lead it.

That being the case, I believe that every penny spent on the Washington Advocacy Office is wasted, as is every moment of time spent debating resolutions aimed at Congress. We should be talking directly to the people, not to politicians who quite frankly have no reason whatsoever to listen to us anyway. We could instead be asking the entertainment media to change the way certain issues are presented or referenced, like MADD and GLAD and anti-smoking groups and so many others did. We could be producing Public Service Announcements to be distributed to radio and TV stations. We could be training experts in given issues who would be able to speak to churches and clubs around the country, or giving lectures at Barnes and Nobles. You know- those things that are proven to work.

1 comment:

Every 7th Day said...

I don't believe it is the majority of the UUA who buys into this. I am so left the Dems break out into rashes around me, and I find the UUA website and the constant huffing and sword rattling (or petition pen rattling) to be more against our religion than for it. How is this showing openness to dialogue? How is this bridging the chasms in our society?
From what I can tell, you and I come to the same conclusions on this but from radically different starting points. And hmmmm... isn't that we are trying to create in our churches? Thanks for the post. I'll be wondering about how I feel about the Washington office for some time.