In Defence of Conservatism

I’m never very comfortable wearing labels. When I pull one out of the label pile and reluctantly hang it around my neck because, well, it just fits (mostly, at least), I find myself looking around for a marker to write an addendum on the label – either a disclaimer of all the pieces of baggage I don’t claim that come with the label or a defence of the label and why I’m wearing it.

For most of my life, I liked to ignore political labels or wear the “apolitical” label. Lately, as the political divide grows ever wider and I’ve seen one side of the chasm disappearing off into the sunset of “way out in left field,” I’ve found myself grudgingly owning the label “conservative.” This first post is my addendum to that label.

First of all, let’s tackle the terms “conservative” or “conservatism.” The words have a bad rap that make many hesitant to wear them. Conserving is preserving. It speaks of hanging onto something. It implies standing still, standing one’s ground. It looks backward. It looks to the past, to history, to tradition. The assumption is that these are the features of the human landscape that conservatives are attempting to conserve. Isn’t this antithetical to the assumed goal of the human race: progress?

Progressives necessarily accept unquestioningly a philosophical evolutionary view of human history that leaves many conservatives sceptical. In fact, hard science denies that a general upward trend is the nature of reality. The first and second laws of thermodynamics (which teach us about the conservation of energy) tell us that the general trend is not upward but downward.

Instead of dashing pell-mell in any direction the masses are pushing us toward, conservatives want to stand still long enough to evaluate if the direction is actually progress. All change is not progress. Progress is moving in the right direction. Heading somewhere. Somewhere more beneficial than where we’ve been. Conservatives wisely acknowledge that most movement is not progress. “All change is good change,” the unthinking blithely spout, and the second law of thermodynamics shakes its head sternly in disagreement. Good change is good. And most change isn’t good, the unyielding second law tells us.

And this is the reason there are such a thing as conservatives and such a thing as conservatism. And this is the reason I’m wearing this old-fashioned label that scratches and pinches slightly. And this is the reason I’m writing to defend the label. This is why I’m a conservative.

I’ve come to recognize that this label is not unrelated to another label I wear more wholeheartedly. I’m an unapologetic Christian. (Actually, I’m more of an “apologetic” Christian in the sense that “apologetics” are an intellectual defence of a faith or a system of thought. I also like to be able to defend this label. I’m sure that subject will arise in the natural life-cycle of this blog but no time for it today. Later.)

Unlike the philosophy that tells us that we are steadily and surely being driven by the vehicle of natural selection ever and ever upward towards perfection – that bad ideas will always be consumed by the stronger and fitter good ideas and so humanity will unerringly advance – the Bible lines itself up with the laws of thermodynamics. It tells us that there was a beginning of things, and that beginning was when perfection was our reality. Since then, the movement has been mostly downhill. There have been upswings in that movement by the exertion of great amounts of energy. There have been moments of progress. But that progress, in a sense, was a movement backwards. A push back onto the road we’ve wandered from repeatedly. A road that led us out of a Utopian Garden that humanity has been craving ever since we left and will lead us, not back to the Garden, but into a future perfection. All attempts to get there other than the one road we’ve rejected will only lead us to the worst kind of the Dystopian Non-fiction that human history is the record of.

The Bible is clear that we can’t move backwards to get back to the Garden. There’s no undoing the past, but the bookends of human history are two different states of perfection: a past perfection and a future perfection. However, we only arrive at the future by trudging through the present. And things will get worse before they get better.

With this worldview in mind, I sometimes wonder what conservative Christians are trying to conserve and if there’s any point to it.

And I think there is. Jesus told His followers that they were to be “the salt of the earth.” When He spoke this enigmatical saying, salt was a preservative. It was added to food to keep the rot from setting in or at least slow the rot down. And I think there is a definite point to being a preservative. Or a Christian conservative.

The point is not the futile effort to push us all the way back to the Garden of Perfection. It is to bring as many back to the narrow road that leads to the future perfection that can be brought. I’m starting to see how it works and what salt’s role is. It’s a matter of contrasts.

Switching directions slightly (but not really), I have a confession to make. I was one of those who shed a few tears over the results of our most recent election. I’m not American, so I don’t mean Trump’s election (and in my own defence, I didn’t film myself having a meltdown and make it public on the Internet). I’m Canadian, so the election I cried about when I heard the results was the election of our present Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. I’d had a premonition of doom before I heard the results, so I wasn’t surprised, but I was depressed. For a few hours.

When I’d been given my premonition of doom (ie: was pretty sure Trudeau was going to win), it was followed up by a reassurance. I remembered that God is still in control of the world, and He uses everything He allows for some good and necessary purpose.

I knew very little about the man who would be our present Prime Minister, but the little I knew about him stood directly in opposition to what the Bible told me was right and true. And believing that the Bible is true and is God’s message to humanity of everything we really need to know, I believed that what Justin Trudeau stood for stood directly in opposition to reality. (Like, in reality, budgets don’t balance themselves.) In that case, I knew his election would be a disaster for our country.

Truth matters. If a doctor discards facts in favour of his or her own “truth,” he or she will misdiagnose the patient. Then the patient can’t receive the correct treatment. And the patient goes on being ill.

We elect political leaders, hoping to make a change for the better, but if we elect political physicians to heal our social ills who don’t understand the problem or even the nature of reality, our social ills will be misdiagnosed and then mistreated, and we’ll only become collectively more and more morally sick. We have to get to the heart of what’s really wrong with us before we can make any progress in a moral direction.

So, realizing that Trudeau was starting off on the wrong basis (whatever is right in his own eyes) for fixing all the problems in our country, I knew the problems could only get worse. As Canadians, we might not have perfect consensus yet on this question of whether or not Trudeau has been the most disastrous PM Canada has ever seen, but we’re getting there. Fast.

And I knew electing someone to head our country with the wrong view of reality would be a disaster for Canada. But I also knew that we probably needed that disaster. We needed a wake-up call. We needed to see where the path we’d been on for decades, half a century even, finally came out if given its head – if taken to its logical conclusion. We’ve been on the path of every man and woman doing what seems right in his or her own eyes for some time now. We needed to see a little of the disaster zone that is the final destination of this path. I hope we’ve had enough for a little while (till we forget again), but I do thank God for the leadership we’ve had at the helm of our country for the past almost four years. I foresaw it on that election night in 2015, and I’m seeing it now. God has used our Prime Minister in His work (in a very backhanded kind of way).

And here’s what all this has to do with Christians playing a preservative role in the world. One of those great expenditures of energy that saw an upswing in human history has been the founding of certain nations and their laws on biblical principles. No nation has ever gotten it 100% right just as no human has ever gotten it 100% right. But the contrast between a nation that made the attempt and the nations that never did is startling. But those of us blessed to live in the nations with such a heritage now take those blessings for granted. We’ve stopped seeing the contrast. We don’t know what it’s like to live without freedom (yes, a definite biblical principle) and the doctrine of the individual worth of the human individual. So, in our complacency and ignorance, every man doing what’s right in his own eyes began to look attractive to us again. And we in Canada have just had a nice big mouthful of that pudding we’ve baked up. And we’re gagging on it. Something tastes rotten. (Needs more salt!)

But I’ve been interested to notice that the members of the sane general public who have discovered they don’t like the taste of the pudding they helped bake—a general public that regarded the Christians as the crazy ones a few short years ago—are starting to come to our defence. We’re starting to make sense to them. Minds are opening to the possibility that maybe there’s something more to this Christianity business than they were ever willing to entertain before.

And that’s the shift that matters. Nations come and go. But if the Bible’s view of reality is the true and right one, individuals last forever. And what they come to believe in this life matters. In an eternal kind of way.

Sure, I want to make the world a better place. And I think conservatism is one small way to do so. Yes, the great energy expended in forming our erstwhile “Christian” nations did help to make the world a better place, and conserving and preserving those nations around the principles that made them what they are is worth doing for making our lives easier and less disastrous. There is certainly some value in the world becoming a better place to live. But as a Christian, I hold the view of reality that says there’s more value in making someone’s eternity a better place to live.

Nations come and go. But there are two kingdoms that are eternal. Growing the citizenry of God’s kingdom is ultimately more important than nation-building. But nation-building (or nation-conserving) and showcasing the contrast between those two kingdoms may be one way that God’s kingdom grows.

I’m beginning to see it. I’m beginning to see that here may be where the value of conservatism really lies.