There are too many conservatives who would impose their religious views on others. There are also too many atheists for whom religion is an affront and who with a straight face make patently idiotic statements like “Lets take Christ out of Christmas” and, if they could do it, would eradicate the “blight” of religion from the face of the earth, and all religious symbols along with it. That said, these are outliers, not the norm, and one has as much right to decry the right for having “too many” of one as the left for having “too many” of the other. They are at heart the same intolerant beings.
Religion is not the bright dividing line between conservatives and liberals, though. The onion needs to be peeled back a few more layers to get to the core differences between the two. The propaganda from the left firmly believed by all Kool-aid drinkers and sold daily by the media with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer is that conservatives are selfish, Bible-thumping, gun toting brutes who care only for themselves. The truth is that there are selfish cons and selfish libs and hypocrites aplenty on both sides of the aisle.
Although most of my friends and professional acquaintances are middle class, I’ve had many, many friends over the years from working class and poor families through truly wealthy individuals both of the newly minted and old moneyed varieties. I’ve known vipers and scoundrels and saintly individuals in more or less equal proportion in all of these classes (and among cons and libs as well). The only real difference is that the professional and wealthy folks boast better educations, better manners, better grooming and a better ability to hide their nefarious natures than do the poor and lower middle class folks. I’ve found that to be true also in more or less equal measure on three continents in my limited travels abroad. Money, privilege and empowerment do not eradicate the innate flaws in some human beings, nor do privation, prejudice and hardship destroy the better nature in human beings whose proclivity is for good. Good and evil do exist in most all human beings, but we are by no means equal at birth in our potential to gravitate to one or the other any more than we are equal in our potential to be great athletes, great thinkers or great scoundrels. Conservatives know this not because religion tells them human beings are flawed by nature, rather because the evidence is overwhelming and all around them. Nature plants the seeds at conception of our potential and nurture determines how well that potential develops. If you plant an acorn you will only get an oak. It may be a great oak or a small one; it may thrive or it may wither and die depending on its environment. But it will never become a redwood, or a fir or a maple. All thinking conservatives strive to make every single human being able to reach its full potential given its innate capabilities and proclivities. We owe that to every person. Every thinking liberal strives to make every human being anything it wants to be at any cost because they reject out of hand with little more than the justifications provided by Marxist ideology that we are all equal and it is society, our nurturing, that determines whether we succeed or fail.
Only racists believe that there are innate qualitative differences among the races. There is no credible scientific evidence to which anyone can point that would give that belief any credence. The under-performance of groups is the direct result of nurture, not nature. Poverty, broken homes, cultural preferences, and government efforts at social engineering that condemn the poor to multi-generational dependence on government handouts and provide greater assistance to one parent families (effectively punishing the poor who live in two-parent households) are the root causes of under-performance in poor minority communities. Conservatives see that as clearly as the sun at midday in the desert. Liberals look at the problem and see only the need for more government programs to get people out of poverty that further reinforce the problem and create unsafe neighborhoods and generations of tragically and needlessly wasted lives.
Liberals believe that if we take families from broken homes with troubled children and transplant them from a dangerous, impoverished neighborhood in the inner city to a stable, safe, clean, stable middle class or upper middle class neighborhood in the suburbs, provide them with more generous assistance and the children with access to great schools the problem of poverty would be solved. Conservatives know that doing so would almost certainly lead to the deterioration of the new neighborhood over time if there is no change in the values and behavior of the underprivileged families involved.
Both conservatives and liberals want a stable economy, safe streets, reasonable wages and fair treatment of their follow citizens. The disagreement is not on the address of the promised land, but rather on the directions for getting there. Conservatives believe that there is such a thing as right and wrong and good and evil, that people must be held accountable for their actions, that civil and criminal laws must be enforced and order maintained in order to prevent society from spiraling into chaos. They believe it is the primary function of government to protect the people from foreign and domestic threats and to establish and enforce laws that foster the stability of society and allow people to prosper through their hard work–and by making the right choices in life. Liberals do not share the belief that there is such a thing as right and wrong, and reject the idea that anyone is inherently evil or bad. They believe that all people are intrinsically the same–that we are all born with an equal potential for greatness, and an equal potentiality for good or evil depending on nurture rather than nature. It follows, then, that society is responsible for creating criminals and poverty, and lack of education, and prejudice are the root cause of all social ills. Liberals, especially humanists who reject religion, reject the existence of any absolute ethical imperatives, embracing teleology/relativistic ethics. They believe that good and evil as abstractions are meaningless, and that we can only judge the ethical value of an act by looking into the underlying circumstances and motivation of the actor. Stealing a loaf of bread to a conservative has always been and will always be both a crime (petty theft) and immoral (and a sin for those who derive their ethics from a Judeo-Christian [or Islamic] perspective). A “real” liberal will never judge the act of stealing bread as a sin, immoral or even a crime without knowing why the bread was stolen. For them, you can never judge a person unless you’ve walked many miles in their shoes. So stealing bread to give to a starving child if you cannot afford to buy it is no sin but a laudable act, and good luck on getting a jury of liberals to convict anyone for the “crime” regardless of how clear the law is or the evidence of the theft. thus liberals have little trouble ignoring laws they do not like–even liberal Presidents who knowingly misuse their executive power because they believe that the ends justify the means.
Conservatives believe that if you are a failure in life, the chances are very high that is is YOUR FAULT. Liberals believe that if you are a failure in life it is SOCIETY’s FAULT. Conservatives define fairness as equality of opportunity. Liberals define it as equality of results. Conservatives are prone to applaud anyone who succeeds in life through their industry and honestly comes by wealth. Liberals are prone to look at anyone who has obtained success as having done so at the expense of the less fortunate in society [unless the person is a liberal, of course]. Conservatives genuinely believe that taxing everyone as little as possible and allowing people to invest their wealth creates jobs and greater opportunity for everyone, creating a tide that raises all boats. Liberals believe that everyone, but especially the “wealthy”, must be forced to share their wealth through confiscatory tax policies, and they also believe that government can be better trusted to “invest” the money it confiscates by way of an endless stream of taxes to create jobs and stimulate the economy than private business and individuals can. Conservatives generally believe that government is best which governs least while liberals believe that government is best which governs most. Conservatives are individualists. Liberals are collectivists.
Defining the labels we casually throw around helps. But more importantly, what gets lost in all of this is that there are really very few “true” conservatives or “true” liberals out there. Most of us–myself included–are somewhere in the middle. We are reasonable, flexible, and pragmatic. We compromise. Unfortunately, the “true believers” who are all-in to the inflexible dictates of their world view do not. They don’t want an honest discussion that makes them have to explain why they believe what they believe, or why the people who believe differently from them are wrong. It is far easier and effective to marginalize people with an opposing view by misrepresenting them as extremists, heartless, and selfish than it is to explain one’s position or engage them in a debate in which they are actually allowed to articulate their point of view.
What does all of this have to do with gay marriage? A lot actually. Marriage has always been defined as one man and one woman. It is not for me to defend why this needs to remain so, but rather for those who would change it to make a compelling argument for changing some 6,000 years of history and legal precedent, religious issues aside. Not incidentally, states have always been the final arbiter of defining marriage–who can and can’t marry based on age, familial relationship, etc. The federal government has not traditional been involved in the issue and nothing in the Constitution requires it to become involved now, as President Obama well knew when he opposed gay marriage before changing his mind and supporting it during the last election cycle. The silent battle being waged is about much more than legal rights for gays and lesbians which I for one most certainly support. It is about undermining traditional values and taking society further down the slippery slope of ethical relativism where anything goes and everyone had damned well better accept it. Civil unions provide all the protections to gay and lesbian couples that marriage provides, except for the name. There ends any reasonable “need” to change 6,000 years of legal precedent.