Postmodern Conservative

Being Free, Personal, and Relational in America

Here is an article of mine in one of my favorite journals – The New Atlantis. The theory is that if modernity as it displays itself in America is a Christian heresy, there must be something good and true about it.  So there’s something good and true about our Lockean understanding of personal freedom, just as there’s something irreducibly Christian — something true about Christianity highlighted for easy viewing — in our Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity.

In America, we’re clear that technological progress is for sustaining particular persons, and we’re not about absorbing persons in some whole — such as History or technological progress or the species or (pantheistic) nature or “the city” — greater or at least immensely larger than themselves. We doubt evolution mainly because we doubt that Darwin explains it all when it comes to our free and relational experiences. More generally, we can’t be serious about being theoretical atheistic materialists. We also can’t be deeply republican or wholly or even primarily defined as citizens.

And given that Evangelical Christianity is extremely anti-institutional and short on affirming the goods in common that are reasoning about the truth or being bound by traditional authority, it’s still strong in its focus on the singular journey in this world (and bound for glory) of each unique and irreplaceable child of God, and on the power of God’s grace to transform particular lives (see the film Tender Mercies). It may have an otherworldly indifference to political reform or justice (as our Puritans complain), but it’s strong on the loving personal virtue of charity. And our very low-church Holiness and Pentecostal Protestants (see The Apostle) are strong in showing us that we are all — black or white, rich or poor, man or woman,  healthy or afflicted, smart or slow, and so forth — equally sinners, equally lovable, and equal in need of help each of us can’t provide for himself or herself.

That’s not to say that across the board our understanding of who a free, rational, relational, responsible, loving, political, and creative person is couldn’t use a lot of help on the relational, responsible, and rational fronts, especially these days.

Other random point: I promise not to see Fifty Shades of Grey and find a conservative subtext.  UPDATE: Several readers noticed that I didn’t take the pledge to not see the movie.  Now that I’m pretty sure that (based on the consensus of reliable experts) that it isn’t even entertaining, I will take the pledge.

I will say more about the revelation that was my visit to the University of Houston soon.

Peter Augustine Lawler — Peter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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