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Political Passion, Part I

Twice a year, at least, during Christmas and Easter, some Conservative Christians must feel like the hero of "I Led Three Lives," a 1950's television series starring Richard Carlson. The show was loosely based on the memoirs of Herbert A. Philbrick, the American double-agent who infiltrated the Communist Party, I Led Three Lives: Citizen, "Communist," Counterspy. (The definition of "loosely based," as Rockford fans of Uncle Don's Terror Theater will recall, is "having nothing whatsoever to do with," an observation Uncle Don made in the course of describing the film "version" of The Raven.)

Our careers are, however, a bit more complicated than the TV counterspy's. Instead of Philbrick's three merely political identities, we might describe ourselves as: Christian, "Conservative," and Counterrevolutionary.

The first term should need no explanation. Christians adhere to the basic traditions of the faith as found in the Scriptures and the Fathers. Some would cut off that tradition before, say, the 12th century, while others would mistakenly claim to trace their identity back to John the Baptist, but on the fundamentals, as taught in the Sermon on the Mount, the epistles of Paul and Peter, outlined in the Apostles Creed, and explained an justified by apologists from Justin to Augustine, there is not much room for disagreement. In this broad consensus there is no room either for the Social Gospel or the Megachurch "gospels" of success and entertainment (here in Rockford a megachurch pastor's wife preaches her message while jumping on a trampoline—shades of The Man Show!) or the revolutionary agenda of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops that is closer to Marx and Engel's Manifesto than to the Sermon on the Mount. The Christian faith, in contrast with the aforesaid cults (I am not saying that the Catholic Church today is a cult but that too many of the bishops are cultists), defies every attempt to convert it into a creed, whether that creed is democratic capitalism, Marxism, or American exceptionalism.

To be good Conservatives, however, Christians have to lower their sights and defend things that, however worth defending, are on a far lower order of significance: The Constitution, private property, individual rights. Too often, they even fall into defending principles that are decidedly not worth their effort: the free speech rights of anti-Christian kooks and the religious freedom of Muslims and Moonies. And, when their government does things that are unconscionably evil, such as wage aggressive wars against the civilian populations of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Serbia, most Conservative Christians will turn a blind eye or at least keep their mouths shut for fear of scandalizing their friends and relatives—good people, most of them, but too naïve to handle any truth that has not been diluted with the large amounts of high fructose ideology dished out by Rush and Sean and Mark.

What they dare not confess even to themselves is that conservatism, as it has evolved in recent decades, is as subversive of Christendom as Marxism, feminism, homosexualism and environmnentalism. And, as Conservative Christians begin to understand the truth of this and learn to reject not just Marxism and the Russian Revolution but also Classical Liberalism and the French Revolution that it spawned, they gradually become—as defenders of Christendom—some species of counterrevolutionary counterspy.

Christian Conservatives do not mean to be duplicitous—or should I say triplicitous?—but what are they to say or do at Easter, when their "conservative" and patriotic friends are going about their regular business of getting and spending, working and playing? How do they respond to the invitation to attend a Good Friday backyard barbecue or have Easter dinner in a restaurant? When their brothers-in-law want to spend Easter afternoon watching games on TV and their sisters-in-law turn on the Fat Albert's Easter Special or Yogi the Easter Bear in the evening—for the children, of course? For grownups, of course, there is always Bing Crosby and Judy Garland in Easter Parade, a tribute to that great Christian composer Irving Berlin.

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.

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