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What freaking out tells us about Conservatism

The internet is all abuzz about how conservatives across the country are utterly flipping out about the fact that Obama is going to be addressing children in schools at the beginning of the school year. His speech amounts to nothing more than your standard “work hard, stay in school, you’re the future” line, but for some reason conservatives stand appalled. A simple presidential statement encouraging students to work hard and value education has immediately been compared to the actions of Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler by conservatives all over the place.

WTF? Why would anyone be mad about the president plugging a stay in school message? What could possibly be bad about that? Do they really think he’s going to get on the air and tell children to have abortions and euthanize their parents as soon as possible?

I would suggest that there’s really something quite different at work here. Conservatives in America simply cannot abide not being in power. Living out of perceived political and social control is so utterly frightening for them that they are literally foaming at the mouth and convulsing at the drop of a hat about things of no consequence whatsoever. I don’t see any other way to make sense out of the sort of irrational outrage that keeps cropping up. Conservatives just have a visceral aversion to not feeling like they are in control.

This is probably true of any political persuasion to one degree or another, but from a theological perspective it only further points out how conservatism in America is decidedly anti-Christian. Fundamental to the Christian political vision is Jeremiah’s appeal to “seek the peace of the city where God has sent you into exile.” Christians are called to live as a diasporic people, a people distinctly not in control who instead rely on and trust in God for survival and flourishing. The rabid outrage and fear among conservatives over not being in apparent control is just another manifestation of how profoundly anti-Christian American conservatism is at its very roots. It craves the very form of domination and power that Jesus rejected, the power to take hold of history, to save ourselves, to posess, control, and dominate. The current conservative outrage is just one more manifestation of its sub-Christian and semi-Pelagian nature.


  1. Bobby Grow wrote:

    This vid really doesn’t bother me that much (our kids just started school yesterday). The one that bothers me is the “I Pledge” vid (also shown to school kids) made by certain “celebrities.”

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Yeah if Christians were to get upset about anything being forced on kids in school it should be the Pledge of Allegiance first and foremost.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink
  3. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Unfortunately I can’t find the link to the vid I’m referring to. It starts out with one of the Red Hot Chile Peppers kissing his biceps and saying that he pledges allegiance to Obama (amongst others).

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  4. Brad A. wrote:

    Well, this really isn’t much more than one manifestation of liberalism at large. There’s no lack of Constantinian grabs all along the American political spectrum, reflective of the theological spectrum – from Protestant liberalism to fundamentalism – that has no intention whatsoever of living in exile.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 1:52 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    Of course. The only reason that the conservative movement in America deserves particular excoriation is because it (or at least the majority of it) claims to be Christian whereas other groups within the broad tradition of liberalism have different pretensions, broadly speaking.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 1:57 pm | Permalink
  6. Brad A. wrote:

    I don’t know, Halden. I’ve seen quite a bit from the other side, too, in recent years. Plenty of hand-wringing, desperate tones, and liberal Christian laments that somehow the church was failing or the world was doomed because a conservative was in power. (One of my mentors – who first introduced me to Yoder, Hauerwas, et al – always liked to note it was the liberal churches in town that had flags flying out front.)

    I will say that I don’t find the document in question very comforting – more disciplining of the (younger) public via the government education system. But then, it was prepared by the Administration to guide teachers in teaching about the Administration’s statement. What do we expect, and what did such memos look like during the Bush Administration? These questions, of course, are not asked.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 2:04 pm | Permalink
  7. Hill wrote:

    This post would be more convincing if it was entitled “What freaking out tells us about the GOP.” The fact that it links to a blog that self-identifies as conservative that expresses displeasure at the “freak out” in addition to your own objectively conservative sympathies (and I say that to explicitly avoid labeling you… I have similar sympathies but don’t self-identify as conservative) make this either misleading, or a rather odd point of view. My point is that the category “conservative” is an inadequate proxy for locating the kind of behavior you lament.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    What I mean is that the American “left” (though there really isn’t one) doesn’t, by and large claim to be Christian in the way the American right does. That’s all.

    To be sure liberal Christians are no better, I never meant to imply anything along those lines. But they aren’t the same kind of populist force that fundamentalists are.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, I wasn’t slice and dicing the exact stream of conservatism this represents. I trust it is clear that I’m referring to the neocon sort of conservatism that typifies this sort of behavior.

    Of course there are other kinds of conservatism, this is just the majority one and certainly the most vocal and influential in America and has been for a long time.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 2:26 pm | Permalink
  10. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the world was in pretty dire straights because of a conservative President.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  11. I see you say this a lot. A kind of “pox on both their houses” sort of thing and there is a certain confidence, one might say smugness if they were less polite than myself, amongst intellectual Christians talking about politics. Yet, I’m not sure what exactly you would really support at the national level. I’m sure at the local level you do your bit to care for the orphan and widow and all that good Biblical stuff, but at what point do you say “this party, for its flaws, matches up the most with what I’d like to see happen on a national level”?

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  12. Tiny Fat Kiwi wrote:

    You may be right about power but I would put the emphasis on fear. I am an officer in a church where many of my friends parrot the every last one of the Fox talking points. Not a theological bone in the body of an OReilly or Hannity or Limbaugh but their “reporting” is gospel so far as politics is concerned. Which means that guys like Hauerwas and Yoder are on to something that really needs addressing. Conservative evangelical christianity embraces a theology that seems to begin and end with the personal.

    Once we begin thinking about the relationship between the Christian and government, it’s Romans 13 and Fox that supply all we need to know. And somehow, it makes it okay to fear things and to use that fear to justify stuff that is truly appalling.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 3:05 pm | Permalink
  13. roger flyer wrote:

    Did we skip Romans 12?

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 3:45 pm | Permalink
  14. roger flyer wrote:

    I think your last sentence in the post is a true indictment…

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink
  15. roger flyer wrote:

    Make that last two sentences…

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink
  16. Andrew wrote:

    Living in Redding, CA has afforded me an interesting view into a bit of the world of insanely polarized politics with a majority aligning far to the right. I state the name of the town because we have recently been in the news for a town hall meeting in which our representative called a man a patriot and blessed him after the man stood up to claim to be a “proud right wing terrorist”. I also wanted to point out that Redding has a population of about 80,000 and about 5 “megachurches” (over 5,000 in attendance). This town hall meeting was also hosted by Simpson University, a Christian institution. Not only did the crazy man receive the ringing endorsement of a government official, he received a standing ovation from the crowd of 2,000+.

    Christianity has been brought up, but it seems like it gets hushed up very quickly as there is no decent rebuttal to the fact that current conservative stances mostly seem to be antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. In fact, it seems to me that the fiscally conservative mindset has become nothing more than an excuse/soapbox for the miserly (or maybe I am just the only one surrounded by selfish people). Even the idea of trickle down economics sounds ludicrous when you realize that its success relies on the charity of the rich because all accounts do point rich people be very charitable (sorry for the sarcasm, I just can’t help it). I know I am just picking at one point and that you can’t legislate morality, but I am sick and tired of the Christians who won’t give a starving child a piece of bread because they are too busy telling him about Jesus (or in this case, too busy hating Obama. . .hmmm). The “great commission” is one friggin’ paragraph that probably took thirty seconds to say, Jesus helped, healed, fed, and clothed people for decades. Priorities people, priorities. Sorry, starting to rant again. I will step away from the internets.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  17. Charlie Collier wrote:

    I would condemn Redding outright, but don’t you have an In-N-Out Burger? Saving grace.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  18. Tiny Fat Kiwi wrote:

    We didn’t. They do.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 5:24 pm | Permalink
  19. Hill wrote:

    The In-N-Out is like the one righteous person in Sodom and Gommorah.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 5:51 pm | Permalink
  20. Mika wrote:

    One point I would make is primarily to the fact that as a parent, anyone who is involved in my son’s life, I would like to know what they are all about! Politics… Eh! But For any adult to come in my class to say that they are above my rights as a parent to speak to my child without my permission should be considered something I do stand against.

    I would not permit a pastor, president, millionaire, entertainer, or sports hero in the same room with my child without permission first and foremost from me! If they were to watch a movie or broadcast, I would also like prior knowledge of what is stated… I would think that if this presentation is happening, then I would ask to be in the room with my child to share the experience. I do respect the position of authority that Obama is in, but when it comes to my kid… If even Obama says something that is spun out of context from our family’s core beliefs, I should have an equal right to have him hear the opposing side… I do not believe it is right to be force fed opinion, regardless of how many who have already sipped the kool aide.

    In regards to religion…

    You will find when painting with a large enough brush ignorance is shown in those strokes… Time is less utilized to see the finer details…

    There are Christians who are in politics… Some even live by what they preach… I am certain of it… This does not mean that they are power hungry. To those who are power hungry, then that in itself is sinful and based on fear and pride… Both are human and sinful behaviors that I believe we all fail at times to notice..

    There are also even lawyers in politics who are not even power hungry… (insert lawyer joke here) I am also sure that even there are lawyers who are Christians… There has to be somewhere… I do not have any proof, but I hope there is…

    Also, I am by no chance an expert in theology , but I do not think that there is a scripture that does or not permit one to be a lawyer or someone in power to help those in need.

    We are all human, so even Christians mess up in their priorities and perspectives of the world… The trouble is when we make our leaders into something more than human… We place them on a pedestal and judge them to the point that we expect them to do no wrong… When they do fail, we treat them as if they are the polar opposite…

    When can we have all sides to admit their faults and try to find some common ground on things? I screw up often in my perceptions of the world… It is unfortunate, but being human allows me some room to screw up…

    If my spelling or grammar is incorrect, please forgive me. I am hoping that more than finding fault, that a shared understanding of where my heart is will come across these imperfect words.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 6:42 pm | Permalink
  21. roger flyer wrote:


    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink
  22. roger flyer wrote:

    Minnesota is a safe haven.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 7:08 pm | Permalink
  23. roger flyer wrote:

    Being really honest, it is a fiscally scary time to be middle age.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 7:09 pm | Permalink
  24. Nathan Smith wrote:

    Yes. As a matter of fact, I’ve got a hankering. Road trip?

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 11:08 pm | Permalink
  25. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Amen! I grew up in So Cal; but now have been exiled to the NW . . .

    Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 11:40 pm | Permalink
  26. Marvin wrote:

    In the US, the President is both head of state and head of government. Obama is clearly acting in his role of head of state in giving a speech to the nation’s children about working hard in school, but the far right rump of the Republican Party hates his governing so much that they can’t see him acting in his other role. He must be indoctrinating our youth!

    But there’s a second reason. Since America is a white Christian nation (right?), a black man named Barack is singularly unqualified to act as head of state.

    Authoritarianism is nothing new in Christianity. The medieval popes assumed that what was good for both church and society coincided with what was good for their own power and influence. Today the Religious Right has picked up the mantle of Christian authoritarianism. Alas, we don’t live in an authoritarian society, which is why the rise of the Religious Right coincides with a remarkable decrease in the number of Americans who self-identify as Christians.

    Makes me shake my head…

    Friday, September 4, 2009 at 5:05 am | Permalink
  27. Scott Lenger wrote:

    Hold on…just because the Hebrews happened to be in exile during Jeremiah doesn’t mean that all Christians are thus “called to live as a diasporic people.”

    I think most any educated Christian living in the West is in the predicament of having a great deal of power (at least with respect to the rest of the world) whether or not he or she wants it. You’re right that power is not to be sought in the manner exhibited by the neo-cons or probably any politician, but I don’t think power is always something to flee from either.

    Friday, September 4, 2009 at 6:30 am | Permalink
  28. Jon wrote:

    Considering we’re meant to be ‘diasporic’ then you care a lot about politics!

    You yanks… I bet you wish you lived in the UK…

    No wait… Didn’t think about that… forget what I just said…

    Friday, September 4, 2009 at 6:53 am | Permalink
  29. Halden wrote:

    Congratulations, Marvin you have just posted the 10,000th comment on Inhabitatio Dei!

    Friday, September 4, 2009 at 7:58 am | Permalink
  30. rassleas wrote:

    “WTF?” is right
    check this out…interesting new book – “Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party”

    Friday, September 4, 2009 at 9:15 am | Permalink
  31. Dan wrote:

    Power is truly the problem. I hate it (yes, hate) that we believers have aligned ourselves with the right wing like they can save us. Makes me sick. I’m tired of the political/religious connection. I, for one, look forward to the president’s speech and will be with my son in school that day.

    Friday, September 4, 2009 at 9:16 am | Permalink
  32. kim fabricius wrote:

    I see we’ve moved from The Doxological Self to The Toxological Self.

    Friday, September 4, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink
  33. Chris Donato wrote:

    Mika, you’re certainly not alone on this score (i.e., the desire to protect your children). I wonder, though, do your inclinations to protect shake all the way down to the mundane (and arguably more influential) things like watching television? Commercials? Billboards?

    There was a time when no one would have batted an eye if a President of the US took time out to address school children. Indeed, they would’ve welcomed it wholeheartedly—regardless of which political party he represented. Surely his message in this instance counts, but, really, is it not going to be something as innocuous as “Kids, study hard. Stay in school. Etc., etc.” And what’s wrong with that?

    It seems to me part and parcel of giving one’s children up over to the state school requires a certain amount of trust anyway.

    Friday, September 4, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink
  34. Chris Donato wrote:

    Or, more accurately, the neoconological self.

    Friday, September 4, 2009 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  35. Tiny Fat Kiwi wrote:

    The text of the President’s speech will be posted on the White House website Monday. Given the amount of baseless accusation about indoctrination, I’m sure it will be accessible from many other venues as well.

    I just got a recorded message from our local school system which says they’ll broadcast the speech at 12:00 and give parents the option of sending a note with their child asking him or her to be excused from listening to the President. They also encourage parents to watch the speech and discuss it with their children since it will address, in the main, topics like working hard and taking personal responsibility for your actions.

    Friday, September 4, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Permalink
  36. roger flyer wrote:

    Good one.
    I’m toxic

    Friday, September 4, 2009 at 8:29 pm | Permalink
  37. Ben Currin wrote:

    Interesting discussion…it does seem like these days the wing-nuts act more and more like chicken little with their sky is falling attitude. Both sides are like this like during Bush’s administration—all the left wingers were up and arms when Bush breathed and now with Obama the right wingers seeking revenge are throwing temper tantrums over Obama speaking to schoolchildren. It is like a large segment of society hasn’t evolved beyond grade-school and the mud-flinging and name-calling of playground politics. Also, schoolchildren aren’t as dumb as wing-nuts make them out to be and a large majority of schoolchildren make more sense than the wing-nuts do.

    Saturday, September 5, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Permalink
  38. roger flyer wrote:

    I said that pledge many many many times, but it didn’t take at the deepest level of my little soul. Perhaps because the pledge I was offered to take at home was ‘To thine own self be true”…

    Saturday, September 5, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Permalink
  39. roger flyer wrote:

    Haha Chris.

    Saturday, September 5, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Permalink
  40. roger flyer wrote:

    But APS-
    This is how ID get threads of 100+. ‘Pox on their houses’ is the only way to get attention. Then we’ll apply the vaccine if they repent.

    Sunday, September 6, 2009 at 6:22 am | Permalink
  41. roger flyer wrote:

    Oncological self.

    Sunday, September 6, 2009 at 3:16 pm | Permalink
  42. Derek wrote:

    Isn’t this “vintage, American made sedan, head repeatedly slammed in the door” worthy?

    Monday, September 7, 2009 at 1:06 am | Permalink
  43. Brad A. wrote:

    As I posted in my FB status, since education in the US is geared all the way through to train workers for corporate America, and since we essentially have the CEO-in-chief talking to the future work force, seems to me the capitalists ought to be happy and the socialists should be mad.

    Monday, September 7, 2009 at 6:36 am | Permalink
  44. james wrote:

    I am not concerned about Obama’s content, but I am concerned about the view of our schools as instruments or institutions of the FEDERAL government. These are locally run districts. Their ought to be a separation of (Federal) state and school. The same went for W’s NCLB expansion. It’s a federal intrusion. Obama (or Bush) is not the “head of everything” because he is President. He “presides” over the federal government that is all. There is more to our country than that. We don’t have to have little framed pictures of the Prez looking in every institutional venue in the country.

    This broadcast is just an opportunistic PR stunt. Why would you naively ask “What’s the harm in it?” when anyone can see it will accomplish nothing, and there are lessons to do. It is like the Presidential fitness program that Reagan sponsored. Creeping do-goodism of the state. Thanks but no thanks.

    Monday, September 7, 2009 at 9:18 am | Permalink
  45. Marvin wrote:

    I’m from North Carolina where, if it weren’t for FEDERAL intervention in the affairs of locally run school districts, I wouldn’t have gone to school with anyone of a different race than me.

    Bring on the federal intervention.

    Monday, September 7, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Permalink
  46. roger flyer wrote:

    mmm hmm…

    Monday, September 7, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink
  47. james wrote:

    This is clearly another Brown v. Board of Education political moment…….

    Monday, September 7, 2009 at 5:46 pm | Permalink
  48. Dan wrote:

    the presidential fitness program started way before regan… i think it was jfk administration that instituted it.

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009 at 9:25 pm | Permalink
  49. Dan wrote:

    touche, marvin!

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009 at 9:27 pm | Permalink
  50. Dan wrote:

    actually the presidential fitness thing goes back to eisenhower back in 1953… btw, i couldn’t touch my toes without bending my knees so i never qualified for the presidential physical fitness award instituted by johnson in ’66… it was devastating for my tender young ego! and i haven’t appreciated presidents messing in my personal life ever since ;-)

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009 at 9:39 pm | Permalink
  51. Jason Barr wrote:

    I am so stealing that. I’d say borrow, but there really isn’t any good way to give it back.

    Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 3:19 am | Permalink
  52. Evan wrote:

    The real dilemma, Halden, is what you’re going to do with the cognitive dissonance that this provides:


    Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink
  53. Brad A. wrote:

    Consider it gifted to you, Jason.

    Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 5:47 pm | Permalink
  54. Brad A. wrote:

    Of course, did you all see Rep. Greer’s comment later? He helped start the whole controversy, and then turned around over the weekend – after he had actually read the text – and said, “This is a speech any president should be giving our children,” or some such.

    Ah, the juvenility of American politics.

    Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 5:51 pm | Permalink
  55. Tiny Fat Kiwi wrote:

    A strange silence from the TR blogs. JT prolly couldn’t stomach the outrage if he had posted one of his “helpful links” to his mentor.

    Saturday, September 12, 2009 at 6:01 am | Permalink

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