An open letter to politically conservative Christians

Richard Parncutt 

September 2017


There are many different kinds of Christian. Christians are not only protestant or catholic, orthodox or restorationist, esoteric or messianic. Christians also vary along the political spectrum from left to right. Personally, I'm left of centre, although many "lefties" might call me "centrist". Conservatives would call me a "liberal".

Perhaps the main foundations that all Christians have in common is the Gospels. These ancient books are our main historical record of what Jesus said and did. They were transcribed from oral tradition several decades after his death. Christians believe they contain the word of god, which the disciples received not only from Jesus but also directly: two months after the crucifixion, the holy spirit descended upon the disciplines (pentecost).

This blog is addressed to politically conservative Christians -- those who align themselves with the political right wing. Welcome and thank you for reading this far.

Let me first explain what I want to do. I want to talk about some important aspects of Christian morality that I believe have been neglected by conservative Christians. I'm sure you will agree that is an important topic.

Allow me first to present what I consider to be the most important aspects of Christian teachings, along with their modern political implications.

Love and charity (

Christians agree that the bible's main message is about love. God is love, and the most important Christian value is love. Paul famously said it like this:
The word "love" in these passages is comparable with the ancient Greek agápē (ēἀγάπη), which also means "charity". This is not the "love" of modern English, a word that conjures up the deep feelings that we have when we love our partner, children, or parents. Agápē is more altruistic (inspired by god) and less paternal, filial, romantic, or erotic. Of course romantic and erotic feelings are relevant and important, but we should not forget that romantic love is to some extent a modern invention, souped up by Hollywood and a certain consumerist attitude toward the sexual partner market.

is not only more altruistic than a modern western concept of love, it is also more active and universal --
directed, in theory, toward every human being on the planet, or at least every human with whom we have some kind of contact. That includes, but goes well beyond, "lovers" and next of kin. Moreover, agápē is about actually doing something for other people and not merely having good feelings toward them.

The world would be a better place if people thought a bit more about this topic! And incidentally -- if you know of any politician who does any of the bad things listed in Corinthians (envy, boasting, pride, dishonoring others etc.), please don't vote for her or him. (People reading this passage in the year 2017 will know whom I am referring to.)

Whom should we love? Here's what the bible says, again implying
agápē: The message is clear: Love applies to all people everywhere. In fact, it applies to all of god's creation.

But it is not enough merely to talk about love. We have to act!
Conservativism and discrimination

As far as Christian love/charity is concerned, conservatives unfortunately do not have a good reputation. There are exceptions, of course, but the average conservative is more likely than a liberal to discriminate against women, blacks, foreigners, muslims, gays, atheists, and so on.

The only thing these diverse groups have in common is difference. They are different from the standard white Christian straight male, in different ways. The tendency to discriminate against people because they are different may be part of human nature, which according to Christian teaching was created by god, but it also runs contrary to central teachings of Christianity. A true Christian opens her or his heart to everyone.

There is no scientific evidence that any of these groups is inherently superior or inferior to white Christian men in any way, although countless scientists and others have searched for such evidence. Take homosexuality for example. Until a few decades ago homosexuality was still being treated by the medical and psychological professions as some kind of disease of disorder. It is only comparatively recently that the mainstream realised that homosexuality is (and has always been) a normal phenomenon -- and not only among humans. While it is true that heterosexuality versus homosexuality is partly a matter of personal choice, it also has a strong biological foundation (more), which from a Christian perspective means that it belongs to god's creation.

So those who believe for whatever reason that homosexuals should not have the same rights as the rest of us can no longer claim that there is something wrong with them. Whether homosexuals are more promiscuous than heterosexuals is open to debate (more), and if they are, that is not necessarily morally bad. In any case such arbitrary value judgments should not affect the rights of individual couples. One gay person is not responsible for the actions of other gay people, just as one straight person is not responsible for the actions of other straight people. Contrary to what many have claimed, neither the gospels nor the bible generally contains clear or consistent statements that either support or oppose homosexuality (more), and on the question of gay priests, Pope Francis famously replied "Who am I to judge?" (more).

Poverty and generosity

Sad but true: Many conservatives also have a reputation for greed and selfishness -- at least according to the liberals. Either that or they encourage or condone these dubious personal qualities in others. That is something that no true Christian can tolerate! On this point, the message of Jesus could not have been clearer:
Two thousand years later, we still have not managed to eliminate poverty. That is surprising, given how many people in the west experienced Christian teachings -- almost everyone, for two millennia! On top of that, global free enterprise and capitalism have brought enormous riches to many people. There is more than enough wealth to go around. So why is it not going around? The answer is clear -- the greedy and selfish are holding onto it! And many of them claim to be Christians!

This is a shameful state of affairs, and god is surely not proud of us. But there is an easy solution: we can work here and now towards elimination of poverty, inspired by the corresponding bible passages, of which there are many. That is a central task for today's conservative Christians, insofar as they are genuine about their Christianity and insofar as conservatives have more money than liberals.

Jesus's brother James hit the nail on the head when he wrote the following warning to the rich:  
What does this mean today? The wealth gap is steadily rising, undermining democracy and causing widespread suffering. Global warming will seriously affect everyone, but we are still burning fossil fuels at a staggering rate. Technologies that replace human labor are improving, causing permanent unemployment. Courageous individuals who dare to oppose such developments, defending the human rights of the many, risk persecution. Meanwhile we, the rich and mega-rich, are continuing to pursue extravagant lifestyles as if we were unaware of the consequences, like French aristocracy before the revolution.

James warns the rich to start caring and being generous before it is too late. Today's c
onservative Christiansshould be talking about solutions rather than blocking them. Possible modern solutions include globally harmonized environment, transaction, and wealth taxes to finance government programs such as international aid, education, social welfare, and the promotion of sustainable energy.

The natural environment

Another area where some conservatives have a bad reputation is care for the natural environment. In the biblical creation story, god created the natural environment and gave humans responsibility for looking after it:
Unfortunately, many conservative leaders in government and business today tend to do the opposite of what god intended, exploiting and destroying his beautiful creation for personal benefit. Astonishingly, their political opponents -- those who sincerely want to protect god's creation -- are often atheist liberals. How could the world be so topsy-turvy?

In 2015, Pope Francis examined this question in great detail in Laudatio Si'. This encyclical letter is essential reading for all genuine modern Christians and it is also easy to get a hold of. Every bookshop and library has it and you can easily read it in the internet. 


Christian conservatives may also find themselves being accused of hypocrisy. According to Wikipedia, "Hypocrisy is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another. In moral psychology, it is the failure to follow one's own expressed moral rules and principles."

For example, it is hypocritical to discriminate against women or homosexuals (as the Catholic church unfortunately still does), while at the same time promoting universal equality of opportunity and opposing all forms of discrimination -- as Christ himself did so impressively. If Christ were here today, he would presumably criticize the modern church on this and other points.

Jesus complained about hypocrisy in great detail. We should be careful to understand not only what he said but also the intentions behind his words.

Basically what Jesus is saying here is that hypocrisy is a lose-lose phenomenon. Nobody gains from it. That is still true today, regardless of whether you believe in heaven, karma, or some other comparable principle. Please read the remainder of Matthew 23 and the parallel passages in the other gospel books, and consider their possible modern implications. Please also check out some of the leading interpretations of these passages by bible scholars. 

Christ's stance on hypocrisy reminds us that we should always be open to criticism. As an author, reviewer, and editor of articles published in leading international research journals, I know how important that is. Anyone who is trying to find out the truth (as far as we can know it) and tell it to large numbers of people needs to be open to criticism. That is equally true in religion, politics, and research. It also applies to this text, so if you believe that any of my statements are misleading or hypocritical, please send me your constructive suggestions and I will do my best to solve the problem.

The bible shows in detail how to identify hypocrisy, and then to solve the problem. The solution involves familiar concepts such as virtue, sin, humility, judgment, repentance, and forgiveness. Let's look at each of these in turn.

Virtue, sin, and humility

In Christian morality, a virtue is an action, attitude or habit that god deems to be good, whereas sin is deemed to be bad. Virtues include prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope, and charity. Everyone should aspire all of these, regardless of their background. So if you notice any politicians whose behavior consistently contradicts any of these points, please don't vote for them.

Faith, incidentally, does not necessarily mean faith in god. In everyday English, it also means believing in basic moral principles and sticking to them even when the going gets tough.

The idea of sin has fallen out of fashion, because for many centuries representatives of Christian churches accused others of sin and threatened divine punishment. They used the concept of sin to their personal advantage or to consolidate their power. Those people evidently misunderstood the original concept and fell into the trap of hypocrisy.

To understand virtue and sin, we must first admit that we are mortals, which limits our ability to know things. Because the bible like any text is often ambiguous and open to interpretation, often we can only find out whether something is fundamentally good or bad by openly and sincerely looking into our hearts. We have to make ourselves emotionally vulnerable and wait for our conscience to give us the answer. Wisdom arises from prayer and meditation.
In this way, we can find out what is morally right or wrong -- but only for ourselves, and usually not in an absolute sense. What is right or wrong for someone else is another matter. Strictly speaking, we can never know that for sure. Only god can know, and we can never know for sure what god is thinking.

Since we cannot make general statements about virtue and sin, we have to be humble. Jesus made a point of it:

Because the concept of sin has so often been abused, political liberals tend to reject it. But surely sin is exactly what  liberals are constantly complaining about? If for example the irresponsible decisions of political or business leaders cause human suffering, whether directly or indirectly, and those leaders had a good idea in advance what would happen, but did it all the same, surely that is a classic case of sin?

None of us is perfect. We have all "sinned" merely by doing things that we know to be wrong -- not because someone told us they were wrong, but because we looked inside our hearts and our conscience told us they were wrong. From this perspective, sin is a kind of dishonesty.

From a Christian perspective, which is barely different from what a philosopher might call "universal morality", one of our main tasks in life is to identify our sins, then ask for forgiveness (perhaps merely forgiving ourselves), and finally change our approach to ensure that our sins are not repeated. In modern terms, we must be accountable for our actions.
Judgment, confession, and forgiveness

Christians believe that their words and actions will be judged by god on the day of judgement:
For this reason, we Christians tend to confess our sins and repent sooner rather than later. First, that gives us more time in life to do good things for other people. Second, that is what Jesus did, so if we are taking him as our role model, we should do it too. The good things that Jesus did were done on earth and not in heaven! Third, Christians believe that god will forgive us we confess your sins and repent during your lifetime. Once the day of judgment comes along, it will be too late.

If the arguments I have presented are correct, conservative Christians may have sinned more than most. But the good news is that if you are a conservative Christian and Jesus is your role model, you have the chance to confess your sins. Whether you have sinned with regard to love and charity, poverty and generosity, protection of the natural environment, or in any other area, it will be better for everyone including yourself if you confess soon. As they say in advertising: do it today. 

Another piece of good Christian news is that if you genuinely and sincerely confess your sins and change your ways (or repent), and you do it during your lifetime, you will be forgiven.
False prophets

Before doing any repenting, there is a practical question to answer. Whom should we believe? Should you believe what I am writing in this text? Or is it better to believe an charismatic evangelical preacher with millions of ecstatic followers?

Again, the bible has the answer. The world is full of false prophets. It always has been, and it always will be. 
According to Christian teaching, false prophets are here to test us. The trick is to identify and avoid them.The bible teaches that we are all capable of of doing that. To separate the sheep from the wolves, all we have to do is pray! We just have to open our hearts, look deep inside, wait patiently, trust ourselves, and our conscience will let us know what the answer is.

I have presented many bible quotes and interpretations, and they all seem to converge on the same conclusion. Whether we like it or not, we all need to repent -- every one of us. We need to stand back, look at what we have done in our lives, identify the mistakes that we have made, regret them, and resolve not to repeat them. Everyone, everywhere is capable of this kind of personal evaluation and personal change. 

No-one can force anyone to repent, and I expect that most conservative Christians reading this will just laugh it off. 
In Christian teachings, god wants you to realise the importance of repentance all by yourself. Like everyone else, you have free will. God may be knocking on your door, but you don't have to open it:
Imagine this: Even if you have been going to church and studying the bible all your life, god may still be disappointed. He may be waiting patiently for you to open your heart in prayer to his universal love and the diversity of his creation. Opening your heart to god means opening your heart to all the humans that god ever created on this beautiful planet -- the evil and the good, the beautiful and the ugly, the strong and the weak, the wise and the stupid. Those that are similar to you, and those that are different.

If you still believe that certain kinds of discrimination are ok, for example against women, blacks, Muslims, or gays, and perhaps you can even point to passages in the bible that seem to support that, or if you are opposed to affirmative action or "political correctness" to prevent that kind of discrimination, there may be a simple reason. You have not yet opened your heart! God wants you to do that right now, and then to take another step: to turn his message of universal love into action. He wants you to work for a world in which the rights of all people are respected and the natural environment is protected for future generations -- because that is what universal Christian love is all about.

But please don't believe me about this. Regardless of what you read in this text, you will find the real truth about these issues in your own heart, in prayer. I have prayed, in my own way, and this is what I found out for myself: If we open our hearts, we realise what has to be done. We should listen to the wisdom of our conscience, apologize genuinely for the times that we did not, and resolve to listen more attentively in future. Expressed in Christian terms:
If you have had enough bible quotes for today, for which I apologize, there is also a great song about repentance. The lyrics include this: "...Earth shall be fair and all her people one. Not till that hour shall god's whole will be done." Not a bad goal, if you ask me.

Christian message 

The bible's message of universal love and repentance was never more important than it is today. If you agree with me about that, it's time to act.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus demanded repentance from the Pharisees. If he were alive today, he would demand repentance from hypocritical conservative Christians. He would repeat this message in today's language so that everyone would understand. He would talk about what it means to develop a loving attitude toward everyone, everywhere. He would identify those people today need help the most -- the sick, the poor, the needy, the hungry, the desperate, the downtrodden. He would promote political changes that improve equality and justice, and protect god's creation.

Personally, I do not believe in the supernatural aspects of Christianity. Please forgive me for that -- I'm a scientist. That's my job. But even for an atheist, the message of Jesus was a critically important one -- alongside the similar messages of comparable historical figures. The Christian version of universal morality has the advantage that its details are well known. Like the moral scriptures of other major religions, they have also stood the test of time.

The amazing thing about the 2000-year-old teachings of the Gospels is that in spite of the enormous changes that have happened during twenty centuries, and apart from the supernatural aspects that have been superseded by modern science, the "good news" of Jesus is still basically correct. If people took his message seriously today, today's biggest problems -- global poverty, climate change, violence of all kinds -- would disappear. We could live in peace, for the first time. The peace of Christmas would be everyday reality.

The bottom line

I do not normally write in this way. I am doing so now in an attempt to communicate with you as a Christian conservative reader, in your own language. This is a matter of respect: I know this is the language you prefer.

Let me finally get to the point. Jesus was a classic leftie liberal. Like lefties and liberals since time immemorial, he stood up for the underdog. It follows that to be a Christian today you have to be a leftie, too. If Jesus really is your role model, you have to defend the rights of the poor, hungry and downtrodden, like he did. That's essentially what lefties do. We promote appropriate forms of social welfare, universal health insurance, subsidized kindergartens, schools, and universities, fair-trade relationships with developing countries without exploitation, appropriate international aid programs, and so on.

These things are none other than Christianity in its modern manifestation. True Christians have little choice but to support such endeavors. They must also oppose all forms of discrimination. It doesn't matter whether the discrimination is based on sex/gender, so-called race, disability, age, or sexual orientation -- the Christian ideal of universal love can only be approached in practice if we oppose all forms of discrimination. We must also be concerned to prevent all forms of war and physical aggression and instead spread a message of peace, as Jesus did. 

If I don't do these things, and I still claim to be a Christian, I am a hypocrite in the original Christian sense. If Jesus were on earth today, he would tell me that in no uncertain terms, just as he did to the Pharisees. It follows that the expression "politically conservative Christian" is a contradiction and a lie. For truly I say unto you: there is no such thing as a politically conservative Christian.

But I am writing as a philosopher, not as a politician. My claims and arguments are not intended as threats. Don't worry about burning in hell -- there is no such place. Whether you are created by god or not, you are free to decide your political orientation. If there is a god, she will not punish you for your political choices. You only have your conscience to guide you -- your innate sense of decency and dignity. Don't listen to me -- listen to your inner voice.

The main reason I am writing this text is to defend the basic rights of billions (!) of people who are suffering right now, mainly in developing countries, as an indirect consequence of the hypocritical, pseudo-Christian conservative politics of the US Republican Party and the centre-right parties of other Western countries. The suffering people really exist, they really are suffering, and Christian hypocrisy really does belong to the main causes of the problem. The richer, more influential Christians of the world could have eliminated poverty globally by now. Instead, we are promoting poverty by maintaining a fundamentally unfair global economic system. We could also have stopped dangerous human products such as global warming and nuclear weapons, which will likely cause enormous suffering in the future. We could have stopped the international arms trade, without which the negative consequences of war would be much smaller.

We cannot change the past, but we can change the future. In this text, I have tried to show that the world's biggest problems can be solved by taking a new look at the foundations of Christian morality. Another form of Christian politics is possible, and it can bring together liberals and conservatives in a new spirit of respectful cooperation (more). 
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