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Fr Jonathan:

Father, bless.

I was wondering whether or not you would be able to point toward some literature that discusses the conservation of God; that is, God's actions in conserving the good. I remember reading something to that effect in Thomas Oden's paleo-orthodox systematics, but I'm not sure where he would have found such information. Is there a strand of thought in the Fathers that aligns with, I suppose, the Wesleyan notion of prevenient grace? Thank you for your time, help, and attention.


Thanks, John, for this quote from Lafferty. He is indescribable mainly because he is a Christian science fiction writer (from Tulsa): usually, "Catholic" and this particular genre do not mix. But he did it well, and it takes someone from Chesterbelloc's persuasion (and my own) to come up with such a contrarian list of antinomies like this.

My own philosphy on political labels is stolen directly from R. A. Lafferty, a writer almost impossible to describe in any sane fashion but who was one of the great voices for sanity in the century just past:

"Things are set up as contraries that are not even in the same category. Listen to me: the opposite of radical is superficial; the opposite of liberal is stingy; the opposite of conservative is destructive. Thus I will describe myself as a radical conservative liberal; but certain of the tainted red fish will swear that there can be no such fish as that. Beware of those who use words to mean their opposites. At the same time have pity on them, for usually this trick is their only stock in trade. But do not pity them overly, it is your own death and your soul's death that they work by their deception."
--from The Flame is Green by R.A. Lafferty

Actually, I get the sense that the Touchstone staff worries about this kind of thing very much. I often think I detect that the editorial board is a bit of an uneasy alliance sometimes.

That said, I agree with you wholeheartedly, and thanks for continuing to clarify.

In Christ,


Thank you, Richard. You are right about this post being an attempt to reclaim the meaning of the word "conservative." Your father's working definition is probably the majority opinion, despite the fact that it is better served by the word "Republican."

I think that "conservatism" should have something to do with "conserving." An alignment with financial and military interests -- which is the ironic and lazy usage of the term -- should be labeled as "right," or "pro-government."

I attempted to call back the word more to its historic usage. Fr. Greg (see above) suggested a substitution of "conservative" with "traditionalist." On reflection, I respectfully disagree, since I am not ultimately interested in civic tradition: it matters little whether I serve a king, a republic, or a nominal democracy that masks an oligarchy. The politics of a civilization will change with the moment. However, the apprehension and observance of natural law by a culture is something enduring.

I do not know any other word that can describe this wish of mine (and probably yours) as well as the word "conservative."

For me, "Christian" only means "Trinitarian." I suppose that "traditional" -- more than "conservative" -- can be used meaningfully to qualify "Christian."

Despite my great obligation to and respect for C. S. Lewis, I object to the term "mere" used as a qualifier for "Christianity." There can be no "mere" in any sentence about Christ and His Church. That unfortunate phrase is predicated on the irrational notion that the Apostolic faith can be abridged or simplified. This is something that I'm sure the Touchstone staff worries about, late at night when the gremlins ask their mean existential questions.

Bless, Father.

I agree with your definition of "conservative"; so would, I think, Russell Kirk, and likely Rod Dreher (not, of course, that you're seeking affirmation).

The problem is, correct definition or no, many people who call themselves "conservatives" would not recognize this definition, so what you have is a fight to define the term. My own father, for example, is a dyed-in-the-wool "neo-conservative" and a militant atheist who read Kirk's The Conservative Mind and basically said, "That isn't what I know as conservatism. Conservatism means if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and trying to make any more complicated than that is pseudo-intellectual nonsense." (This is somebody who already complains that he feels like many conservatives try to define him out of the club since he's an atheist.)

The current political discourse tries to make "conservative" (and "liberal", for that matter) co-terminous with all kinds of things with which neither term was meant to be co-terminous. I think there are a lot of well-intentioned efforts out there, such as this one, to reclaim the true sense of the word "conservative", but at the same time it's difficult to deny the baggage that the word carries in this day and age. My sense is that Hutchens is trying to bypass the baggage, no more and no less.

That said, I also agree with your point that the word "Christian" also manages to have its own set of baggage, but at the same time, Hutchens is writing his essay in the context of a publication that seeks to reach a working definition of that word; after all, the subtitle of Touchstone is not "A Journal of Mere Conservatism".

All in all, however, it's an opportunity to discuss what "conservative" really means. That's not a bad thing at all -- these days, it's probably a really healthy thing for all of us who consider ourselves conservative but have serious trouble identifying with the modern Republican party.

In Christ,


I'm glad you like that phrase. I do too. I think it is important to make a distinction between "traditional" and "traditionalist" as J. Pelikan, of blessed memory, did:

"Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living".

I was tempted to do that, Fr. Greg, but the term "traditionalist" is also liable to interpretations (especially in the Orthodox community) that I'd rather avoid in this argument. (I like that phrase "connotational degradation", by the way.)

You're right about the perilous mix of guns and domestic squalor. Of course, the latter can mix with many other catalysts to produce peril and perdition.

Given that "conservative" has suffered at least as much connotational degradation as "Christian," why not use "traditional" (not "traditionalist") instead?

Where is what bothers me about the gun question: having lived in rural areas for much of my life, and having grown up with guns, I know plenty of people who own them for hunting and home/self/family defense, if the latter is ever called for. I also know that in many cases, one too many drinks combined with a escalating situation can well lead to tragedy. We saw it around here a year or so ago when somebody got shot in an alcohol-fueled disagreement over a friendly football bet.

Thank you, Trevor. You're right, of course, about assaultive weapons being rather key to the nature of militias nowadays. Since that is true, then we ought to drop the militia rationale for private gun ownership.

Once again, I'm all for the hunting and the home protection side of guns: but I will never understand the private ownership of military arms. And there is simply no Christian rationale for the rhetorical extremities fostered for the Second Amendment.

Hear, hear! I have only one quibble. Can a militia really function as it should without assault weapons? Maybe in the 18th c. it was safe to assume that a musket was sufficient weaponry for the spirit of the second amendment, but now? What invading force or oppressive government wouldn't be armed so heavily as to overwhelm any defense waged solely with hunting rifles?

I think it's possible to separate the AK-47 (for instance) from the revolutionary ideology it has so often served. It truly is a weapon for the people, and it seems to me just as useful for any militia, whether Marxist, Islamist, or conservative. I can't personally conceive of a viable militia without it or something similar. If such a thing is possible, I'd love to hear about it :-)

And for the record, I'm not some gun-toting maniac. I don't think I've fired a weapon since I was ten years old, and I don't currently own anything more dangerous than a knife (well, except for my car perhaps). I do, however, have an interest in physical defense as it relates to Christian principles.

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