The imaginative conservative must see things from different angles, must be able to plan, must see the interactions among religion, history, philosophy, and current events.
BY: Howard Merken
Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Swoope (pronounced swope), Virginia, is quite a different story. Mr. Salatin is a Bob Jones University graduate, a Christian, a conservative, a libertarian, and an environmentalist. Refusing to ship his products long distances, Mr. Salatin and his son, along with interns, go “beyond organic” to a self-sustaining system. Moving chickens to where cows have just been, for example, allows the chickens to feed on bugs in the cow droppings, making for tastier chickens and for less disease. Stacked farm enterprises called “holons” are moved around. Pigs, beef, eggs, turkeys, chickens, rabbits, berries, sweet corn, and tomatoes, are raised without pesticides or industrial fertilizer. Mr. Salatin’s family can sit down and eat a meal with hardly anything not grown on their farm. It requires intelligent planning and constant observation. It is labor intensive, but it helps save the environment rather than destroy it. And the food is of better taste and quality than factory farmed food.
Perhaps we can see a metaphor of our own thought processes here, a microcosm of how we function in our world today, and a warning against laziness of mind. There is, of course, the fascist philosophy of leadership by an elite. Your job in life is rather simple. Do not ask questions, only obey. Be part of the industrial assembly line of industry, or of agriculture, or of the state’s political agenda, of life in general. Efficiency resulting in short-term gains is the goal as the long-term effects are ignored. This is represented by industrial agriculture.
What about industrial organic? Although pesticides and fertilizers are not used in such copious quantities if at all, there is still the transportation of the goods to far-away places, even other countries, and of course the marketing. It is really new wine in old wineskins, organically produced food shipped and sold like its non-organic counterpart. Organic farms might start out small, but they have to grow to compete. Large organic farms produce the food, for, as in non-organic farms, it is easier for a supermarket chain to deal with a large operation than with several small operations. This represents a middle ground approach.
Does the conservative face a dilemma today? It is easier to support a political party than to really think through every issue, realizing that no party has all the answers, and in fact, no party is totally biblical. Simply calling oneself pro-life, or conservative, or even using political appellations, could simply resemble industrial organic food. The idea is right, but it is still middle ground. It is like the person who attends church or synagogue once a week but who lives the rest of the week as if religion did not really matter. When a person considers himself knowledgeable about US history based on a book, a sermon, or a seminar, this is like organic industrial. Correct beliefs in this case are based on convictions which have not been thought out as much as read or heard and believed. But is this real conservatism?
In the political arena of the early 1980’s, Jerry Falwell rallied American evangelicalism. His views were certainly conservative, but it seemed that many pastors who had never seen the inside of a college classroom outside those of their own Bible schools were becoming overnight experts on US history. This is not a criticism of Jerry Falwell himself or even his message, but rather of the way in which some of the clergy and many parishioners took his word without thinking things through. To disagree with what he was saying could in some circles be considered nearly a heresy against the church. Truths with more than one side were not really understood, but whom to vote for was clearly taught, even if churches had to be careful not to run afoul of the law not to endorse a candidate from the pulpit (or risk losing tax-exempt status). This was conservatism, but dumbed down for the masses.
To really think, to plan, to commit oneself totally, to refuse compromise, that is the Joel Salatin method, and that should be the mark of a true conservative. In a world where oversimplification in both food production and human thinking have their negative consequences, the imaginative conservative must not just be a person who votes for the conservative candidate and listens to a weekly sermon. The imaginative conservative must see things from different angles, must be able to plan, must see the interactions among religion, history, philosophy, and current events, just as someone farming as Joel Salatin does must see the interactions among grass, grubs, cow dung, and chickens in the field.
A conservative can do what he wants in a free country, and that includes supporting conservative causes. But should he think, speak, write, and act in ways that show an intense knowledge of interactions, or should he parrot the slogans of other conservatives without understanding the details and the truths which are often two-sided coins or even multifaceted gems? That is the conservative’s dilemma.
A Bible school graduate, Dr. Howard Merken also holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemistry from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Texas Tech University. He and his wife Casandra authored the now out-of-print Beyond Classical: The Next Step in Christian Education. A science professor-turned-Christian school-math-and-science-teacher, Dr. Merken is dedicated to teaching people how to use their minds for the glory of God.