We are all conservative Christians now

Johann Hari, who made news earlier this month with his interview of Tony Blair, has written a 5,000-word profile of Andrew Sullivan for Intelligent Life, a magazine published by The Economist. The story is filled with glowing praise and unquestioning assertions of Sullivan's crucial importance:

He was the first well-known writer to become a blogger -- and played a key role in smelting the form. Just as Michel de Montaigne played a crucial role in developing the modern essay, Andrew Sullivan will be remembered as pioneering the form of the blog. The now-ubiquitous blog style -- short, pithy, personality-inflected posts, offered often -- was begun by him.

This, however, is one of Hari's more laughably overstated sentences: "He is a conservative Christian who rages against the self-proclaimed forces of conservative Christianity."

Sullivan has long made a legitimate claim to being a conservative in economics and foreign policy. Considering Sullivan's frequent criticisms of his church's teachings on sexual morality, and his championing of the word Christianist, it would seem that describing him as a conservative requires a bit of explanation. This is the closest Hari comes to providing such an explanation:

He believes his greatest future conflicts will centre on religion -- the topic of his next book. He learned his Catholicism as an altar boy in East Grinstead. For him it is a sacramental religion, all about smell and sight and touch. Ritual is at its core, because "ritual has no point beyond itself. Only ritual can approximate the ineffability of the divine, enact its truth while not purporting to explain or capture it."

Sullivan feels that this model of religion -- filled with a sense of the mysterious, and the unknowability of God -- has been replaced in both America and the Vatican by outright fundamentalism. He says he can understand the appeal of this fundamentalism because he went through a phase of it himself. When he first went to grammar school, he was severed from his childhood friends. He became obsessed with doctrinal differences. He would draw little crosses in his exercise book to ward off evil, and in art classes he refused to draw or paint anything that was not somehow related to the Bible. For confirmation, he took the name of Sir Thomas More -- the scourge of heretics and Catholic martyr.

"I remember feeling that without the structure of my faith, without my knowledge of its infallible truth, I might have been completely overwhelmed," he says. Fundamentalism "was a way of sealing myself off from the world". He sees American Christians turning to fundamentalism as a panicked response to change and doubt too. They have ended up pining for a theocracy that is contrary to his beloved US constitution and basic liberties for gay people.

Liturgically, morally, socially, theologically: How is this the voice of a conservative Christian?

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