Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Conservatives and the Established Religion

It is sad to watch the GOP burn the political capital built during the campaigns against the excesses of the Obama Administration on conservative culture war issues. The big news of the day are efforts by religious groups to promote discrimination along with a little culture war battle by Arizona State Senator Sylvia Allen who advocates making church attendance on Sunday mandatory: (see video)

I suspect that Ms Allen was simply trying to make a thought provoking comment. The proposal came during a debate about gun control legislation. Gun control is a culture war battleground. It is an area where people on both the left and right are prone to inject their their religious beliefs.

The video jumped out at me as I watched it shortly after reading the "The Tamworth Manifesto."

The Tamworth Manifesto was written by Sir Robert Peel in 1834. Sir Robert Peel, a member of the Tory Party, was appointed Prime Minister by King William IV to lead Parliament through the radical changes brought on by "The Representation of the People Act of 1832." The reform act redistributed the boroughs to reflect demographic changes of the Industrial Age. The act extended suffrage to the upper middle class and ended the tradition of the king appointing the Prime Minister.

The Reform Act destroyed the political base of the Tory Party which depended on "rotten boroughs." The rotten boroughs were sparsely populated districts where the Burgess was appointed by powerful families.

The Tory Party had burnt the last of its political capital in its stand against representative democracy which Tories saw as tantamount to mob rule.

The goal of the Tamworth Manifesto was to lay the foundation of a new moderate party that would conserve the existing class structure of Great Britain while conceding to those popular reforms that Sir Robert Peel felt were based on "real grievances."

The new party was called "The Conservative Party." The Tamworth Manifesto is foundational document of "Conservatism."

Interestingly, a main thrust of the Tamworth Manifesto was to conserve the supremacy of the established religion. Here is Sir Robert Peel in his own words:

Then, as to the great question of Church Reform. On that head I have no new professions to make. I cannot give my consent to the alienating of Church property, in any part of the United Kingdom, from strictly ecclesiastical purposes. But I repeat now the opinions that I have already expressed in parliament in regard to the church Establishment in Ireland - that if, by an improved distribution of the revenues of the Church, its just influence can be extended, and the true interests of the Established religion promoted, all other considerations should be made subordinate to the advancement of objects of such paramount importance.

To understand the manifesto, it is important to remember that the King is the titular head of The Church of England. Anglican Bishops took an oath to the King. The "Established Church" refers to The Church of England. Church property refers to churches owned by the church/state complex. The Church Establishment in Ireland is referring to Anglican Churches built in Catholic communities. Irish Catholics saw these state owned churches as a form of oppression.

The phrase that jumps out at me is the statement: "all other considerations should be made subordinate to the advancement of objects of such paramount importance [i.e., the established church]."

The foundation of Conservatism is a belief that all issues must be made subordinate to the advancement of the established church.

In contrast, the US Founders tended to be members of the Whig Party or people with Whiggish sentiments.

Curiously, the framers of the US Constitution had used the term "establishment of religion" in the First Amendment which reads:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The conservatism being established by Sir Robert Peel seems to be fundamentally at odds with the ideals of the US Founders.

The Conservative Party has been a dominate party of England for 180 years. Conservatism was imported to the United States by the likes of William Buckley (who went to high school in England and college at Yale). Conservatism became a favored ideology by the opponents of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Conservatism is simply Toryism rebranded.

The GOP was formed in 1854 by members of the Whig Party who were opposed to the expansion of slavery.

The idea that the state should advance the established religion is fundamental to conservatism, but it is antithetical to the ideals of the founders of the United States and Lincoln's Republican Party. While it is tempting to dismiss Sylvia Allen's proposal of mandated church attendance as flippant musings of a culture warrior, I fear that the proposal is yet further indication that this thing the right calls "conservatism" really is British conservatism imported.

Anyway, it is really sad watching the GOP disintegrate over culture war issues.

Of course, like most Americans, I am neither a member of the Republican Party nor welcome in its rank. I am just one of the millions of independent Americans ruing the fact that both the Left and Right have abandoned the ideals that made America exceptional.

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