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Irrational Reliance on Higher Powers

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It’s Liberals, Not Conservatives, Who Are Crippled by Blind Faith


As Washington staggers into a new year, one side of the political spectrum polarizes and paralyzes all ongoing debates due to its irrational reliance on a higher power.

The problem isn’t religious conservatives and their abiding faith in God; it’s mainstream liberals and their blind confidence in government.

Consider the current dispute over the right response to gun violence. At its core, this argument comes down to a visceral disagreement between relying on self-defense or on government protection. Gun-rights enthusiasts insist that the best security for law-abiding citizens comes from placing formidable firearms into their hands; gun-control advocates believe we can protect the public far more effectively by taking guns away from as many Americans as possible. In other words, conservatives want to address the threat of gun violence by giving individuals more power while liberals seek to improve the situation by concentrating more power in the hands of the government. The right preaches self-reliance while the left places its trust in the higher power of government.

The same dynamic characterizes most of today’s foreign-policy and defense debates. Right-wingers passionately proclaim the ideal of “peace through strength,” arguing that a powerful, self-confident America with dominant military resources remains the only guarantee of national security. Progressives, on the other hand, dream of multilateral consensus, comprehensive treaties, disarmament, grand peace deals, and vastly enhanced authority for the United Nations. Once again, liberals place a touching and naive faith in the ideal of a higher power—potential world government—while conservatives insist that the United States, like any nation, must ultimately rely only on itself.

Regarding the great tax-and-spend battles presently pushing the nation ever closer toward the dreaded fiscal cliff, the right argues that the economy will perform better if money is controlled by those who earn it while the left wants to government to make better, more generous decisions on how to invest that money. Despite abundant evidence to the contrary from the failed welfare states of Western Europe, liberals maintain unwavering devotion to the notion that taking funds out of the private sector will miraculously generate more private-sector economic growth. Republicans trust the private decisions of prosperous people to make the best use of the money that those citizens have generated; Democrats rely on the superior wisdom and broader perspective of a larger, more activist government to distribute rewards and plan for the future in a complex economy.

In selecting strategies for helping the poor and uplifting the downtrodden, the opposed approaches of left and right offer an especially sharp contrast. According to Arthur Brooks’s important book Who Really Cares and many other studies, conservatives at every income level provide disproportionate support for private charities. On my radio show, we spent the holiday season raising nearly $50,000 for the Salvation Army with its focus on rescuing substance abusers, the homeless, and disaster victims from their miserable circumstances. Liberals, on the other hand, consider such private efforts insufficient and demand governmental initiatives and interventions to supplement the private armies of compassion.

This raises an uncomfortable question for true believers of the left: if organizations like the Salvation Army have indeed done a phenomenal job over many decades in turning lives around and bringing hope to the hopeless, why wouldn’t government want to invest its resources in supporting these operations rather than launching their own bureaucratic efforts? If private charities aren’t large enough at the moment to cope with the epic dimensions of poverty-related problems, wouldn’t government funding to expand these proven organizations provide a better investment—reaching more people at lower cost—than any costly federal start-up?

The contemptuous refusal even to consider such an approach stems from two sources: a liberal belief in totally restructuring a broken society rather than merely repairing the broken lives of individuals, and the related belief in the healing, transformative power of top-down, government-instituted change.

There’s also the inevitable tendency of any fanatical faith to despise and distrust all religious alternatives: liberalism can be a jealous god. Most progressives would therefore prefer to commit trillions to purely secular (and mostly dubious) federal and state antipoverty efforts rather than spending less money for more results if those investments involved proven charities with religious agendas.

The left’s contempt for religious conservatives stems in part from the false assumption that people of faith place irrational reliance on the role of God in solving all the world’s problems. Occasional comments by Christian right-wingers—like the rightly derided suggestion that the Newtown massacre resulted from an absence of prayer in public schools—give some credence to this unflattering caricature.

But mainstream conservatism has never denied the importance of human effort or governmental leadership in addressing dire circumstances or everyday difficulties: after all, Republican heroes of history from Lincoln to Reagan have been powerful presidents, not merely passive and prayerful observers. Yes, most religious conservatives hope for divine favor for the land they love but simultaneously embrace the old saw, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Liberals, on the other hand, place their confidence in the notion that “Government helps those who can’t help themselves”—a proposition that’s questionable in both its components. First, it’s wrong and destructive to believe that any America is truly helpless and second, it’s arguable whether government reliably helps more than it hurts when it expands its power into our daily lives.

Fair-minded people of all perspectives should agree that any form of uncompromising, unquestioned, illogical faith can poison public discourse and derail important debates. There’s no effective rejoinder to the declaration that “God tells me that that I’m right and I refuse to consider other arguments.”

There is similarly no easy response to the insistence that “I know that government can fix this problem and don’t confuse me with evidence to the contrary.”

In the wake of Obama’s reelection, unreasoning reliance on federal power distorts our politics far more destructively than simple-minded faith in God. At the moment, big-government fundamentalism poses more of a threat to the republic than religious absolutism.

This column appeared originally in THE DAILY BEAST.

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Comments (10)

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  1. Dennis Stucke  •  Jan 4, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Great article Michael and right on the mark. America has to embrace self reliance and personal accountability or surrendor to government control. It is troubling to see so many Americans leaning left.
    Dennis S

  2. Gary Griffiths  •  Jan 4, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Mr. Medved has put his finger on the main issue that divides conservative and “progressive” (liberal) thinking. Regarding gun control, there’s a line from the defunct show “The West Wing” that struck me as a profound truism: “It’s not guns you don’t like, you don’t like people who like guns.” Thus we find “progressives” hiding behind armed security, voting to make “the little people” less secure.

    • Bill Grey  •  Jan 12, 2013 at 2:58 pm

      Very well said.

  3. KLD  •  Jan 4, 2013 at 10:54 am

    It’s this great and vile dependency that turns some of us away from any faith in repair to the broken state we are in. How can one not see that the more you are dependent, the more power and authority you hand over. At some point if we continue down this path we, as a nation will be wildly different.

  4. Redduke  •  Jan 4, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    We agree wholeheartedly. I have been saying this from the beginning of the global warming religion. They even have a “charismatic” (in their eyes) leader in the face of Al Gore. They believe the “bible” that has been fed to them from the UN. Most noteworthy is they get emotionally responsive in the face of facts that does not fit their dogma.

    • Dave Hill  •  Jan 5, 2013 at 11:24 am

      Now Gore sells to Al jazerra television his vision.. that we [American people] aren’t buying.. so support terrorists.. Why not? Seems reasonable for leftists like who want Nagel as Sec of State

  5. Dave Hill  •  Jan 5, 2013 at 11:16 am

    I posted on facebook… extremists will ruin us if we don’t do something about them!

  6. Dave Hill  •  Jan 5, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Hypocrites that say they’re giving ‘the same as congress, we can keep our plan, and our doc that we like… ‘ and sell t.v. to Al Jazerra… well.. what more do we need to say? Hurricane Sandy victims still waiting for the flood insurance coverage they were required to have to pay up.. oh! that’s right, government coverage. But AllState – private insurance, for wind damage, sent adjusters right out and paid up in a week and a half. Hypocrites… but the narrative does not fit the media [same media] that hounded Bush about local problems and all problems that should have been New Orlreans fault.. from fixing levies to all of it… except maybe the trailers they were ungrateful for.. if they really were as bad as people complained and got media to jump in – pile onto. We want these who exempt themselves to be in charge of our healthcare… huh.. We’re way stupid if so! I can’t help but still feel the hc monstrosity will be repealed.

  7. Joseph Saromines  •  Jan 5, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    I agree with Michael. Tfhe focus should be on self control instead of gun control. Since the government does not preach self control but the church does. Take that away from the schools which is the agenda of this government with their emphases on separation of church and state and you reap parts of society without a moral compass. The spirit controls the self and that comes from the bible. That is where the focus should be on self control.

  8. Earl Chantrill  •  Jan 5, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    History tells us that any state that, having known God, seeks to supplant Him, will fail. Our current leaders appear to want to supplant God with state power, although they will occasionally give lip service to God. I hope that there are enough people still in this country who believe enough in God’s promises that our country will not fail. In any case, I believe that God will not fail in His purpose for us. God wants His people to be reliant on Him, and as I understand the Scriptures, that means being as self-reliant as possible in all areas of life and being willing to give help where needed.
    As Hurricane Sandy (and Sandy Hook) shows us, government is almost always too distant and too slow in real emergencies. Neighbors and families are almost always more reliable when we allow them to help us. And there is no substitute for self reliance, thus the second amendment.

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