I saw the most fascinating and lively exchange between two political conservatives on C-Span Book TV last weekend. It featured Andrew Sullivan, the homosexual activist who is actually a libertarian politically, and David Brooks, the Jewish columnist for the New York Times. Brooks has an unusually keen insight into evangelicalism, as can be seen in his frequently thoughtful references to them. He is also a wonderfully nuanced political conservative of the very best sort. (He has a streak of libertarianism in his political theory thus he also wants to legalize homosexual unions!)
The televised event was sponsored by the famous Cato Institute. Brooks critiqued Andrew Sullivan’s reaction to religious conservatives and especially his new book, The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back (HarperCollins, 2006). The book addresses the recovering of the real heart and soul of conservatism, a misnamed book if there ever was one. Brooks did a masterful job of showing Andrew Sullivan why he failed to understand religious conservatism on the whole. He made several important points, especially regarding John R. Stott representing more of the deep and thoughtful evangelicalism of America than Sullivan realized.
There were three things David Brooks noted that will stand out for me for some time.
1. The conservative movement needs to leave a lot more room for honest doubt.
2. The core lesson of 9/11 was the deep impact that sin still has on human nature.
3. Conservatives need to embrace the truth of “epistemological humility” with greater undersstanding.
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I listened to the debate as well and I agree that Andrew Sullivan does not understand much of the religious right. I also agree with the three main points that Andrew and David agree on.
But I think that there is one more very important point that was right at the end and didn’t get flushed out very well. While it is not the religious part of the republican party that has caused big spending and many of the other problems that Andrew sites, the fact that the religious right has not stood up and made itself known as opposed has made itself complicit. I think the prime area where this is true is torture. Christians throughout history have been opposed to torture, but the evangelical press and the major evangelical political organizations did not comment when Bush signed the torture ban with a statement that said he was not going to follow his own law. The religious right has not complained about military tribunals, even though it is similar secret courts that are a serious danger to religious freedoms around the world. What Andrew has right (and I think David agrees with) is that in order to have a free society, the whole society must be free and open or else we will all be constrained.
Adam, I agree with you completely! The religious right has several huge blind spots and I am not the defender of the religious right or these blind spots.