Looking at the species of self-confessed modern conservative in the Anglophone world, it’s quite likely they are mostly also self-confessed people of religious faith.
But looking at what they actually do, as opposed to what they say, or what an increasingly unprofessional news media ‘reports’, chances are they are neither conservative nor religious. Instead they are likely to be reactionary, neo-fascist, or neo-Nazis. And instead of being religious, they are likely to have recognised the advantages of hiding behind religion as cover for refuting reality, emprical evidence, scientific data, and even the will of the electorate. ‘My beliefs top your facts,’ they say.
In all of this, there is also the category of Christofascism. Initially proposed by German liberation theologian Dorothee Steffensky-Sölle in 1970 to describe what she saw as an autocratic, paternalistic, totalitarian tendency in the Catholic Church. Today its meaning is expanded to be more general, describing efforts by white male Christians to extend their privilege through the creation of a misogynistic theocratic state in which only they are the vessels of god’s wisdom, women are chattel, and people of other ethnic and religious extractions are somewhere between second-class citizens and slaves. In the USA the term is also interpreted to include a cultural imperialism: White male American Christians seeking a theocratic dominion over other cultures and religions.
Today this kind of religious extremism is relatively rare in mainstream Christian churches, but quite common in the evangelical strains exported from the USA, like the Pentecostal big-tent business franchises, but also exhibited by a few mavericks claiming adherence to Catholicism or Protestantism.
For political purposes, Christofascism can probably be thought of as a sub-set of neo-fascism because its character is political, not religious. The religious component is widow dressing for a patenalistic, misogynistic, bigoted totalitarianism. An interesting dramatisation of such a political formation is the state of Gilead in Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale.
Sure, not everyone self-nominated as conservative and religious can be condemned out of hand. Each individual deserves to be judged individually. And there are some simple tests.
Conservatism, as derived from Edmund Burke, and developed along separate lines in separate countries, nevertheless still shares some common principles–
- Preserve what works and is judged to be good, but do not stifle progress or the changing will of the greater community.
- Commit to a gradual program of continuous reform, mostly aimed at improving the lives of the least wealthy and least powerful.
- Support private enterprise when it works, but regulate and intervene when there is empirical evidence of market failure, cartel behaviours, or corrupt practices.
- Most importantly, do not challenge the institution of liberal democracy for the lure of oligarchy, autocracy, or theocracy.
Some of the characteristics that conservatism does not include are–
- Neoliberalism/plutocratic tendencies
- Sexism (including homophobia)
- Xenophobic tendencies
If people claiming to be conservatives subscribe to any or all of these views, they likely actually sit on the increasingly right wing scale of reactionary/neo-fascist/neo-Nazi, where each of these is quite distinct from the others, but individuals may exhibit elements of more than one type of right wing extremism. It’s usually pretty easy to tell. Just listen to what they say, strip away any euphemisms used, and you have your answer. Euphemism are nothing words that hide true intent.
Consider the following: ‘If you support a multicultural Australia, you’ll be a supporter of religious freedoms. You’ll understand that religious faith is synonymous with so many different ethnic cultures in Australia.’ There is presupposition that an mutlicultural Australia exists and we all know what that is. The mention of supporting religious freedoms is really a reference to supporting a piece of legislation claimed to enhance religious freedoms, but wheher it does that or not is a matter of individual judgement after reading the bill and understanding its ramification at law; an unlikely challenge to be accepted by a majority of Australians. We are then told that religious faith is synonymous with different ethnic cultures; but without any proof of this. In any case, faith cannot be logically synonymous with cultures. It is always a cultural artifact. What’s vbeing said here is that you will be cast as a bigot if you do not support the legislation that is being promoted. What’s missing in the quote is any mention of why religious freedom needs to be protected. Is there a spate of religious dsicrimination that can be cited? If so, why wasn’t it? Is the idea behind the phrasing to attarct the elctoral support of strongly religious ethnic minorities? Will the legislation not open the dorr to virtual religious wars fought out in the courts, and the unintended consequence of atheists bringing legal actions rightly claimining they ae being discriminated against on religious grounds by religious organisations? All of these are just some of the problems left unanswered or obfuscated in the original statement.
A test similar to the one for conservatism applies to people who profess to be religious. Thinking now only of the three major Middle Eastern religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism – it is quite remarkable how similar they are in some regards, including especially in the virtues they propose, which include–
It will be easy to spot people whose actions run contrary to any or all of these supposed virtues. Ironically, in the contemporary Anglosphere, belonging to a nominal conservative political party usually means you cannot act with kindness, charity, forgiveness, modesty, or integrity because your party will demand that you support cruelty to the poor and weak, that you never forget or forgive an opponent’s barbs or victories, that you boast about your and your party’s non-existent virtues endlessly, and that you change your mind on all issues to suit the party mood rather than any such factors as individual conscience. And never what is actually good for the country, or demanded by the electorate.
This hypocrisy actually relies on a circle of logic that disappears up its own rectum.
In order to lie, steal, cheat, and commit crimes, you need some sort of cover or alibi that remediates common standards of human decency as well as those laws you cannot repeal or circumvent.
That cover is the claim to have religious faith, allowing you to demand that your belief stands above the law, empirical evidence, any objective standard of truth, or actual community standards.
In that way you can justify even the most heinous crimes as the will of god, or well-intentioned intervention that was misunderstood by the victims and observers. You might even make others believe what you did never happened. It’s just ‘fake news’.
But you are thereby also exposed as having no actual religious faith, and being a kind of gangster, using religion the way some other gangs call themselves crips or bloods. That practice of course tarnishes and devalues actual religious beliefs and virtuous action. Mostly held by people who don’t advertise their beliefs, but practice the virtues inherent in their faiths. Such people have the highest motivation to undermine the ‘religious right’. But so do all rational, ethical people regardless of faith.