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May 18, 2011

Conservatism, and Original Sin

I want to begin a discussion of Conservative Principles with a discussion of Original Sin. I will demonstrate the method I use by employing first an example that does not immediately push political, ideological buttons. Liberals and conservatives both have staked out positions on the issues of the day in such a way that merely mentioning an issue – immigration, energy, or abortion, for example – brings immediately to mind the positions that we find acceptable and unacceptable, the ones representing our side (the Good Guys) and the other side (the Evil or Stupid People).  This makes it difficult to see any points of commonality, or to see principles objectively if they are held by people whom we hold in derision.

Original Sin is my favorite Christian doctrine.  G.K. Chesterton said that it was the doctrine for which there was the most evidence. As the doctrine goes, our roots and origins preclude the possibility of human perfection. We are flawed. Sinful, even.

This is good news.

The implication is that we cannot expect ourselves to be perfect. Someone once said we are perfect as we are, and we could use some improvement. That is exactly what Original Sin means to me, including the playful tone. We still want to be the best we can be – most of us have, I think, an innate desire to engage in a struggle to improve ourselves and our world – but there is no valid ideal against which we can each be measured and found sorely lacking in any sense that has meaning.

I know this is not the conventional, traditional application of this doctrine. I don’t care. My use of this principle honors its core as much as the traditional interpretation, which undergirds the idea that we need redemption, does. My reading is unorthodox, but it is not illogical or inconsistent with the premise.

My take on conservative principles is also unorthodox. That only means that it is not conventional, which I don’t see as a fatal flaw. If my interpretation is illogical, that is a problem. Then I would need to find other principles from which to derive my policies, or change my policies to harmonize with my principles: it depends on what is more important to me – the principles or the policies. A professor once said that to believe something is to act as if it’s true. In other words, if you want to know what someone’s principles are, look at their policies, or their behaviors.

My contention is that conservative principles have inherent value to a liberal like me, and that those principles don’t have to result in the form of conservatism in ascendancy today. Some of the things we associate with conservatism have absolutely no relation to conservative principles, and can be – I would plead, should be – disavowed: not only would doing so do no damage to conservatism, it would help to restore to the movement a dignity that has been undermined by the bigots, birthers and Bible-thumpers who are its loudest, most garish representatives.

I look forward to our discussion. I will be posting more in the next week or two, between class sessions here in Freiburg.

1 comment:

  1. I like that interpretation of original sin a lot and personally see not so big a chasm between between your "striving to improve ourselves and our world" and my personal interpretation of "redemption," though that is perhaps another story. I also agree that "conservative" as a word and a principle has a lot more to offer than its current usage. after all, conservation comes from the same root word. If I could, I would love to rebrand what is currently considered conservative as reactionary or judgemental, but perhaps that's just me.

    I look forward to future posts.


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