What God Wants, God Gets, God Help Us All

Over at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher adds to a continuing discussion:

you don’t have to believe that Christianity is true to believe in human rights and dignity, but to say that God — by which I mean the basis of all reality — has ordained the universe such that x, y, and z are true is a much stronger basis than saying “these things are true because I believe them to be true.”

Well, maybe those arguments have more emotional resonance and rhetorical force. But that’s rather a separate argument than whether or not they’re true.

The problem is, God keeps changing His mind about everything. God thought slavery was just fine, then He seemed to think different things depending on who you asked, and now He thinks that it’s bad. God thought that marriage was the husband’s legal dominion over his wife; then God appeared to permit wives to own property separate from their husbands; now He appears to most people (well, not the Saudis) to think that the law should treat men & women equally. God was pretty sure that interracial marriage was a bad thing, but now most people around here think that it’s OK. (Christianity Today: “27 percent of Americans overall said more interracial marriage was good for society, compared to 17 percent of evangelicals.“)

God’s views are almost as erratic as humans’ views. 

To take this further into ethereal abstractions, it seems to me that Good Conservatism is a suspicion of rapid change and a humility about limits on our power; Bad Conservatism is a belief that things are as they are because that is how they must be– and therefore, out groups should refrain from complaining about their necessarily justified place in the social order.

Social progress is about expanding the circle of people who count as equals. It was self-evidently true, to roughly everyone in any position of power in the US one century ago, that women and all racial minorities were unfit for civic & economic equality. Because, look around– none of them are in positions of power! This is how it must be!

Or, as William F. Buckley put it in 1957:

The central question that emerges … is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes–the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the median cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists.

This is the flaw with the conservative impulse– to treat today’s situations as though they were the immutable will of God, and to disregard the interests and perspectives of out-of-power groups. Buckley’s sneer at the dreamers who called for black equality is akin to Newt Gingrich comparing Ronald Reagan to Neville Chamberlain for meeting with Gorbachev. That’s the basest obtrusion of the conservative impulse: things are as they are, we are good and they are bad, and that’s that.

Post title is a line from a Roger Waters song from the album Amused to Death, a reference to the writing of Neil Postman described here.

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One Response to What God Wants, God Gets, God Help Us All

  1. dedc79 says:

    Dreher is also opening himself up to a criticism that the tail is wagging the dog. How much of religious belief/faith is a desire for rules? (There’s a god because we need there to be a god). The religious often talk about faith as if it’s a burden, but it can also be a crutch.

    And while moral commands that come from a God may have more authority than those that don’t (you’ve raised a number of reasons to think that this too is inaccurate) , are they moral because they come from God or moral because they’re moral even without reference to God?

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