I found Vanessa Otero’s Complex vs, Clickbait, Liberal vs. Conservative Media Chart to be quite helpful.
Archive for the ‘Why I am not a “Liberal” or “Conservative”’ Category
Just the other day, I was listening to a pastor casually commenting on social issues, and underlying all his comments was the foundational belief that being Christian goes hand in hand with being conservative.
I have been uncomfortable with this attitude since I was in high school and have been arguing that on some issues, Christians ought to find themselves agreeing with the liberal positions. I was recently introduced to the work of Dr. Barry Johnson. I think he has provided me a way of communicating the dangers of believing that to be Christian is to be conservative or, if you want, Republican.
Johnson says that there are two basic kinds of arguments we find ourselves in.
There’s the kind where either you are right or you are wrong. Let’s call these either/or disagreements. In these instances, the purpose of the argument is to establish who is right and who is wrong. Theoretically, these arguments are resolved once the truth is established.
Sometimes we get into arguments where there isn’t a right or wrong answer–both/and disagreements.
- Is social media good or is social media bad?
- Shall we save or shall we spend?
- Is it better to development or to preservation?
- Action or Reflection
- “You are either with me, or against me!”
- Ford or Chevy
- Liberal or Conservative
It is vitally important that people understand which sort of discussion they are in. When you think you are in an either/or argument, but it’s really a both/and disagreement, you are essentially arguing that inhaling is better than exhaling.
If there is no right answer and people are really passionate about their position, how can we possibly navigate through this minefield?
Barry Johnson has come up with a useful tool he calls it Polarity Management.
Let me use the question, Liberal or Conservative? to illustrate how it works.
I know many people will disagree with me here, but this question has no clear right or wrong answer. It is a both/and discussion that many have made into an either/or argument. I’ve placed the Christian view of this question, as I see it, into Johnson’s Polarity Management model.
The questions we want to address with the model is, “Liberal or Conservative? How can Christians best be the salt of the world?” So in Johnson’s model we put the two neutral terms on the wings. Christ told us to be salt in the world; he told us that we are to season, preserve and heal the world. He also said that if we aren’t salt, we would be cast before swine. Serious stuff. On the model I have placed where we are headed, the “Higher Purpose” above and at the bottom, the “Deeper Fear,” or what lies in the opposite direction of the higher purpose. All Christians, both liberal and conservative, have the same higher purpose and the same deeper fear.
The boxes just above the neutral terms describe the positive side of both options respectively. On the liberal side we have collective responsibility and individual rights. These are good things. When Jesus calls us to be salt, he means that we must do what the law and the prophets have always told us to do: take care of the vulnerable. In Biblical times, this was the stranger, the widow and the orphan. If you translate this into contemporary terms it means we take care of the immigrant, the refugee, and the poor, for they are the vulnerable in our society. This is a Biblical injunction, and if we don’t do it we are in danger of being cast before swine. The reason we take care of the vulnerable is because of the Biblical view of humanity–everyone bears the Image of God. The poor and the refugee are dear to God. For the same reason, Christians ought to be very interested in the protection of individual rights. These liberals principle is, then, biblical; it advocates loving one’s neighbour. The liberal position also takes into account the Fallenness of humanity; they predict we will naturally be selfish and so use government action to ensure that our neighbours are loved.
Conservative ideals are also aimed toward saltiness. Biblically, human freedom is almost as foundational as bearing God’s image, as is individual responsibility. These conservative principles are also based on true understanding of the human condition, we are good, but fallen.
The lower boxes illustrate the “downside” of over-focusing on one pole to the neglect of the other. If we neglect the good that we find in the conservative position we may end up in a bad place–as conservatives are very willing to point out. But if we neglect the liberal ideals we, as Christians, will also lose our saltiness and end up in the eternal pig pen.
What we have, both in the culture at large and in the church, are people on both side of the political spectrum treating the argument as an either/or. Both sides have an equally valid, alternate view of reality. It is obvious to both that they are right which makes the other side wrong. Consequently, problems are not being effectively addressed because to accept the natural solution is to suggest some legitimacy in their opponents position. So they resist. And their resistance is legitimate and they know it.
Both sides have an equally valid, alternate view of reality.
In an either/or argument, clarity is an asset if right is on your side. In a both/and argument, the clearer you are the more resistant will be your opponent because it will be clearer to them that you are missing what’s right in front of you–their reality–and they are not wrong.
For Christians to be salt and light in the political sphere, they will have to abandon rigid adherence to just one side of the political spectrum. They will have to see that there are two legitimate–Biblical–realities at play here. The conservative Christians need to adhere to the positives of the conservatism, but they also need to respond with grace and generousity toward the negatives of the liberal reality, for by doing so, they may gain the benefits of that position. In possession of the strengths of both sides, the Christian impact on the world is potentially far saltier than we currently are.
I am not a Conservatyve because of three books.
Before I get to the books, let me just say that there are a lot of intelligent liberals and conservatives who hold their views because of careful thought and research. I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about cheap imitations. My wife refers to inferior derivations of good things as being “spelled with a ‘y’.” So cheap over-processed cheese, she’d call “cheese spelled with a ‘y’,” as in “cheyse.”
I don’t really like to use the terms “liberal” and “conservative” because they have become caricatures–Lyberil and Conservatyve. When I wrote a post about Why I am not a Liberal, people quite correctly took me to task for mischaracterizing what a liberal is, at least there version of it. The reason that people push back against these labels is exactly the reason I am writing this post–there really is no such thing as a Lyberal or a Conservatyve. The Lyberal exists only in the mind of the conservative, and vice-versa, but scratch beneath the surface and you will find all sorts of gradations. Having said this, I do have my doubts–when I hear what some people write in the comments section of blogs and Facebook posts, I wonder if the caricatures might actually be becoming descriptive.
I don’t know where the truth lies between the extremes on the continuum, but I am confident that for most issues it lies somewhere in between and my instinct tells me it’s usually toward the centre. How do we discover where truth lies? Dialogue is one of the best ways. Sadly in a world of Lyberals and Conservatyves, there can be no dialogue, only diatribe. So this post is an attempt to drag one or two issues toward the centre.
I am not a Conservatyve because of three books.
The first book is the Bible. I believe that the Bible is the world of God. When I read the Bible, Old and New Testaments, I see a pretty clear and consistent message that He wants all people, but especially his chosen ones, to think more about how they can bless other people rather than to grab for money and power so as to gratify their own needs. There are regular injunctions to take care of the poor and, for those in power, to make sure there is justice for the poor. It is also apparent from the Holy Scriptures that God is an environmentalist and that He wishes, in some respects, Americans were more like the French. The Conservatyve seems to be against these things.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck changed my life. It’s about people who are poor. They are poor to begin with, but things get a lot worse when the big banks and big business turn them off the land, leaving them with no means to feed themselves or their families. Beginning with the used-car salesmen who sell them junk vehicles, their journey from Oklahoma to California is filled with people abusing them, ignoring their desperation or taking advantage of their plight. It’s been a long time since I read it so I might have the details wrong, but in one rare act of kindness the family on whose journey the narrative is focused received a bit of beef fat. The mother mixed the rendered fat with flour and made some dumplings. In the context of their desperate condition, this meagre meal was a feast. Ever since, I have never looked at discarded fat, bone and gristle the same way. Importantly, these people were not in this condition because they were lazy, they were in this condition because of vast forces like government policies, climate, geography, economics, and (not insignificantly) human greed and corruption.
I have just finished reading A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. If I hadn’t read The Grapes of Wrath, this novel would have saved me from Conservatysm. The setting of A Fine Balance is India, and it too explores the life of the poor which is not really all that different than that of the Joad family in Steinbeck’s novel. It’s frustrating at times to experience vicariously what it is like to live between hope and despair–with despair usually in the ascendant. Here again, the Conservatyve myth that the poor are poor because they are lazy is shown as the lie that it is.
People are usually poor, for the same reason people are rich–not because they did or didn’t work hard, not because they made good decisions or not, not because they had initiative or not. People are rich or poor because of government policies, climate, geography, economics, and human greed. The only difference between the rich and the poor is into which circumstance one was born.
I found myself responding to these novels in two ways–compassion and gratitude. Conservatyves aren’t very compassionate and that’s because they aren’t very grateful.
These two novels are great works of literature. One of the functions of literature is to broaden and deepen our understanding–I am a Canadian in 2016–I don’t know what it’s like to be poor; I didn’t live in the 1930s, or in India. I get enough of a glimpse of what it might be like through these novels–and they changed me. They move me toward an understanding of others and their lives and, consequently, bring me closer to dialogue.
I don’t think Conservatyves read–or they don’t read the right things.
Please read these books.
There is a lot of evidence for human goodness–we see it in the so called “Olympic Spirit” where individuals dig so deeply to find incredible resources that we all admire. Athletes of different nations come together, despite so many differences (some of them very serious), and show the world that unity might be possible. There are many stories coming out of the Olympics that show the good humanity is capable of, like Justin Wadsworth, a Canadian Coach, who helped Russian skier, Anton Gafarov with his broken ski. Or Gilmore Junio who gave his position in the 1000m event of men’s speed skating to Denny Morrison who fell in the Canadian trials and did not quality.
But each of these athletes must undergo a rigorous regimen of testing because it is certain that some will resort to drugs and sophisticated doping methods to win. Judging scandals are also not uncommon. Cheating is exactly the opposite of what the games stand for, yet we expect it will occur as surely as we are of the Dutch winning a lot of speed skating medals.
Where modern manifestations of liberalism are a little more mixed in their ideas of human nature, classical liberalism has a positive view of human nature. Historically, more liberal political parties, starting from a position of human goodness, would work very hard to eliminate things like poverty and oppression or to promote things like education, for they believed that the evil men do comes from environmental factors.
This is another reason I might not be a liberal, at least not a classic one. I don’t have a lot of faith in human goodness. While environmental factors can certainly play a role, I think people are evil regardless of environment or education. To a large extent I suppose I agree with Hobbes. Not the Calvin’s side-kick, the stuffed tiger, Hobbes. Although these two explored this idea as well . . .
. . . but the philosopher. In his Leviathan (1651), Thomas Hobbes said that without the authority represented by government or any transcendent moral authority, human beings will behave very badly. For Hobbes, the natural state of man, which exists outside the context of society, is one of war. According to Hobbes, all men are essentially equal in their vulnerability and weakness. This natural equality and our conflicting desires result in a state of constant war with our fellow man. He also argues that competition, diffidence and desire for glory are in our nature, as we seek gain, safety and reputation. We, therefore, live in constant fear because we realize that at any moment we can have everything taken from us, including our life. This is a reasonable fear, for Hobbes says that we have a natural right to everything, “even to one another’s body,” but to avoid the constant state of war that would ensue, we create contracts in which we mutually transfer these rights. To ensure that these contracts are performed, a society needs an authority who will compel adherence to the contracts through force or through institutional constraints. We willingly subject ourselves to this authority because it protects us from the state of constant war with others.
Because of humanity’s basic nature, Hobbes says that the “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
OK, I’m not completely in agreement with Hobbes. I believe that human beings are capable of amazing expressions of altruism, but I think our default is to be selfish.
When I look at myself in the best possible light, I find, that even my best behaviour is usually motivated by selfishness in some way. I won’t even begin to talk about those times when I behave badly.
I am not like most liberals because I believe that the Bible is the Word of God and, as such, it’s true and it’s relevant, and it’s also authorative.
But let me say that there are certain parts that I am really uncomfortable with as well.
But, I can’t easily reject them for two reasons.
One reason is past experience. I have frequently misunderstood what the Bible is saying. This is most often the case with the parts that I don’t like. It frequently happens that realize I had been misreading the Bible my whole life. I’ll be reading something or listening to a sermon and I find a beautiful resolution to these puzzling passages.
Take, for example, the problem of hell–how could a loving God send people to hell. That really bugged me for a long time, but then I read C. S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” and saw that God’s role is not so much sending people to hell as allowing people to choose to walk away from him–we were made to be with him, and to not be with him will be hellish. This idea of God allowing human beings to choose is central to the teachings of the Bible (and I might point out, liberal democracies). The problem of hell is still with me, but I’ve discovered enough through reading the Bible and other folks much smarter than I am that it is not necessarily incompatible with a loving God. By the time I got to reading Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, I benefited from his critique on the Christian approach to the idea of hell, without accepting many of his conclusions.
Yesterday I came across another thought in Dr. John Patrick’s keynote from last year’s Apologetics Canada Conference. The idea was this: It’s not too hard to accept that God is both pure Love and pure Justice. Just as it is inconceivable that a loving God allow people to be in hell, it is also just as inconceivable that a just God would allow people into heaven, but nobody argues about that. It is a puzzling paradox, but it makes some sense if God is both living AND just.
There are still passages that are puzzle me, or that I just don’t like. But I am no longer tempted to reject the Bible because of them, because perhaps I am misinterpreting it.
The second reason why I don’t reject the Bible because I don’t like what’s in it is–If the Bible were truly the word of God, then I doubt it would say only things I agreed with. I doubt it would only say the things that citizens of 21st century liberal democracies liked.
If the Bible really were the word of a transcendent God, it is highly doubtful that it would present only those ideas that are palatable us, only here and only now. That wouldn’t make any sense, especially since we keep changing our idea of what is right and wrong/good and evil every few centuries, or decades, or years. I haven’t been on this planet for very long, yet in my mere 50 years I have seen a lot of change. If the Bible perfectly conformed with culture, it would be reasonable to assume that authors of culture were God, and not the ultimate author of the Bible.
One of the arguments in favour of the Bible actually being the word of a transcendent God is that there are parts I am very uncomfortable with.
I understand that a significant barrier to acceptance of the Bible in (some) African cultures is that it demands we forgive each other. In North America, we have no problem forgiveness, but apparently this is as hard for them to accept as, say, sexual constraint is for North Americans.
I think the Bible is true, even though there are some parts that we have a lot of trouble with.
In some cases, we are troubled because we think it’s saying what it actually isn’t. In others, it’s actually putting its finger on an area where the Creator of the Cosmos is telling us we have strayed from the path of righteousness.
The trick is knowing which we are dealing with.
I think this might be the reason I find myself feeling more at home in Canada where, it seems, individualism is softened a bit.
Individualism arises from a particular view of the self–the self is first an individual, and second, a member of a group.
Individualism is not just liberal thing. Both Liberals and Conservatives enthusiastically support the tenets of the liberal democracies, of which personal freedom is one–they just tend to emphasize different ones. The liberals tend to be more interested in political and social freedoms and the conservatives are more insistent on economic ones.
I sometimes catch myself wondering if individual freedoms are the ultimate good, or if there might be some merit to sacrificing some of those freedoms for the common good.
I am not a liberal because I question the primacy of individual political and social freedoms.
My ideas about marriage, for instance, lean toward common good at the expense of individual freedom.
If the self is an ultimately an individual (I don’t think too many liberals would argue that this is pretty central to their beliefs) then the primary purpose of marriage is to serve the needs of the individual–it should contribute to happiness and aid in the flourishing of the individual. If the marriage is no longer achieving this end, then one might legitimately get a divorce and move on.
If the community takes primacy over the individual, then communal flourishing is more important than that of the individual. Under these conditions the purpose of marriage is to benefit the greater community in some way, say, by providing a secure environment for the nurturing of children.
It seems to me that in our culture we are unbalanced toward the side of individualism and showing no sign of moving toward equilibrium. Liberals are not responsible for this shift, but in the area of political and social freedoms, they tend to push that direction.
Abortion, euthanasia, divorce, free speech are complicated issues and many Christians, and other groups who have a more collective mentality, are at odds with those who lean toward the individualist side of the continuum.
Importantly, it is sometimes ones view of the self–whether it is primarily individual or communal–that determines one’s position on these issues and not, simply, ones bigotry or communist leanings.
Paul Tillich wrote that there is a “polar tension” between individuals and community because you can’t have one, without the other. A community needs individuals to challenge the identity of the community in order to keep it alive, and the identity of the individual is derived from the greater community.
I am a little worried that we are in danger of losing the tension.
The main reason I am not a liberal is because liberalism leans toward naturalism. This is not to say that one who identifies with liberalism always rejects a supernatural explanation for anything, but the idea of freedom is so fundamental in liberalism that it often means freedom from most external authority, and this almost always includes the authority of tradition and religion, and often the authority of a transcendent (supernatural) God.
If there is a rejection of all things transcendent, the naturalist liberal will have some difficulty finding an ultimate purpose to life.
This is not to say that they find no purpose to life. Life can have lots of purpose and meaning within naturalism: Enjoying family and friends (and our animal companions), sports and recreation, the arts and culture, seeking beauty and working hard to make the world a better place.
Purpose, is not the same as ultimate purpose. Many naturalists will accept that their philosophy does not offer an ultimate purpose or meaning to life.
Having no ultimate purpose does not mean living in profound despair. Some live with a defiant courage in the face of oblivion. Others embrace humanity’s natural desire for meaning as a bit of a cosmic joke and just delight in the irony of it all. Many focus on the process and not how it’s all going to end; the process can be a lot of fun. Making cookies with a friend can be very meaningful without the final reward of eating the finished product. For the honest naturalist, these and other approaches are preferable to believing in a supernatural source of meaning.
The least acceptable philosophically, but probably the most common way of avoiding existential despair is to borrow meaning from our Christian heritage. Like the neighbour who borrows our leaf blower then stores it in his garage so long he thinks its his.
These “liberal” ideals borrowed from Christianity can include:
Attending to the needs of the sick and the poor,
Taking care of the environment,
Being hospitable to people who are different than we are,
Fighting for justice for the oppressed,
And freedom for the enslaved,
Recognizing dignity and of all human beings.
There really is no philosophical foundation for these ideals in naturalism. This critique of liberalism is not just mine, actually, it’s Nietzsche’s–so if you really disagree with what I am saying, you might want to take it up with him.
One might ask, “If these are Christian ideals, why does it seem like so many Christians oppose them?”
I suggest there are a couple of things going on here.
For one thing, it “seems” as if Christians oppose Christian ideals, but in actuality lots of Christians and Christian organizations work very hard in all these areas. These things don’t receive as much attention as the those, who work contrary to these Biblical ideals, especially if they are religious.
But unfortunately it is not just a misconception. Some Christians are obviously working against what I have called Christian ideals. But, just as there are many naturalists do not live lives consistent with a naturalist worldview, there are many Christians who do not live lives consistent with Christian ideals.
In the first instance I would call it common sense, in the second, sin.