True Conservatism

CHARLES COLSON

As the presidential campaign heats up, Christians need to see that most of the issues being debated arise from conflicting ideologies of the two parties. But we should be taken in by nobody's ideology.

Some years ago, in a Firing Line interview with Bill Buckley, I argued for criminal justice reform. The moderator, Mort Kondracke -- who then considered himself a liberal -- was astonished. He stammered, "You want prison reform? But you"re a conservative!"

I almost laughed out loud. Kondracke was parroting the ideological stereotypes about liberals and conservatives. And, today, the same confusion dominates the election debates.

Ideology -- that is, the manmade formulations and doctrines of both the right and the left in modern American politics -- is the enemy of true conservatism, as it is the enemy of the Gospel, which rests on revealed, propositional truth. Russell Kirk, the great Catholic thinker whose writings have so influenced me over the years, said that ideology is "the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers." Most tend to be utopian and end up serving not the welfare of the people, but the interests of power-seekers.

Conservatism, on the other hand, is not a set of doctrines, but "a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order."

The first principle of conservatism, according to Kirk, is that there exists an enduring moral order. Christians believe that moral order is revealed in Scripture. Conservatives, and some Christians, may also look to natural law. "Moral truths are permanent," Kirk writes, and so the conservative "is one who defends the moral order."

The first truth of the moral order is that human life has dignity. Both Christians and classical conservatives recognize this. So, why should it surprise commentators that we care about prisoners and the poor? It is "self-evident" to us all that humans have innate dignity. This is why human-rights campaigns are always fought by Christians and true conservatives like William Wilberforce.


As the presidential campaign heats up, Christians need to see that most of the issues being debated arise from conflicting ideologies of the two parties. But we should be taken in by nobody's ideology.


Conservatives also have a deep respect for tradition -- those customs and laws that have been found true, handed down to us by previous generations. Kirk famously said that conservatives "sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see further than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time."

Indeed, according to Kirk, conservatives understand that "we moderns" are unlikely "to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics or taste."

Revering what is true, as opposed to embracing utopian fads, is what marks the conservative disposition. It is also at the heart of the Christian disposition -- which relies on a Gospel revealed to the apostles and handed down over the centuries.

As the presidential campaign heats up, Christians need to see that most of the issues being debated arise from conflicting ideologies of the two parties. But we should be taken in by nobody's ideology. Because we look to the revealed, enduring moral order, we may advocate things the world calls "liberal" -- like prison reform -- because doing so promotes human dignity. And we may also reject those things that ideology labels "conservative" that fail to recognize or uphold the moral order.

So, this campaign season, as we debate with our friends and co-workers, let's try to see beyond ideological labels. After all, political ideologies come and go. The moral order -- and the Gospel -- are enduring.

 



For Further Reading and Information

BreakPoint Commentary No. 050801: "Inadequate Ideologies: Politics and the Denial of Truth."

BreakPoint Commentary No. 060703: "A Peculiar People: Crunchy Cons."

BreakPoint Commentary No. 071130: "‘An Urgent Calling': Why Christians Belong in Politics."

BreakPoint Commentary No. 031024: "Ordered Liberty: Remembering Russell Kirk."

Allen Thornburgh, "Claiming Wilberforce," The Point, 13 December 2007.

Gina Dalfonzo, "If It Ever Rains, He's Going to Drown," The Point, 23 October 2006.

Learn more about Russell Kirk: thekirkcenter.org. See Kirk's "Ten Conservative Principles" from The Politics of Prudence.

Dan LeRoy, "The Conservative Lion in Winter," New York Times, 9 October 2005.




ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Charles Colson. "True Conservatism." BreakPoint Commentary June 6, 2008.

From BreakPoint ® Copyright 2008, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries, P.O. Box 17500, Washington, D.C. 20041-0500. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint ®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries ®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

THE AUTHOR

Charles Colson launched Prison Fellowship in 1976, following a seven-month prison sentence for Watergate-related crimes. Since then, Prison Fellowship has flourished into a U.S. ministry of 50,000 volunteers and has spread to more then 50 countries. Beyond his prison ministry, Colson is a Christian author, speaker, and commentator, who regularly confronts contemporary values from a biblically informed perspective. His "BreakPoint" radio commentaries now air daily across the U.S. and he has written 15 books, including The Faith: Given Once, For All What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters, God & Government, Loving God, Answers to Your Kids' Questions, The Line Between Right & Wrong: Developing a Personal Code of Ethics, Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages, and How Now Shall We Live: A Study Guide.

Copyright © 2008 Breakpoint




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