Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Conservative Soul - BOTW

I have decided to do Book of the Week a tad bit differently. Instead of having the redundancy of two BOTW posts on one book, I am instead doing one post, on a book that I have read the previous week. This weeks book is The Conservative Soul: Fundamentalism, Freedom, and the Future of the Right by Andrew Sullivan.  It can be found at the Library or if you are the purchasing kind, on Amazon for as little as $5.50. Thankfully the library had my copy. Irrespective of whether I would have had to pay for it or not, this book is a book that has profoundly changed my outlook on things.

The Conservative Soul: Fundamentalism, Freedom, and the Future of the Right

Sullivan addresses the rise of fundamentalism in American society, whether that be Christian, Islamic, Judaic, etc.; as well as traces its influence. He asserts that an ideology of conservatism is better than fundamentalism. We see fundamentalism today, in the form of the Republican party. They have sacrificed the conservatives natural doubting tendency, for a tendency to be bold and set their sights on the ends rather than the means. The fundamentalist, Sullivan argues, essentially has no problem with normally atrocious acts, such as torture, for if the end result is worth it, anything goes. The Conservative on the other hand, recognizes that we cannot know anything for certain, and thus the means of how we do something, here in the present, is the only way that we can effectively control governmental power. 

Sullivan addresses all aspects of humanity, from religious certainty to political ideology, but his discussion of religious certainty struck a deep cord inside me. As one who has moved from the spot on certainty of fundamentalist Christianity of my youth, to the skeptical faith based uncertainty of Christianity modeled by philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, to finally a skeptical rationalist Judaism, I found his discussion on faith and religion very compelling. Sullivan argues on behalf of the skeptic. He argues that those who are "fundamentalist" in their approach to religion, are actually destroying their religion without intending to. For how can a Christian, who believes that he is for certain without a shadow of a doubt going to heaven, truly be a Christian? Does not Jesus, Sullivan says, say that you must have faith? And does not "certainty" automatically destroy the idea of faith?

He also asserts, in the realm of religion, that those who cling to the fundamentalist variants of their religious ideologies are doing so only for self-preservation. A fundamentalist Jew for example, must have the certainty of God and the Torah, for if he does not, he is left in a world full of uncertainty. Those who ascribe to fundamentalist do so only because they need a stable center for their lives. They cannot deal with the day to day uncertainty of life, thus must "know for sure" what is going on.

All in all, I was very surprised at the insights that Sullivan had. I know that I will be buying this book and reading it many times again.

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