Because really when people talk about "radical" conservativism, what they really mean is Southern conservativism, specifically the kind that originated in the Southern Baptist church in the late 70's/early 80's. And that makes me unhappy.
I am an ex-Southern conservative. You can say, 'oh, Aja, you're nothing like them,' but I am. I see my Southern Baptist upbringing in myself in countless ways every day. All the things that people claim to love about me are things that spring directly from a very strong Christian, faith-based childhood. I may not have read the bible every day but I know my sunday school stories, and I never ever doubted as a child that, yes, Jesus loved me. I seek forgiveness everywhere, forgive whenever I can, and still struggle with not having forgiveness from certain people for things I have done, because forgiveness is a cornerstone of my background--as are a really detrimental leaning towards submissiveness, a penchant for fried chicken, and a really annoying reflex tendency to see bad things and think 'ack, end of the world!'
I've already said all I can ever say about Southern culture and Southern life here and here. But there seems to be a need to say more about Southern conservativism and why it has spread through the country the way it has.
It starts with the fact that we as conservative Christians are taught to see America as our land. I mean, you guys in Europe and the loonies on the East and West Coasts think the Founding Fathers died to bring us religious freedom. They so did not. They died to give new Christianity a place where it could flourish. And if you think that Catholicism was flourishing perfectly fine before that, thank you, then you don't understand conservative Christianity. See, I grew up being taught that Catholicism was almost-sort-of-not-quite-but-we-won't-ta
Conservative Christians are taught all our lives that we are constantly engaged in spiritual warfare. When I was in 6th grade I read a book called This Present Darkness by novelist Frank Peretti, who really kicked off the Christian fantasy genre and preceded those awful Left Behind guys by like 10 years. I read this book and went around fancying that I saw angels around me, fighting demons everywhere, a great heavenly host doing battle with unseen forces of darkness. And I can't really explain to anybody who isn't familiar with conservative Christianity, but we are taught that this is real. Demons? Real. Angelic warfare? Real. That passage in Ephesians about putting on the full armor of God? We take that seriously. We take everything Paul said seriously, actually. Way, way, way too seriously, but the reason we take it so seriously is because Paul has this way of delineating Christianity as a practice so that you can live it out very easily. He basically teaches Christians that they are to live every day as though they are battling persecution. Paul is the classic propagator of the Us/Them mentality. Them is the World. The World is evil and sinful and wants to persecute Us. It is Our job as Conservative Christians to don our armor and wage war against the World.
When you grow up being raised in this environment, whether you give it any credence or not, what starts to happen is that you see things very easily in terms of whether they fit into the "Us" category or the "World" category. Since, um, most things fall into the World category, it gets very easy to compartmentalize in your head, and to, for example, start thinking, "the media is a tool of Satan, I shouldn't believe what people are telling me." And even if you don't think "TOOL OF SATAN!!!!" every time you hear the media, if you've heard other people around you and in your church say it enough, even subconsciously you start doubting the media. How this plays out is that you begin to filter your environment as a conservative christian based on what you can easily categorize. Once you have identified, say, George Bush, as one of Us, it's much easier to disregard negative news about him because the Media is one of Them, and the two things can be easily canceled out in your mind.
In the South, the tendency to categorize things, combined with the fact that we are taught to expect persecution as a Christian people, has led us to segregate, commit acts of racism and intolerance, and to be very, very suspicious of anyone from the North or the West, because all of you are part of the World.
Conservative beliefs do not spread because of ignorance. You must understand this. Conservative beliefs spread because of a need in the conservative church to emphasize that if you are not fighting, you are losing the battle for spiritual warfare. And until you have been out there battling the forces of evil you don't really understand how every day events can be magnified to fit into a larger picture of a tapestry of events being orchestrated by Jesus to lead us on to a higher victory.
I did this, for a year. I joined Campus Crusade in college. I surrounded myself with Christians who were On Fire for Christ. I shoved down all my doubts about the church and tried to really live the life of a true Christian, the life I had been taught was the life I should be living, all throughout my childhood. I battled a cult and kept several people from joining it who were close to me, and it was frightening and exhilarating and scary and really terrifying at moments, because fuck if true cult members aren't really scary. I could use bible verses to argue scripture, toss out verse numbers like bullets. I was, in Christian-speak, a true warrior for Christ.
That's what they call us, you know. Warriors for Christ.
The Southern Baptist church is the largest demonination of any religion in America. We're bigger than the Catholics now. (Edit: somnambulisa has pointed out that this is not in fact true. Poor Baptists, still second-best.) And the single defining characteristic of the Southern Baptist church for the last 25 years has been that it has been fighting valiantly to wage the spiritual warfare on a political level. Frank Peretti's sequel, Piercing the Darkness, is about taking the spiritual battle from a personal level to a political level. If you really want to get into the mind of a conservative christian than you should really read those two books because you really need to understand: this is how we think.
I think it's wrong to call Bush a radical. That New Conservative magazine or whatever it's called should know better. Bush has never claimed to be a traditional conservative. He doesn't care about conservative economics, conservative spending and conservative government. He cares about conservative christian spiritual warfare.
If I were still a conservative Christian I can tell you exactly how this election would look to me right now. Kerry is an immoral man of the World, and I thank God that Bush, a man of clear moral integrity who is out to defeat Satan regardless of the forces that stand in his way, has been blessed with victory. He didn't win the election--God chose him as the leader of this nation.
That is how I would view this election. And that is not a stance that would make me ignorant, stupid, bigoted, or homophobic. Because I read just as many newspapers then as now. I was valedictorian of my high school. I was open-minded and tolerant. And I was always pro-gay rights from the time I made my first gay friend at age 9.
I was trying to be the best Christian I could be. And I cast everything in a structured world, where everything was a question of what I was doing in my walk with Christ, and whether I was being persecuted.
In fact, I just remembered: a key mantra of Campus Crusade was this: If you're not being persecuted for your Christianity, then you're doing something wrong.
I said in my previous post that it was reprehensible to me that someone could vote for Bush knowing that he went to war on a lie. And yet, I also understand that by every bit of education and background I have ever had, I by rights ought to be voting for Bush because as far as Aja the Conservative is concerned, he didn't lie, he merely told the truth from a spiritual perspective, from the perspective of a man committed to God's work, which involves bringing freedom to the rest of the world and stamping out the influence of Satan.
That is not an easy or a simplistic rationale.
It took me, from the moment I began questioning the principles of the Southern Baptist church to the moment I absolutely decided to leave the church forever, 8 years. 8 years of constant questioning during which I was the conservative who was living by all those principles. And the issue that both initially and ultimately made me leave was the same: gay rights. Had I not felt that the Southern Baptist church was wrong on gay rights initially, I would not have really questioned anything about my belief system or my values. And as long as eight years is to me from the standpoint of my personal journey, I know without a doubt that there are millions of Americans who struggle on one particular issue where they disagree with their church, but continue to frame their lives in that outlook of spiritual warfare and constant battling against persecution.
When you blame the voters who chose Bush, you are completely mistaking what is happening in our country today. Bush did not win the election based on ignorance and stupidity. He won the election based on a belief system that has been determinedly advancing across the country because Christians believe it is their spiritual duty to bring people to Christ. And you cannot be successfully brought to Christ until you also commit to serving Christ. You cannot successfully serve Christ unless you do his will. And it is Christ's will that Bush win re-election. Do you see the pattern at work here???
You guys, you democrats and liberals, have a tendency to blame the people rather than the ideologies they represent. It is my belief that people's lives are shaped by ideologies. But people's lives are changed by other people. My life was shaped by the ideology of the Southern Baptist church. My life was changed when I met Jerry Boles, who died of AIDS in 1994. My life was changed when my best friend came out to me 5 years later.
I grew up in a place and in an environment that makes it impossible for me to accept the idea that Bush voters are all stupid and ignorant and simply uneducated about the facts.
Out of all the many comments of support on my post from this afternoon, far and away the most comforting and unexpected comfort for me today came from my mom. She had emailed me on Monday to say she'd gotten my letter but hadn't had a chance to read it yet. And today she wrote me, and this is a part of what she said:
I just wanted to drop you a note to say hello and hope you are surviving the day. I know you are very disappointed about the election, and I wish I were there to comfort you, though I'd probably wind up just upsetting you more. Your daddy called a little while ago we talked about the election a little bit. He would have voted for Kerry. I told him you remind me of Aunt Gingy the way you and she are/were strong in your political convictions. All I can say about what you wrote the other day and about the vote is this. George W is not the first one to lie, cheat , or whatever. Politics has been a crooked, shady business since it began. Republicans are not worse than Democrats in any way. The reason most of the country voted republican (in my opinion) is because 1) only 17% of young adults voted and 2) Those of us who are 40+ years old have lived most of our lives under Democrat rule and have decided we did not like their policies. As for Granny fussing about Bush and how much she doesn't like him, she has said the same thing about every president that has ever held office. She may be right, but it just shows not many of them are better than the last or the next one. Any way, try not to live your life devastated by what goes on in Washington. I don't have your eloquence with words and I never learned how to argue, so I can't say much more on the subject. I guess the best way to put it is get over it and get on with your life. I need to go. I will be back in touch with you later in the week. Watch your mail box! Bye! I Love You! MMMMMMNNNNNNHHH!!!!!!!!!! Love, Mom
That's my mom. That's my conservative right-wing republican mom. Who thinks my best friend Chris is a great guy and doesn't want him to get married to his boyfriend. Who is distressed by my political views but still tries to support me through an experience she knows is heartbreaking. Who, when I told her I didn't believe in hell, responded, "well, you'd better believe in it!" My mom who is the sweetest most wonderful, giving and gracious woman I know, whose views and lifestyle represent everything that led Bush to victory. My mom who fully supports the war her nephew is fighting in.
Is that the face of the Enemy?
I would like to think that my mom, and every mom like her, is not the face of the enemy. I would like to believe that she only needs to be brought around by more conversations and more exposure, a person and a conversation at a time, to a better understanding of how her own values are being contradicted by the political spectrum she subscribes to.
That's how I was brought around. A person and a conversation and an experience at a time. Despite the best efforts of my church.
I have gone on way too long about this, but I hope that maybe just maybe this has shed some light on the entire experience of being a conservative christian, and how it can influence your vote without any other factors having anything to do with it. This is not a problem of ignorance and stupidity. And if you think it is, then I only can offer that maybe you want to educate yourself a bit more, about how these types of belief systems are promoted, and spread throughout America.