Evangelicals, Conservatives, & The Tea Party

There are two great principles that animate the Tea Party: fiscal responsibility and the US Constitution. There are three great principles that animate Conservatives: the defense of traditional social institutions, national security, and the free market. It is not surprising that evangelicals are among those religious demographics that support both.

But because of this association people make the mistake of confusing religious reasons for political ones in the case if evangelicals and other groups.

When it comes to the relation of one’s ultimate concerns and political science, many different coordinations are possible. Some religious groups take the view that the politics must be directly deduced from their worldview. On the side of some politicians, the worldview just is what political science says. This us constitutionally true of progressives but not exclusive to them.

Evangelicals have taken more complicated views. They distinguish between different spheres of action and responsibility and apply that distinction to the spheres of religion and politics. From there, some evangelicals identify their worldview with the religious sphere and thus separate church and state. Others hold that their worldview is distinct from both spheres and has the same relation to both. Their worldview illuminates each sphere but in ways the are distinctly appropriate to each sphere. The worldview is not a sphere of action per se but it guides how we act relative to each sphere. On this view also, there is a separation of church and state.

Some argue that because of this distinction, if the individual evangelical participates in politics, then it can only be for reasons specific to the political sphere and not for religious reasons. This seems fair considering the distinction of spheres. Some, however, like atheist Jurgen Habarmas, argue that this is unreasonable because in virtually required the impossible demand that religious believers totally suppress their sincere beliefs in public space. He thus advocates the legitimacy of bringing in specifically religious reasons in debates about policy, not just being sensitive to religious groups and points of view in society but actually allowing religious presuppositions into the debate. We are interested but wait to see what that might look like. On the second version of the separation view, a worldview can control and delimit what expectations we may have about the political sphere but those expectations have to be verified within the sphere. But being a sphere of responsibility, the evangelical must serve according to the moral code and the needs of others as unto God.

The Tea Party insists on the responsible and prudential administration of public revenue by the Government. This is a clear public duty and one that is measurable. For evangelicals, it is also a requirement imposed by biblical morality. But they also see that it is a duty in it’s own right. You don’t have to be an evangelical to appreciate this. So it is not as being religiously evangelical that the base their participation.

The Tea Party upholds the principles of the Constitution, the rule of law, the social contract, the authority of precedent, and the counter-balancing and limitation of political power, and representative democracy. All of this is naturally restrain corrupting tendencies of power to serve the interests of perpetuating good governance. Evangelicals support the Constitution because it takes seriously the corrupting effects of the fall of Adam. However, the tendency toward weakness of will is well documented in humanity and the constitution has had a remarkable track record.

Most importantly, the Tea Party stands for the rational autonomy of political participants including all citizens and rejects the lack of respect for informed common consent in form of citizens being subject to politically instituted experiments in social engineering in the name of progressivism and “seeing what works”. Evangelicals also sympathize with this because they believe that humans are sovereign agents in their own sphere if life because of being made in the image of God. But being a rationally autonomous agent that must be an end in itself is one if those political truths we cannot not know, whatever the ground for it is.

When it comes to conservativism, it holds to national security through military strength. This because a nation has a right to defend itself, that thus task especially belongs to its government, that the governments of nations by necessity have no higher recourse to appeal to for justice, and that those that would militarily threaten a nation cannot be counted on to be moved by anything but the use of force. Practically this means forming alliances with willing nations which are mutual contracts. Evangelicals like this because one if our allies is Israel and many of our enemies are enemies of Israel. Evangelicals recognize Israel as homeland to the Hebrews through whom God made his mercy shown to the world and from whom came the Christ. But evangelicals do not necessarily regard loyalty to the Jews as something absolutely unconditional nor do they necessarily identify modern Israel with the old covenant people. Israel also illustrates a separation between church and state with respect to Judaism and stands as a law governed secular democracy in a theocratic ocean. Evangelicals can agree with the argument for security. They may be said to have contributed to its formulation.

Conservatives defend traditional institutions mainly because an acknowledgement of the limits if reason and the importance of cultural evolution. Institutions evolve over long periods of time by the accumulation of the thinking and acting within local situations and thus embody a wisdom that a single individual or age can fathom. Conservatives thus are skeptical of de novo attempts to rearrange culture according to some theoretical idea. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. On the other hand, Conservatives also believe in rights of belief, speech, and association that allow for cultural evolution to continue rather than just define the status quo into law. This also means defending the rights of those who defend traditional institutions in parity with those who choose not to observe them. This is agreeable to evangelicals that believe many traditional institutions were ordained by God for human good. But the so called culture war has primarily been a defensive one and that includes traditional marriage. While the language does not come naturally to evangelicals, the appreciate attempts to argue for the prior plausibility of a view of human nature that makes human life intrinsically purposeful according to nature, such as is articulated by the Neo-Scholastic Personalism of John Paul II. This provides a philosophical ground that accounts for the non-arbitrary rationality of many so-called social values.

Finally, conservatives uphold the free market as a modern reality that has proven to be the best arrangement for the well being if most people. The ethical argument for capitalism over socialism is clear, as made by Arthur Brookes. Capitalism rather than socialism; makes human happiness possible, satisfies our intuitions of justice, and brings the greatest benefit to least advantaged. Happy because the necessary condition of happiness is earned success, justice, in the firm of merit, because it tends to distribute reward according to effort, and mercy because no other approach has been more effective in lifting and reducing poverty. Further, not only does the necessary calculations of socialism fail to do this, it is clear a priori that the cannot do this, as Hayek argued. Capitalism is driven by the universal and rational desire if all humans to know happiness which is consistent with respect for the rational autonomy of individuals.

Here you might think that evangelicals would have a problem because of their commitment to altruism. But evangelicals do not deny the rightness of the human desire for happiness. They hope to enjoy God as well as glorify Him, the ultimate in delayed gratification. It is precisely the delay of gratification that the market disciplines us to internalize and which proves to be the necessary condition for prosperity. Further more there is no virtue in altruism if the redistribution is an automatic process. Charity must come from a conscious choice. God wants us to work not just for ourselves but for others. But if success is earned a person is more generous with their largess because he already has what he wants in his happiness. Think of Boaz in the book of Ruth. Finally, there is no real contradiction between altruism and egoism once we realize that our happiness is contingent on the well-being and happiness of others. Finally, their is George Gilder’s observation that the debts that drive exchanges are debts of gratitude. For reasons such as these, the evangelical will prefer capitalism because the free market allows everyone to freely contract but also freely give and forgive. The evangelical maybe quick to speak to the need for protections from the abuses of the free market such as a safety net for those at risk at the bottom, for regulation to prevent individual egoism to work against the what is rational for society, and allowing corporations that have benefitted from risks taken on the past to continue to be exposed to the consequences if their decisions now. But these protections also work to protect the freedom of the market.

In all these cases, evangelicals from their own worldview may find a lot in common between themselves and both conservatives and the Tea Party. But that is a contingent fact rather than a necessary truth. Also, when evangelicals serve in these causes, it is in virtue of doing their civic duty. Christ calls his his own to respect the ruling authorities as God’s own servants and to pray and work for the peace and prosperity of the cities they inhabit. This is independent of whether the state or the city is Full of believers or not. We ate to seek their good as best as we understand it. In that sense evangelicals participate because of their worldview but that is neutral with respect to the reasons for construing what is good.

One might at thus point come to the conclusion that the specifically evangelical reasons for preferring conservativism and the Tea Party seem decidedly arbitrary. This is only because we are looking at them from the sphere of political rationality and the interface between them seems a bit crunchy to say the least. But the rationality of evangelical belief has its provinence with respect to another sphere of rationality, the philosophy of divine revelation. Since this is taken for granted here it just seems that defensible political rationales are being coordinated with ad hoc religious ones. But it is rather the case that we see convergences between two independent lines of thought. One can certain examine this to see if it’s true. But it is not necessary to see how to see that the actual political reasons evangelicals have for supporting the Tea Party and conservativism are the same as anyone else’s.

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