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How Conservative Religion Makes the Right Politically Stronger

We may not share their theology, but right-wing religion teaches powerful lessons on courage, confidence and foresight that we could stand to learn.

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Seeing your personal struggles as part of an eternal battle between Good and Evil locates you in time, and gives an epic quality to your very existence. No matter how ordinary your existence is, the notion that God Has A Plan For Your Life -- and every life --  lends a vivid sense that your everyday actions have tremendous potential to affect the ultimate fate of humanity. How you manage your family and raise your kids matters. How you allocate your resources, devote your talents, and spend your time matters. What your church congregation does matters. The entire world is fraught with meaning, because your existence is exquisitely precious in the sight of God. You matter.

Again, this sense of being a chosen warrior in a heroic and eternal struggle is a tremendous psychological confidence-booster. It encourages people to dream big -- and to take concrete steps toward fulfilling those dreams. It justifies all kinds of risks. It stirs feelings of deep love and respect toward one's fellow warriors, which in turn creates strong movement cohesion. It gives people a vast mental space in which to regain their perspective following setbacks.

 

And perhaps most importantly: it confers the long view required for high-quality foresight, and the ability and inspiration to make bold plans that span decades and even generations. If your sense of time takes in all of history, from the Creation to the Apocalypse, then it doesn't really matter whether or not you'll live to see the changes you're working for. The battle is forever; your job is to fight it as well as you can while you can, while also raising the next generation to take over for you when their time comes. And the most important work isn't about getting big wins today; rather, it's the work that builds enduring institutions that will enforce the conservative worldview long after your generation is gone.

Progressives need to bear in mind that we have a long history, too. We are today's heirs to the Enlightenment, the latest in a series of generations that have been upholding America's founding values and worldview since before the nation began. The progressive argument for justice and freedom is a conversation that will not end in our lifetimes. We don't have to win all the battles, but we were born to this fight, and must also write our own chapter in its history before handing it over to the next generation.

And, most importantly: we need to cultivate that same long foresight that leads conservatives to protect their existing institutions like they were prized forts on a battlefield (which they are), and seed new ones constantly to expand their capacity to dominate the future. Our progressive legacy includes the vast array of public and private amenities -- universities, parks, transit systems, social organizations, hospitals, libraries, public programs, on and on -- that were created by our forebears for the same purpose, and continue to add to the dignity, opportunity and enlightenment of every American. Protecting this inheritance is the first duty of every progressive. Expanding it to serve future generations is the way we pay the gift forward.

I once was lost, but now am found

Another huge strength of the conservative side is the Christian redemption narrative. We make fun of the way the right-wing's fallen angels do penance and are accepted readily (often far too readily, in our view) back into respectability. Make the obligatory confession, do your ablutions, and you're back in good graces in time for Sunday dinner. And the rest of the movement will have your back the whole way. They may hate the sin, but they do walk their talk when it comes to continuing to love the sinner.

 
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