Why religious republicans keep the focus on social issues

As I was writing the last article concerning republicans on the extreme right and their stance on global warming, I realized that there are a few more policy positions of theirs that are weird for Europeans. Key among these issues are abortion, gay rights and teaching creationism. In essence the Republican stance on these issues is tailor-made to co-opt the religious conservatives of America. Whereas in the American two-party system this alliance between the religious conservatives and the fiscal conservatives is almost an arranged marriage, by European standards they seem strange bed-fellows indeed.

It seems counter-intuitive that free-market capitalists with their ideas of small government have no qualms about giving bureaucrats in Washington any involvement in the private decision of women on the abortion issue. The same goes for their position on teaching creationism since a lot of them want government out of education and are strong proponents of the separation of church and state. So what is this really about? All these issues are being used as red flags on bulls, i.e. the religious conservatives are being goaded into activism on social issues rather than economic issues.

The culture of greed and selfishness (see last post) goes together with consumerism that in large part condones coveting thy neighbor’s house as long as it makes you buy a similar house. With money as a god next to God, most famous free-market capitalists are by and large atheists or at the very least agnostic. So how can this be combined with a Christian believe that centers around solidarity, helping the poor/weak and performing healing miracles regardless of whether someone has health insurance? In order to harmoniously bring together the religious conservatives and the free-market capitalists in a single conservative party, it is important to keep the religious conservatives preoccupied with social issues rather than economic policy.

At the core of this is the willingness of the leadership of religious conservatives to sell out part of their ideals in order to form a compromise with the free-market capitalist branch of the Republican party. The Judeo-Christian values that they love so much only apply to social issues. Now I hear you when you say that our previous Pope John Paul II was instrumental in bringing down communism in Central and Eastern Europe. Being Polish himself he had been very close to this issue and knew first-hand what kind of dystopia communism led to. This however doesn’t imply that he condoned the excesses of capitalism. This trend of pointing out the problems with laissez-faire capitalism continues with our current pope Benedictus XVI who recently discussed the current state of capitalism:

“There are clear signs of the profound division between those who lack daily sustenance and those who have huge resources at their disposal,” he said. Given the dramatic nature of the problem, reflection and analysis are not enough — action must be taken, he said.

Pope Benedict remarked that “economic laws must always take account of the interests and the protection of this fundamental cell of society.” In today’s troubled economic environment, many families are suffering and a new approach to economic affairs is needed, the Pontiff argued.

Simple justice is not enough to ensure an economic system that favors the family, the Pope said. “In order for true justice to exist, it is necessary to add gratuitousness and solidarity.” These qualities are not ensured by the free market, nor can they be delegated to the state, he said.

Thus, the Pope said, the challenge for Christians is to devise “those types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself.”

This is rather removed from the objectivist mantra. This is why I think in our Belgian politics it makes sense for the Christians to have their own party, separated from both socialists and neo-liberals. It allows politicians to be more consistent and to separate two groups of the population that otherwise have to compromise too much on issues they would rather not compromise on.

Do I think American religious conservatives are crazy and dumb? Not necessarily but they have to wake up and smell the bullshit. Their leaders are abusing issues that affect a small part of the population to drown out the fact that they are betraying their principles on economic policy, which affects everyone. Not to mention that their leaders have delivered almost no victories on any of these social issues. Why can’t you field your own independent candidate that can support you on the social issues while devising an economic policy that is in line with Judeo-Christian values of solidarity?

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