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Jack of Spades

Dark turn of social conservatism

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Over the last three or so years, I've noticed an alarming trend with religious social conservatives in the internet; these people have begun to adapt increasingly anti-democratic ideals and narratives, and seem to have found their new global hero in Russian president Vladimir Putin. At first this seemed to me like a random fringe phenomenon, but especially with Americans (where there are particularly lots of religious social conservatives) this seems to be on it's way to become the new mainstream of social conservatism. Lately also media has begun to pay more attention to this, which has convinced me that this is happening for real, and it's not just my bad luck of running into this Putin-conservatism.

 

My thoughts on what is happening with religious conservatives:

1) The repeated losses at culture wars are taking their toll. Whenever the religious social conservatives have tried to push the culture backwards in the democratic world, they have usually failed in the end. I believe that this repeated losing has alienated religious conservatives, not just from the mainstream culture, but from the ideals of democracy as it seems to favor their perceived enemies. Why would they continue loving democracy, since it seems to place secular and liberal ideals at power? By contrast, when the conservatives look at Russia, where the cultural clock has been seemingly successfully turned backwards (feminist protesters at church are jailed, gay activism has been banned, even beating ones wife has become less of a serious crime and so on), they realize that conservatism can win, just not in a democratic context.

This is actually a centuries old European idea made new; The church wanting a Christian king to rule a nation, in order to keep the nation Christian.

2) The massive information - and critical thinking - vacuum created by anti-intellectualism and anti-journalism by social conservatives has effectively made the whole group intellectually helpless sitting ducks for ruthless propaganda efforts, like the ones taken in recent years by Russian government. Conservative anti-intellectualist efforts have left the group as a whole with no way of sorting the credible news from mere propaganda and thus, they will end up believing the propaganda of Putin's Russia being the promised land of religious conservatism. Not unlike the western workers of the old world believed Soviet Union being the mythical paradise of the working class.

 

Thoughts? Observations? 

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I think they are very astute observations, JOS.  Without a doubt I think there are many vocal and passionate disenfranchised conservatives in the US who see Trump as this Christian King.  Perhaps even a 'divine vessel' if you will.  

We see the likes of Pat Robertson tel-evangelising for Trump and telling millions and millions of Christian viewers/followers that disagreeing with Trump will invites God's wrath etc.  You can see how that pesky ol' democracy habit must get in the way of really acting for God!

Without a doubt the US is one step closer to developing a theocracy, but my hope is that there may be enough people to see through such foolishness and who will be prepared to stand up against poor government decisions/actions - particularly autonomous ones that don't have the backing of the Congress and senate.

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PaulS

 

I think Trump & Trumpism in the US is just one part of this phenomenon. Globally, this is much larger than Trump. If you google "social conservatives Putin", you'll find opinion pieces and articles dating back years before Trump was making the news.

 

I personally think that the idea of Trump as the Christian king is little more than a fantasy of the religious right. In reality, the clock is ticking against the Christian theocracy enthusiasts in USA. Christianity is losing ground in the US at an astonishing phase, I remember reading that statistically, average of 5 000 Christians leave the faith every day. Every generation is more secular than their parents were, so it seems unlikely that the theocrats are ever going to succeed in the long run. I think that the real danger here is to have so large part of the population becoming hostile towards democracy, and thus ignoring any attempts to damage the system. As long as the US democracy itself stays intact, any short term theocratic policy gains will be simply reversed by the future administrations in an increasingly secular country.

 

As far as Europe is concerned, having a revolutionary, anti-democracy, demagogue-fueled, pro-Russia political movement within the West is nothing new, it's just a do-over of the Cold War. There used to be very influential communist parties in the Western Europe, working to undermine the democracy for decades. Now it's just the political right finding their savior in Russia, back in times it was the political left. What's new is the huge success of Russian propaganda campaign in the US. I think the tragedy of the story is the way how the religious social conservatives made the groundwork for this influence campaign themselves, with their overblown anti-intellectualism and anti-journalism that has effectively stripped them of the capability to discern between a truth and a lie. People who make a virtue of ignorance, are very easy targets for ruthless propaganda campaigns.

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I agree with you concerning Russia and the US, but I'm not convinced it's a worldwide phenomenon.  I don't see the same conservatism in countries such as Australia, China, South Africa or most of those (if not all) in South America.  Admittedly Russia and the US alone have a huge influence, but for the US that influence is waning whereas in Europe I think Russia's influence is a threat.  Yet I see China actually as a limiter to any Russian advances outside of its current borders.

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You're right, it's not global in sense that it would exist everywhere. I was trying to make a point that it's not just an American phenomenon. Calling it global was a bit of a stretch. I think that this kind of social conservatism that exists in US and Europe, is a counter movement to the liberalism of the West. So it can't really be replicated in places where the Western liberalism has not been a dominant force, like f.e. in China. It's mostly European and American phenomenon. 

 

If what you say is true, then I think Australia makes a curious exception case here. How do you think Australian conservatives (not in sense of economic conservatives, but particularly religious social conservatives) are different from their European and American counterparts? I can recall talking to an Australian earlier this year who complained that his movement (conservatives) have picked up the worst elements from American political conservatives lately. But I can't say what he was particularly referring to.

Edited by Jack of Spades

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It's not that the religious conservatives are different in Australia but more that they simply don't have the numbers.  Broadly speaking, Australia is a very religiously tolerant country and although it has Christian origins (from when the English invaded the country and displaced the original aboriginal inhabitants), Christianity is on the decline.  Last years census identified that just half of the population identified as Christian (100 years ago it was 97%).  Not sure of the precise % but the number of actual churchgoing Christians is significantly less.

Australian's elected an openly Atheist prime minister in 2010 (essentially our head of state although the British Queen officially is) and rarely is Christianity and God raised to support any political debate.  That's not to say some politicians don't play to those conservative Christians - just that they're not a large influence and certainly nothing like we see the US wrapped up in.

Our current government is considered conservative but not really in the religious sense.  They haven't rolled anything back in support of christian conservatism and indeed are even slowly moving forward with gay marriage (too slowly in my opinion which is a sign of some christian conservatism, but moving toward it nonetheless) and improved recognition of Australia's first peoples.

Perhaps the Australian you were talking to may have been referring to the harshness of conservative Christians who might have picked up the worst elements of American political conservatives - this vocal minority has become harder and harsher in its language against gay marriage, transgender people, etc, but they are by far a minority and pretty much considered 'loonies' by the rest of the population.

I don't want to paint a picture that Christianity doesn't have any influence in Australia, because it still does.  Just not in any sort of ultra conservative way I believe.

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I may be forced to eat my words to some degree in the near future, Jack of Spades, but hopefully the compassion of my fellow aussies will shine through instead!

Our government has just announced a 'postal plebiscite' where Australians will be able to vote, voluntarily by mail, for or against same sex marriage.  On the face of it that may seem like democracy in action but there are a number of problems with this method which can sway the result.  But even if the vote was to win in favour of SSM, our politicians are not legally bound to enforce or pass laws in support of the affirmative vote.  Perhaps they'd be silly not to, but politicians are politicians and have lobby groups to answer to of course.  In any event, it's recognised as a pretty weak way of determining the issue and the concern is that a no vote might see the matter die in the water for some time.

I've got my fingers crossed that Australia will see the light and recognise gay people as just as human and entitled to love as heterosexuals.

 

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Even if Australia were to vote no on it, I think being against SSM while sticking to democratic process is the classic type of social conservatism, rather than the new, dark, Russia-sympathetic, authoritarian version of it that I was trying to bring up.

 

As for SSM per se, I personally feel like it's sometimes made to be a bigger deal than it, in fact, is. For example, in Finland it was passed this year after being delayed due to political quirks for years, but it was for years inevitable that it's going to happen. While still in the process, the law was promoted as if there were a major human right crisis going on when gays can't marry. The state already recognized gay civil unions, so to say that SSM gave them right to love is a propagandist overstatement, imho. It's not as if the state forced gays to closet and then one day opened the door by passing the marriage law. In my eyes, the move from civil unions to same-sex marriage was more of a legal technicality and a cultural symbolic step rather than anything that turned around the lives of gay people here.

 

But, I do realize I'm talking about my country here and all political and cultural issues have lots of unique local elements and nuances in them. I am sure that Australian and Finnish politics or cultural topics are not totally comparable. For example, the big outrage over SSM here was pretty much done with by the time the law was being passed this year. The outrage moments came earlier, one in 2010 (the great liberal outrage - 40 000 resigned from the state church) and in 2014 (conservative outrage - 20 000 people resigned from the church).

 

Out of curiosity, does Australia have a state church? Or anything resembling state church like European countries do (and US doesn't)? One of the main anxieties of social conservatives in Finland was that legalizing gay marriage would end up putting pressure on the state church to accept it theologically. Technically they were right, now that the law has been passed, the church is forced to take position on whether to formally bless the marriages or not. Needless to say it's a massive hot potato in the church, and is bound to cause lots of fighting and lots of people resigning their membership in the church regardless of what they do with it. The church is forced to take a public stance on an issue it would most likely just want to keep under the rug.

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No state church in Australia.  The catholic and anglican traditions are the more prominent and a number of politicians may have an affiliation with these, but it's not made much of a deal.  That said, clearly this weak use of democracy shows that many pollies do fear for their seats should they openly vote in favour of SSM.

I believe SSM is inevitable here, if not this time around then very soon thereafter.  Already the opposition party is declaring they will make it law if they are voted in next election (and there is a very good chance of that anyway).  Like Finland, gay couples are recognised in every other way to heterosexual couples, so practically speaking there won't be much different if SSM should be introduced, but clearly it would mean an awful lot to gay couples to be allowed to marry their loved partners.  To be denied that must feel like the last bastion to them for being treated and feeling like freaks.

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Now that I think of it, every Christian I've talked to from Aus has probably been either Anglican or Catholic, so, makes sense. When it comes to SSM I guess I am guilty of some projecting. Personally, marriage doesn't mean very much to me as a concept, so it's kind of natural for me to think it means as little in the society aswell.

 

On the Putinist-conservatism, it seems to me like USA will be in trouble with this movement for decades to come. Thanks to their anti-journalistic attitudes, the conservatives in USA are so isolated from the news media that there is little hope of them gettingan objective look on the situation anywhere in the nearby future.

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