Political Conservatives and Religion in Politics

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Quite often, those on the left of the political spectrum dismiss political conservative ideology as the product of religious fervor.

At first blush, this makes sense. After all, the conservative movement is populated by people of faith. Christians, Evangelicals, and Catholics tend to embrace the key aspects of conservatism, which include limited government, fiscal discipline, free enterprise, a strong national defense, and traditional family values. This is why many conservative Christians side with Republicanism politically. The Republican Party is most associated with championing these conservative values.

Members of the Jewish faith, on the other hand, tend to drift toward the Democratic party because history supports it, not because of a particular ideology.

According to author and essayist Edward S. Shapiro in American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, most Jews are descendants of central and Eastern Europe, whose liberal parties -- in contrast to right-wing opponents -- favored "Jewish emancipation and the lifting of economic and social restrictions on Jews." As a result, Jews looked to the Left for protection. Along with the rest of their traditions, Jews inherited a left-wing bias after emigrating to the United States, Shapiro says.

Russell Kirk, in his book, The Conservative Mind, writes that, with the exception of antisemitism, "The traditions of race and religion, the Jewish devotion to family, old usage, and spiritual continuity all incline the Jew toward conservatism."

Shapiro says Jewish affinity for the left was cemented in the 1930s when Jews "enthusiastically supported Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. They believed that the New Deal had succeeded in alleviating the social and economic conditions in which antisemitism flourished and, in the election of 1936, Jews supported Roosevelt by a ratio of nearly 9 to 1."

While it's fair to say that most conservatives use faith as a guiding principle, most try to keep it out of political discourse, recognizing it as something intensely personal. Conservatives often will say that the Constitution guarantees its citizens freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

In fact, there is plenty of historical evidence that proves, despite Thomas Jefferson's famous quote about "a wall of separation between church and state," the Founding Fathers expected religion and religious groups to play an important role in the development of the nation. The religion clauses of the First Amendment guarantee the free exercise of religion, while at the same time protecting the nation's citizens from religious oppression. The religion clauses also ensure that the federal government cannot be overtaken by one particular religious group because Congress cannot legislate one way or another on an "establishment" of religion. This precludes a national religion but also prevents the government from interfering with religions of any kind.

For contemporary conservatives, the rule of thumb is that practicing faith publicly is reasonable, but proselytizing in public is not.

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Hawkins, Marcus. "Political Conservatives and Religion in Politics." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/political-conservatives-and-religion-in-politics-3303428. Hawkins, Marcus. (2021, February 16). Political Conservatives and Religion in Politics. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/political-conservatives-and-religion-in-politics-3303428 Hawkins, Marcus. "Political Conservatives and Religion in Politics." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/political-conservatives-and-religion-in-politics-3303428 (accessed May 30, 2023).