Ora Et Labora
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more musings on being a conservative

What does it mean to be a conservative, culturally, spritually, or theologically? (I leave aside completely and intentionally the question of classifying political conservatism today).

Growing up, I was taught that conservatism was an arrangement of oneself with respect to the past, a recognition that the past’s collective wisdom was larger than any single present’s wisdom, the belief that the best way forward was to perpetutate what we had been taught by our ancestors, at least insofar as it was righteous.

If I was taught that conservatism was a perspective of appreciation towards the past, as I’ve grown older, it seems that conservatism is rather a state of war towards the present. And not merely a state of war, but a rejection of peace, when offered. Peace is compromise, apostasy. Conservatism seems to be, rather than a love of the past, a statement of monocausal narratives for why the present is so bad. For example, Richard Weaver blaming western civilization’s downfall from an assumed 10-11th century peak on nominalism. Or Francis Schaffer’s analysis that western civilization is a slow train wreck stemming from Thomas Aquinas’ supposed separation of nature and grace, of the fall of man’s mind and his soul. Equipped with a narrative for why western civilization has been on an inevitable downhill path since basically the dawn of time, the conservative’s task becomes to identifiy these monocausal liberalizing tendencies in the modern world, and to blame everything on them.

Abortion? Damn nominalists at it again.

To some degree I jest, but I can’t help but feel that there’s a measure of truth to my frustration. Today many conservatives reject other Christians who are concerned with racial or economic justice as being “compromised,” but it’s unclear what exactly they’ve compromised on. Economic or racial injustice has certainly never been a conservative value. Perhaps a cynic would disagree with me here and say that they are, but I trust the good faith of my fellow Christians that they are not. So what exactly is being compromised? On Twitter, for example, I’ve seen a lot people saying that David French is “compromised,” but he hasn’t compromised on any specific doctrinal issue. From what I can tell, the main source of his “compromise” seems to be his belief that the identification of Trump’s secular right with evangelicalism is a greater danger to the Church than the “left.” Whether or not you agree with French, you must admit that the definition of “compromise” as the abandonment of, or even lack of focus on, a particular downfall narrative is sloppy at best.

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