We live in a world where some people say that everything is everything. Professional poker is a “sport.” Alcoholism is a “disease.” Politicians we don’t like are “Nazis.” It sometimes seems like distinctions are more cloudy and nebulous than ever before.
One line which is en vogue to blur is that of religion. This makes sense, since religion has undergone dramatic change over the past few centuries in which the nature of religion and it’s role has been altered.
Religion is no longer tied to the state and law (sort of). Faiths are no longer the primary source for obtaining information regarding existence. However, one thing to keep in mind before I continue is that new institutions did not become like religions, but rather it is religion which is changing in order to adapt and remain relevant in an ever-evolving world.
Still, I am not of the post-modernist view that everything is up for debate, that nothing can be known for sure, and that everything is basically just everything else. Such sophistry is pseudo-intellectual and serves no purpose than to annoy those who still hold distinctions as relevant.
This is why the believer relishes in taunting the atheist with the claim that atheism is a religion. To the believer, everything is all relative, and everything must be relative, otherwise there may come a moment when one realizes how obsolete their faith really is.
It is a basic tactic of rhetoric to equate something someone cherishes with something they despise. So, in atheist circles, it’s not uncommon to hear or read someone compare their opponent’s stance to being “religious” or a “faith.”
I can say quite assuredly that liberalism isn’t a religion, nor is conservatism. In fact, I am bold enough to suggest that only religions are religions. I know, how foolish of me
One thing that is glaringly apparent when it comes to liberalism and conservatism is that not only are they not religions, they are characteristics which religions possess. Liberalism and conservatism are two fundamental ideas, while religions are large collections of fundamental ideas which are systematized into a mythology, sets of rituals, etc.
Trying to claim that liberalism or conservatism are religions is tantamount to saying “determinism is a religion.” Belief that all actions are predetermined is not enough to make a religion. Yes, one’s view of determinism may be defined by one’s religion, but that doesn’t mean determinism is a religion.
Instead, liberalism and conservatism are two very simple ideas. Liberalism is the pursuit of progress, while conservatism is the defense of tradition. There is nothing more to it, though we have attached much more. However, a look at how different countries define “liberal” and “conservative” in terms of individual issues shows that these terms don’t carry much meaning outside of political context.
It’s not that “liberal” and “conservative” have no meaning; this couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather, they have many meanings, and this is a result of the parallel evolution of similarly named ideologies in remote political environments.
Even in America, the classical liberals are seen as quite distinct from modern liberals, just as Jacksonian Democrats bear little resemblance to modern liberal Democrats. This is much the same case with the liberal Republicans of the Lincoln and Roosevelt era compared to modern conservative Republicans (I would argue the first conservative Republican was Reagan, as compared to the very liberal policies of Nixon, including the formation of the EPA, implementation of Title IX, desegregation of Southern schools, open ties with Communist China, etc.).
This is some indication of why these can’t be religions in their own right. Religions simply don’t fundamentallly change this often this quickly. There are probably several factors at play, but part of the problem is that liberalism and conservatism lack a clear, unchanging mythology, and they saying goes that today’s liberal is tomorrow’s conservative.
I would venture into trying to define some liberal and conservative mythologies, but there are a fair number, and I don’t want to forget any, nor do I want to over-simplify or redefine liberalism or conservatism. It means far too many things to far too many people for me to even attempt such a venture and not end up looking foolish. Maybe it would make a good topic for another post.
Ultimately, liberalism and conservatism can mean a lot of different things… they are just not religions.