A Voice in the Wilderness In Defense of "Mere Conservatism"


The Drama Of Our Time

By: R.J. Moeller

"Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance." –G.K. Chesterton The Speaker, 12/15/00

Wisdom and insight can come from the strangest of places.  A line in a movie, a lyric in a song, or a voice from the car-seat in the back of a minivan can open the eyes of your mind to new, profound truths and realizations about life, love, and faith.  These revelations are occasionally delivered most clearly from people who disagree most vehemently with you and your worldview.

But you have to be listening, you need to be cultivating a reflective and vibrant inner thought life, to hear the wisdom that is lurking all around you; wisdom that wants to be set free from the chains of ignorance we’ve placed on it (or on each other).

Joseph-mccabe-1910Joseph Martin McCabe was born in Macclesfield, England 143 years ago.  As a younger man he entered the priesthood, but six years later, and after a “loss of faith”, McCabe became an ardent critic of religion, a “devout” atheist, and prolific secular author in the first half of the 20th century.  He became a defender and promoter of nearly everything a religious conservative like me disagrees with.

But what McCabe offered in his writing, what attracted the attention (and garnered the respect) of the legendary British Christian writer G.K. Chesterton, was an ability to see the seriousness of the debate between people of faith and secular materialists, and a willingness to acknowledge and discuss the implications of both side’s worldview to society and civilization.

Chesterton, in his classic work Heretics (1905), quotes a lengthy passage from an essay McCabe had written earlier that same year entitled “Christianity and Rationalism on Trial.”  Chesterton had been attacked for being too humorous and light-hearted in his writings on “serious” topics, but being the Happy Warrior he was, Chesterton used the opportunity of a chapter in his own book not to personally attack McCabe, but to in large part highlight (and applaud) the refreshing clarity an atheist like McCabe had to offer to even those of us in the “God-fearing” camp.

Here is what Joseph McCabe wrote:

But before I follow Mr. Chesterton in some detail I would make a general observation about his method.  He is as serious as I am in his ultimate purpose, and I respect him for that.  He knows, as I do, that humanity stands at a solemn parting of the ways.  Towards some unknown goal it presses through the ages, driven by an overmastering desire of happiness.  Today it might hesitate, lightheartedly enough, but every serious thinker knows how momentous the decision may be.  Western civilization is, apparently, deserting the path of religion and entering upon the path of secularism.

Will it lose itself in quagmires of sensuality down this new path, and suffer through years of civic and economic anarchy, only to learn it had lost the road, and must return to religion?

Or will it find that at last it is leaving the mists and quagmires behind it; that it is ascending the slope of the hill so long dimly discerned ahead, and making straight for the long-sought Utopia?

This is the drama of our time, and every man and woman should understand it


I feel as Chesterton presumably did more than 100 years ago when he first read those same words: Where is that type of candid, honest, call-to-intellectual-and-moral-arms among believers in the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible today?  Where do we hear and read this brand of candid, sober, exceptional reflection among religious conservatives (of any faith) in modern discourse?

Answer: basically, we don’t.  We can count on one hand the public figures in recent memory who, regardless of your opinion of their views, clearly, accurately, and fairly described the parameters of the various cultural battles that impact us all.

Watch one such example here:

Last week I wrote about the need Center-Right Americans have to re-engage the political, legal, and economic realms we’ve abandoned for far too long (and to re-engage in the right, thoughtful way).  I stand by those words and intend on doing my small part in helping to facilitate a conservative renaissance in my sphere of influence.  But a dear friend of mine reminded me this past weekend that the way to help a group of land-locked people to see they need to build a boat isn’t simply to hand out lists of instructions and schematics.  Certainly technical knowledge, pertinent facts, and a helping heaping of elbow grease are required for any endeavor to succeed, but the trickle will turn into a flood of interest in ship-building when those land-lubbers have instilled in them an unquenchable thirst for the open sea.

The penetrating words of Joseph McCabe above could not be more applicable still today as they were in 1905 (in England, no less).  Applied to the United States of 2010, we are confronted with divergent worldviews at nearly every turn of life.

For the religious American: you have highly motivated and well-funded entities intent on eradicating God from the public square.  For the conservative and libertarian proponents of limited-government and fiscal discipline: you have unfettered and unprecedented increases is the size, scope, and waste of the federal government at the behest of agents of both Parties (although unquestionably more so among Democrats).  For defenders of the sanctity of life: you have more than 50 million murdered babies since 1974.  For those who recognize the fundamental importance of traditional marriage and the family: you have activist courts and their cohorts in the media and academia doing everything they can to shame your perspective into silence, and are willing to circumvent the law if necessary to achieve their society-altering goals.

How, if any of these issues matter to you in the least, can you not be moved to action?  How can you continue to look the other way as your kids are indoctrinated by people with ideas that conflict with what you hold to be most dear?  What will it take to convince you to begin reading, to being educating yourself, to begin entering the voting booth every other November equipped with something more than “a hunch about this candidate”?

I’m not talking about uniformed unity on every issue.  I’m not suggesting that there needs to be one spokesman or one plan to fix all of society’s ills.  But there are certain core values and principles and beliefs that, when under attack, rightly rouse in us the desire to defend them.  They ought to rouse us.MIDEAST SYRIA US PELOSI

To our own detriment, we have attributed to our ideological opponents the same benign intentions the average law-abiding, tax-paying citizen have: To be left alone to raise their family, conduct their business, and worship their God in peace.  We mistakenly think that Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich basically want the same end-goals for America, but just disagree with each other on the means (and that disagreement is based almost entirely in petty politics).  This is wrong.

Liberty and freedom are not compatible with top-down government control and social engineering.  The enslaving of people onto the welfare plantation, regardless of the intentions of the parties responsible, is not compatible with real justice and compassion.  Equality of Opportunity is not compatible with an unobtainable, stubborn, and arbitrary insistence upon Equality of Outcome.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  One thing at a time.  Here at A Voice in the Wilderness I will continue to highlight particular, specific issues and stories with the intent to expose their connection to some of the bigger concepts and principles that “Mere Conservatism” embodies.  The devil is in the details, as they say.

But from time to time, and perhaps for the first time, people need to catch a glimpse of what we’re fighting for, who we’re fighting, and why remaining in the shadows of indifference and ignorance is really no option at all.

Two men, Chesterton and McCabe, with wholly different worldviews and belief-systems, were able to pin-point the crux of the culture war that rages still today and come away with a healthy respect for one another.  They grasped the seriousness of their disagreement and found ways to hate the other side’s ideas without hating the individuals on the other side.  We can do the same with the political, religious, and secular Left in 2010.

Only if we’re all honest about the stakes involved, that is.

Are you getting thirsty, yet?

Comments (6) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Have you read “The Ball and the Cross”? Its interesting premise is that a devout Catholic and an ardent atheist who vow to duel over their beliefs have more in common in their passionate adherence to a worldview than the world in general can stand. The world can take anything except people who take ideas seriously. And so, the world tries to stop their fight. They flee. The world — usually in the form of the police — gives chase. Over most of the rest of the picaresque novel, the two duel with words, rather than swords, and come to love each other, though neither convinces the other. It is a fascinating character and philosophical study, and I wonder if Chesterton had his give and take with McCabe in mind when writing it — though, I think he curiously gives the atheist the more Chestertonian personality, while the Catholic is far more grave.

    Worldview matters — and the willingness to fight (with words and civil actions — that is, a symbolic rather than literal duel) for that worldview is something that our “soft, worldly, timid” lifestyles have clouded. It’s stand up now or lose it for a generation (at least). G.K. also said, “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” Got convictions America?

    Good article!

  2. Another tremendous commentary, RJ!

    You have a talent. Keep developing it. Keep inspiring and informing your readers.

    God bless.

  3. As usual, you and I agree on even the most minute of details. Such salience is or rare order these days. If you write a book, and presumably tour, Son Tours would be honored to accommodate.


  4. Bravo!!

  5. RJ,
    Will be cross posting to PC with credit and link
    back to here. Really a fine job and you are one
    of the best writers out here that many of us
    have been reading. It is in the ‘details’ and fine
    print where you excel and that sets you apart
    from so many others who do this.

  6. I also believe this is a good article and perhaps a way to convert people to conservatism. However, it is a fundamental difference. I think that God had a hand in helping found our country. We did, after all, have a revolution which was a war. As I study how they arrived at our Constitution I have discovered that many of the same arguments we have today they had then. They resolved the issue to form a limited government. That limited government worked well. In fact, many of the warnings about human nature and government our founding fathers gave us then have been either ignored or called false. Which brings me back to that fundamental difference of opinion. Can one be slightly pregnant? Can a country be slightly socialistic with a mixed economy for long? I wonder!

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The basic ideas, ideals, and values that generally define and characterize the central tenets of what today might be termed "modern conservative thought."

We believe that a proper understanding of history, economics, and theology leads to certain conclusions. Many of these are the same conclusions our Founding Fathers arrived at in constructing a "more perfect union."

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