Conservatism Has Become a Religion

The central premise of any religion is faith. Faith is the necessary component to hold beliefs that cannot be verified by the scientific method. The modern conservative movement has become far more of a faith-based religion than a set of governing principles.

There was a time in the not too distant past when conservatives made an attempt to undergird the movement with an intellectual framework. Whether you agreed with them or not, conservative thinkers from Edmund Burke to Russell Kirk offered well-reasoned arguments for their beliefs and policy positions. Even the widely discredited Laffer Curve, the philosophical underpinning of supply side economics, has been the subject of multiple peer-reviewed articles. In other words, even conservative ideas to which history has not been kind were offered with an attempt at scientific proof.

There is still an element of the conservative movement that seeks to offer reason for its policy positions. Arthur Brooks at the American Enterprise Institute falls into this category, as do the National Review and a number of writers and thinkers. Again, agree or disagree, even on the academic quality of their arguments, there are individuals and institutions that believe conservatism can be defended with proof, not faith.

This is not the case, however, with a majority of voters who identify as conservative. The simplest proof of the rejection of reason within conservatism is the rampant belief that the 2016 election could be “rigged” or “stolen,” a belief held by 73% of Drumpf supporters. There is no evidence that can be gathered using the scientific method that would cause one to believe an American presidential election could be stolen. In fact — emphasis on the word “fact” — there is significant evidence to the contrary.

In other words, you are free to believe an election can be rigged, but recognize that you are doing so out of faith, not reason. You are using your heart, not your brain.

Never mind that the election rigging argument, apart from a complete lack of scientific data to support it, falls wholly apart under the light of logical thought. If this conspiracy theory were right and there is some shadowy cabal that is able to orchestrate the outcome of the 2016 election in favor of Hillary Clinton, why, then, does that same group not use their evil trickery to hand control of the House and Senate to the Democrats?

The same kind of logical questioning could also be applied to those who doubt human-induced global climate change. Climate change deniers are overwhelmingly people who have not worked in academics. In the academy, the currency is publications, and the way to get published is to produce data that separates itself from the consensus. Most academics, when it comes to being published, have the emotional maturity of a 5-year old on the playground — if there was a way, any way, that a scientist could disprove human-induced global climate change, someone would publish that article. Yet there has been no peer-reviewed article published to cast doubt on the science behind climate change. In other words, you are free to be a climate change denier, just like you are free to be Amish, but recognize that you hold those climate change doubts religiously, not scientifically.

I could go on. Conservatives hold beliefs that undocumented workers cause a large number of crimes per capita (they don’t), that electing Democrats leads to increases in number of abortions (exactly the opposite, in fact) or that gun restrictions makes the world less safe (also exactly the opposite). You are welcome to hold to those beliefs, but please recognize that you hold those beliefs religiously, not scientifically.

It is my opinion that this turn away from scientific proof for policy positions is one of the main reasons educated people are becoming more liberal. But I also believe this turn away from reason within conservatism is problematic, because a robust democracy requires a robust conservative voice. A truly conservative conservative voice, one that recognizes the powerful, positive lessons from our past, as well as a voice that speaks into the creation of a future informed by all that we have learned in our time both as humans on the planet and Americans in this country. In order for that voice to be heard, it must begin to once again speak in terms of fact, not faith.

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