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Christians Can’t Simply Be Conservative

In False Dichotomies - the lines between, Rants, Why I am not a "Liberal" or "Conservative" on October 4, 2016 at 5:12 pm

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.

For instance:

  • 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.

polariz1The 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.

Why I Am Not a Liberal

In False Dichotomies - the lines between, Why I am not a "Liberal" or "Conservative" on January 25, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Liberal or ConservativeThe 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?”

Good question.

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.