Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reagan's Unity Principle and The Five Fundamentals

There is currently a draft resolution circulating that would make the Republican National Committee adopt a list of 10 "conservative" principles and require any candidate seeking financial support to agree to at least 8 out of 10. This idea immediately brought to mind that sad event in Presbyterian history known as the Five Fundamentals. Here are the similarities as I see them:
  1. In both instances it is a group of conservatives within a larger body seeking to make the entire body conform to their own understanding of core beliefs.
  2. The "10 Principles" and "5 Fundamentals" are both lists designed to function as litmus tests for membership. The choice is subscription or exclusion.
  3. Both of these lists are historically myopic - they are not actually representative of the tradition they claim to be expressing. The "10 Principles" would be unrecognizable to a conservative from 50 years ago, and the "5 Fundamentals" include oddities like the virgin birth, inerrancy, and substitutionary atonement, instead of the trinity, or the Golden Rule, or the communion of saints, or grace, or resurrection, or ... I don't know something actually important.
  4. Neither of these lists represent accurate distillations of their tradition because they are occasioned, inspired, and utterly determined by opposition to specific contemporary issues rather than genuine timeless concerns. The "10 Principles" are a reaction to the defeat of the Republican party in the 2008 general election. The "5 Fundamentals" are a reaction to modernist thought becoming dominant in the church.
  5. Both of these lists are the expression of a fearful minority, whose anxiety is sparked by a perceived loss of control. These lists are hubristic attempts to regain power and authority, but in actuality they will accomplish only the further alienation and isolation of that minority until it falls away from the main body entirely and sinks into irrelevance.
These similarities make me wonder what it is about the conservative psyche that clings to this mode of expression: "lists," "fundamentals," "core principles," whatever you want to call them. When conservatives feel threatened they buckle down and attempt to enforce group cohesion by ideological subscription. Why is that?

And what is the progressive equivalent? What do we do when our power is taken away from us and we see ourselves as an embattled minority? Doubtless our responses are just as fearful and futile, but I'm having a hard time thinking of what that looks like.


Alan said...

I've seen plenty of instances in which ideological purity was required by various liberal & their groups and organizations. I think it is a habit of fundamentalists on either side. The extreme fringes always require unconditional loyalty ... that's why they're fringes.

Aric Clark said...

As an additional note, I think it's hilarious that they've taken Reagan's comment "if a someone agrees with me 8/10 times he's my friend" and completely inverted it to "Unless someone agrees with me at least 8/10 times then he's my enemy."

Martyn said...

I like how the comparison moves into a religious domain.. and this concretizing of an offhand "8 out of 10" (when Reagan could just as easily have said 7 out of 10) is a great example of how traditions systematize themselves. They 1) define an authority (NT, Calvin, Reagan) and 2) convert offhand statements into systematic propositions. Your post is right to note that the systems that come out of such a process bear little resemblance to the original concerns of the authority.

Something else I don't see commented on is the emphasis on "times" in his statement. It's not an invitation to compare policy points, but a pragmatic statement that people who tend to vote like me on the issues in front of us are my friends.

Nick.Larson said...

That's why you want to come over the church. You know you want too :)