“O’Sullivan’s First Law” states:
“All organizations that are not actually right-wing will, over time, become left-wing.”
Coined by journalist John O’Sullivan back in 1989, it described the leftward tilt that we see happen among politicians, parties, and organizations of all sorts whenever they refuse to loudly and clearly establish their conservative bona fides. A recent example happened in the last Canadian election, when Conservative leader Erin O’Toole led his party so far leftward they shared the Liberal’s positions on abortion, euthanasia, and all things LGBT. Then, once the campaign started, O’Toole also flipped his position on conscience protection, again adopting the Liberal Party position.
This isn’t simply a Canadian phenomenon, as this video highlights.
However, as insightful as O’Sullivan’s First Law is in its diagnosis, it doesn’t point us to a cure. He might have thought he did: actually be right-wing!
But O’Sullivan first wrote his Law in National Review, a magazine as firmly rooted as any conservative organization could expect to be (it was, at one point, described as “the bible of American conservatism”). Yet today the publisher is a man “married” to another man. They drifted too.
The fact is, stopping the drift requires a firmer foundation than mere “conservatism.”
The need for a firm footing
The weakness of conservatism is that it isn’t even a foundation to stand on. At best it’s an anchor that can be thrown out to slow down our rate of descent. O’Sullivan is partly right that the more energy a group expends in defining their brand of conservatism, the more weighty the anchor, and the longer they may be able to hold out. But to actually make headway back up the slope again requires a firm foundation to push off of, and that’s something that mere conservatism doesn’t offer. Conservatism is rooted only in human thought. A firm footing can only be found in God’s thought, and in His Word. Conservatism is moveable; only God is not.
So, O’Sullivan got us off to a good start, but we can take things further by riffing off of Matt. 12:30: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” The result is “O’Dykstra’s First Law”:
“Those who are not unabashedly Christian, will over time – along with the organizations they make up – become unabashedly anti-Christian.”
The diagnosis is once again well established. Universities (Harvard and Yale), mainline denominations (the United Church of Canada), and charities (Bethany Christian Services), that were founded to spread God’s Word, got embarrassed by parts of it, got quiet about those parts, and are now, in this way or that, actively opposing God and His law.
So how about us? Are we embarrassed by God’s Word? How often do you hear Christians – not simply politicians, but anyone at all – speaking in the public square and unashamedly presenting God’s thoughts on an issue as God’s thoughts?
Conservative arguments have no foundation
That doesn’t really happen. Instead:
- When Christians defend the unborn they’ll most often do so without any mention of the biblical principles involved, as they’re found in Ex. 20:13, Gen. 1:27, and elsewhere. Instead, we’ll focus on how the fetus can feel pain, or on when its heartbeat begins.
- We’ll oppose euthanasia without mention made that our lives are not our own to dispose of as we wish. We’ll instead point to the potential euthanasia laws have for abuse.
- We’ll combat pornography, but not because it violates God’s plan for sex, but because of its linkage to mental health issues like depression.
We use these godless arguments because our target audience is a godless culture. We do it in the name of strategy, effectiveness, and common sense but, in an ironic twist, it is none of those things. Consider the arguments we just made, and how easy it is to rebut them.
- Abortion is wrong because the fetus feels pain? Implicit in this objection is the approval of abortion for children who don’t yet feel pain. Did we mean to do that? The world says our value comes from what we can do, and they justify abortion because the unborn can’t do much. We’ll adopt the very same “able-ism” ideology to tout what the unborn can do. But the same argument protecting a 21-day-old unborn child because his heart has just now begun beating out its rhythm, is the same argument that condemns a 20-day-old who can’t do it yet.
- If euthanasia is wrong because it can be abused, that’s only an argument for more safeguards. It’s, at best, just an anchor slowing the decline, with no effort directed at an actual reversal of course.
- Pornography is bad because it causes mental health issues? Well, that all depends on what we mean by “mental health.” Some among the LGBT lobby have touted pornography for its mental health benefits since those who partake are more open to their “alternative” lifestyles.
Why is it so easy to rebut these conservative arguments? It’s because they have no foundations.
Abortion is wrong, not because the unborn can do this or that, but because the unborn are made in the very Image of their Creator, just like you and me. It’s only when we offer up God’s own Truth that we get to the heart of the matter. It’s only then that we’re actually countering the lie with Truth. It’s only then that we’re standing with feet firmly planted.
Will the world listen? That’s not in our control. But by setting our own feet firmly on God’s Word, we can stop our own drift. When we profess His Name, and find our confidence in the victory He has already won, then the world won’t be able to move us.
And who knows how God might make use of our faithfulness?