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Sunday, February 13, 2005

The conservative sky is falling.

Doug Muder (aka Pericles) is reading the book I keep meaning to start: James Ault's Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church — and he has extracted two important lessons from it. The first:

[C]onservatives have an absolutely genuine reason to be concerned about moral breakdown: Conservative morality is breaking down.

The community Ault presents (a small church outside of Worcester, Massachusetts that he codenames Shawmut River Baptist), teaches its members and their children a just-say-no morality: God made the rules, and they're not up for negotiation. You don't need to know why, beyond knowing where the Bible says so. . . .

Ault describes Shawmut River Church as "villagelike." The members are all involved in each other's business and privacy is minimal. Church activities take up enormous amounts of time, which limits the members' exposure to the mass media and friends outside the church.

But in spite of this attempt at immersion, the moral conditioning of Shawmut River doesn't work. Divorce is rampant in the church, and the decisive moment of Spirit and Flesh comes when the minister's unmarried teen daughter is discovered to be pregnant. In the ensuing battle to oust the minister, true nastiness breaks out on all sides.

Here's the conclusion I draw from all this: The just-say-no, rules-are-absolute model of morality used to work reasonably well in real villages, where everyone believed more-or-less the same thing and the rules were never seriously questioned. But no matter how villagelike a church community is today, members are inevitably going to come into contact with people who do question the rules. And that's a situation where liberals, who have been trained since childhood to question the rules until they find answers that satisfy them, are in much better shape.

Liberal morality, Muder explains, actually works better — as the data bear out. But conservatives won't notice, and this is where I thought Doug might really be on to something important:

But religious conservatives like the members of Shawmut River don't realize that there is liberal morality, much less that it is in reasonably good shape. They know from their own lives how hard it is to stay moral in today's society, and how hard it is to pass their moral values on to their children. And if they are the moral elite — and their ministers and Fox News assure them that they are — they can only imagine how bad things are in liberal families. And if they can't imagine those dens of iniquity, their ministers and Fox News will tell them about it.

He concludes that news of conservative hypocrisy doesn't surprise or shock conservatives; what would surprise them is more news about how liberal morality actually makes things better.

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 13 February 2005 at 10:01 PM

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