What then is a Christian to make of conservatism? The danger, it would seem, is not in conserving, for anyone may have a vocation to care for precious things, but in conservative ideology, which sets forth a picture of these things at variance with the faith. The same is true of liberalism. From time to time Christians may find themselves in tactical alliance with conservatives, just as with liberals, over particular policies, precepts, and laws. But they cannot be in strategic alliance, because their reasons for these stands are different; they are living in a different vision. For our allies’ sake as well as our own, it behooves us to remember the difference. We do not need another Social Gospel—just the Gospel. – J. BudziszewskiThe Problem With Conservatism (1996)
Conservatism at its purest form is philosophical though it inevitably holds political weight in decisions of property, rights, laws, war, and nearly every other area of socioeconomic and political consequence. Richard M. Weaver reminded us in 1948 that Ideas Have Consequences, what we believe and follow, can reverberate throughout all of human history. “The modern position,” wrote Weaver, “seems only another manifestation of egotism, which develops when man has reached a point at which he will no longer admit the right to existence of things not of his own contriving” (Weaver, p. 154). Faith is more than tradition. Christ is beyond any philosophy. Historic Christianity is rooted in truth and reality that centers on the wholeness of Jesus Christ. Conservative philosophy at best recognizes the need for God and the institutions of the Christian faith, but it is not a practice of faith. As Professor Budziszewski of government and philosophy at the University of Texas in Austin and author of the blog, UndergroundThomist, distinctly makes clear: there is the Christian Faith and there is Conservatism and Liberalism and every other philosophical, ideological, and political system. At the end of the 1996 article (the article can be read in full at First Things website) he notes the essential truth of Christ and His Kingdom:
Christians can no more be others on the right than others on the left. Citizenship is an obligation of the faith, therefore the Christian will not abstain from the politics of the nation-state. But his primary mode of politics must always be witness. It is a good and necessary thing to change the welfare laws, but better yet to go out and feed the poor. It is a good and necessary thing to ban abortion, but better yet to sustain young women and their babies by taking them into the fellowship of faith. This is the way the kingdom of God is built.The Problem With Conservatism (1996)
Therefore what comes first in terms of principles must be through and by the means of Christ, the Scriptures, and the Church. Christendom can be the only root source of a Primitive Conservative. Politics is secondary. Our identity is tertiary. Philosophy a helpmate. Surrender is strength not a weakness. Intersection is inevitable in the world of questions concerning morality, law, justice, or economics.
The Common Good
Tom Nelson, President of Made to Flourish, a network that works with churches in helping people flourish for the common good, argues that one of the best ways to achieve an act of common good is through our daily work (Nelson 2017, pp. 78-79, The Economics of Neighborly Love). By no means against the Free Market, Nelson seeks to make the case for a “triple bottom-line approaches that take into account not only profit but also promoting the flourishing of people as well as the planet” (pp. 79-80). One of several approaches to economic revitalization, the real father of economics can be found in the ideas of Thomas Aquinas whose central doctrines and dogmas remain as a central, though controversial, voice within Catholicism and broader Christianity.
Gloria L. Zúñiga at Acton Institute explains that “Thomistic economic thought… is grounded on private property and voluntary exchange as the principle for determining licit contracts.” Mary L. Hirschfeld, professor of economics and theology, wrote the book Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Humane Economy (2018), arguing that there are intrinsic values modern society can learn from Aquinas for the sake of redeeming a neoliberal society from its moral shortcomings.
Alternatives and reforms to a capitalistic society are nothing new to conservative thought as the late Sir Roger Scruton explains that “to be a conservative at best is to be a reluctant Capitalist you have to acknowledge the free-market… but it has to be tempered.” Our source for the “good life” derives from a similar stream but diverges from its source as to the ultimate purpose over ones life. Economics is simply one example for indeed Jesus Christ did not come to establish an economic doctrine or political order on the Earth. He came to die for the sins of the world and to redeem all that is His. Yet he tells believers not to be anxious or to worry but to build up for the Kingdom of Heaven:
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Luke 12: 32-34).
Giving, charity, helpfulness are virtues to be practiced for they are goodness in of themselves; eternal values of immense worth as conservatives understand them to be. However the Christian does not simply do good, he does it at the service of God who commands them to do good. A distinct difference not because of a total lack of will to do any good but that Christians acknowledge the source by which goodness is bequeathed. For none do good, not even one (Psalm 14:3; Rom. 3:11). A secular reader shall fail in their attempt to decipher its meaning without close inspection as much as new Christian in the faith who fails to study the scriptures. Acts of “good” can be accomplished by all men but their heart remains corrupted. Christ is the redeemer of the heart—that is the Gospel. Secondly, all life comes from God the creator. He is worthy of acknowledgement. And lastly Christians source their life around the Gospel. Good works follow after it but virtue is not their source or it is simply vanity. Harry Blamires succinctly summarizes this truth in his book, The Christian Mind (1963), between the Modern mind and the mind of the Christian:
If Christians think carefully and prayerfully, they will come to understand what the Incarnation means for them in terms of their twentieth-century vocation… They will learn what are the proper twentieth-century modes of judging the world, of identifying the self with its sins, of being in and yet of being out of this world which our Lord inhabited and yet was not of. But these vital insights will be achieved only if there is among us a Christian mind sharp enough as an instrument of discrimination to cut cleanly through the befuddling mental jungle which constitutes the practical ethic of our secular society (pp. 104-105).
Christ is the source of our Common Good; He is the Principle; the Rule of Thumb; and the Sole Being Worthy of Adoration. A.W. Tozer tells us that to be a follower of God means to be “other-worldly” (Tozer 2006, The Pursuit of God, p. 63). Or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer hammered it out straight for his readers in The Cost of Discipleship (1995), “Faith can no longer mean sitting still and waiting—they must rise and follow him. The call frees them from all earthly ties, and binds them to Jesus Christ alone” (pp. 62-63).
This week will be a week of explanation of what it means to hold to principles over politics; truth over lies; reality over irreality. A foundation that built from faith in Christ and Christ Alone. Sourced from Christian Doctrines and Dogmas in the face of a world that fails to love; fails to do justice; and fails in establishing dignity for all.