It’s been quite a while since “Religious Right” didn’t sound redundant, and while plenty of folks can articulate differences between “social conservative” and “fiscal conservative,” it seems rare that anyone has to take exception to their conflation. While they might mean different things, they arguably have the same motivation.
Consider the belief in an afterlife. This single, simple, commonplace belief can easily define the context for a person’s entire life. Juxtapose 80 years with eternity and priority number one becomes getting into that afterlife, according to the prescriptive guidelines. Priority two might be a compassionate attempt to get others to abide by the same guidelines so they can get there too. And once all the ducks are in a row for the afterlife, all that’s left to do is sit back and tolerate life.
Yes, yes, this is a simplistic generalization that doesn’t recognize the nuance of belief—I hear ya. But at a basic level, it is still fair to say that believing in an afterlife can impact every single decision a person makes as the very motivation that leads them through life. This dubiously simple factor provides an important context for understanding the concept of “conservative,” particularly in the malicious way it is being employed by Congressional Republicans during this lame-duck session.
Fundamentally, there is a “me” factor: I want to go to Heaven, I want you to go to Heaven the same way, and I want God to be pleased with what we did in the meantime. Social conservatism is wanting society to abide by God’s laws… or at least not stray from them any further. (Just ignore that shifting Zeitgeist.) Fiscal conservatism is just a way to make that happen. It’s the same philosophy of unchange; let the people with money keep it. And while Jesus may have said to let go of all your possessions, having money in a capitalist society is great leverage for enforcing a social agenda. It also makes the ride incredibly more comfortable until that Rapture comes along.
So consider this “hostage situation” regarding tax cuts for the rich. Hoarding money is clearly not Christian (a memo many Christian leaders have missed), and Reaganomics (or as Rachel Maddow calls them, “Riganomics”) clearly fail. So why are they “all in”? It could be greed, which itself could be reflective of subservience to the afterlife. But it could also be for leverage. Leverage against the DREAM act. Leverage against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal. Leverage against support for 9/11 first-responders. Remember, the one budget Republicans will never cut is defense; we are, after all, engaged in two wars on behalf of Christianity.
The will to impose the proper afterlife on others is not benign. Just today, a story on good old OneNewsNow complains that Liam Neeson suggested that Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia (whom he voices) represents non-Christian spiritual leaders. Because, damn it, Aslan is Christ and that’s what C. S. Lewis intended! Don’t worry, “Dr.” Marc T. Newman (whoever he is) comes to the rescue with ideas for how Narnia can be an effective evangelism tool.
And while critics of my post will argue that believing in the afterlife is not a reasonable reduction of Republican motives, I think it’s hard to find a better one. Sure, there is an obsession with power (and ascension thereof) as well as the gluttony of being lobbied, but while there might be incredible focus on their own lives, I’m not sure that conservatives are motivated by the lives, per say, of anybody else. Who cares if people have money, or food, or a job, or a house, or healthcare, or citizenship, or integrity? As long as everyone is abiding by the Bible, they’re going to Heaven, and they should be thankful for that.
It’s not a surprise that the Christian myth of an afterlife (social conservatism) and the myth of the American dream (fiscal “bootstraps” conservatism) have become so intertwined. They both are founded on self-determination. They both assume that the individual is responsible and that no other context plays a role in an individual’s success. And both ultimately help a very small group prosper while creating false hope for all the rest.
The opposite of all this, after all, would be true for progressives. Not believing in an afterlife (or at least not abiding so stringently by such a belief) makes it much easier to recognize the needs of others now, in life. Rather than a focus on “me” until everybody goes to Heaven, it’s a focus on everybody because right now is all we have. Being a social progressive means recognizing that the human species is capable of learning more about its own nature and adapting to accommodate that new information. Being a fiscal progressive means trying to help the most number of people, even if it means asking those who have to make sacrifice for those who have not, because it’s life that matters. Life is all that we have control over while we’re living.
Imagine, though, a completely different universe, altered in just the way that no one believed in an afterlife. Would these political hijinks be par for the course? Maybe. But at the very least, they wouldn’t be based on complete irrationality.