Modern Believing

Understanding the Mind of the Conservative Christian: The Work of George Lakoff

Modern Believing (2014), 55, (3), 271–282.

Abstract

The work of Professor George Lakoff, a distinguished American academic and political commentator, has provided in two of his books some important insights into a better understanding of the divisions between conservative Christians and others on issues such as ‘gay marriage’. Although the focus of his writing in these particular books is on the Democratic-Republican divisions within America, he has some important things to say about the religious dimensions of this divide. He has two main observations. The first insight is that conservative political and religious thinking appears to emerge out of an attachment to a particular pattern of family life. This is one where a strict father figure plays a traditional, dominant role and is concerned to protect the family from evil. Evil is identified in particular with sloth and ill-discipline, which can lead to poverty. Conservatives have a visceral objection to gay sex because it subverts deep instincts about the ordered nature of the family which they have imbibed at a young age. Progressive thinking is rooted in another model of family functioning, one which Lakoff describes as ‘nurturant’. Such a pattern allows flexibility and tolerance in thinking in both the theological and political arenas. The second insight is that conservative politicians/theologians have developed skills in highjacking the way that language is used, the language ‘frames’, as he calls them. This needs to be understood as well as challenged by progressive politicians as well as Christian thinkers. Lakoff's political/religious insights, though a decade old, have something to offer us as we try to understand our divisions in the church, not least on the ‘gay issue’.

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Dobson, J. (1970) Dare to Discipline. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House. Dare to Discipline Google Scholar

Greven, P. (1992) Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse. New York: Vintage Books. Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse Google Scholar

Lakoff, G. (2002) Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. 2nd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think Google Scholar

Lakoff, G. (2004) Don't Think of an Elephant! Know your Values and Frame the Debate. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. Don't Think of an Elephant! Know your Values and Frame the Debate Google Scholar

Strozier, C. B., Terman, D. M. and Jones, J. W. (eds) with Boyd, K. A. (2010) The Fundamentalist Mindset. Oxford: Oxford University Press. The Fundamentalist Mindset Google Scholar

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Parsons, Stephen