It’s a constant debate: Liberals versus conservatives. And it all breaks down to simple beliefs.
This is how the sayings go when it comes to discussing politics in America.
Liberals are anxious about everything. They worry about global warming. Civil rights. And offending someone. God Forbid.
Conservatives are fearful about everything. Terrorism striking close to home. Living without guns. Being politically correct. God Forbid.
How fascinating it truly is that liberals worry about the world while conservatives fret that it is out to get them? How can two such similar traits drive people so far apart?
For starters, conservatives seem to believe that most liberal worries are made up. That’s the real nature of anxiety, right? It’s defined as imagining the worst when things are really not all that bad.
In a similar way, liberals consider conservatives obsessive about their fears or prejudices. Conservatives are always bemoaning the decay of society or predicting the end of the world as we know it.
Thus, the two parties circle each other warily and angrily. Both claim they’re right about the other and seek to demean the corresponding anxieties and fears on the Left and the Right.
The End of the World
But there are connections. For example, liberals tend to think that if the world is coming to an end, it will be through environmental means. That’s why global warming is a concern, along with species extinction.
Meanwhile, religious conservatives (and by dint of Big Tent Politics, many other brands of Republican conservatives) tend to depict the end of the world through a theological lens. The coming Apocalypse. Armageddon. The End Times. Left Behind. The Rapture.
The Second Coming
That mindset colloquially embraces the idea of the Second Coming of Jesus and the idea that the Old World in which we now live will be replaced by an entirely better New World that will come about through some sort of heavenly means. Even Muslims believe that’s the fate of the world.
And of course, there is considerable speculation on where all that will start, and whether we should fear the day or bid it welcome news. The general thinking on the topic is that the Middle East will be the site of a great war between the forces of good and evil. For many years it was the Jews that were the potential focus of all this heavenly rage. Lately it appears to be the Muslims, whom many conservative religious thinkers blame for the woes of the world.
How ironic it is that the Muslim faith actually looks forward to the coming of Jesus Christ as well. They don’t buy the idea that Christ was ever crucified, but was instead zapped up to heaven by God outside the parameters of the Christian narrative. It’s a little vague of course, as most things in the Quran seem to be in terms of interpretive or predictive value, but this is what the Quran says: “And there is none of the people of the Book but must believe in Him before his death, and on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them.”[Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 159] Allah also says about Jesus in the Qur’ân: “And he shall be a sign of the Hour. Therefore have no doubt about the Hour, but follow Me. That is the straight path.” [Sûrah al-Zukhruf: 61].
If you stop and think about the fact that conservative Christians and conservative Muslims all look forward to the coming of Christ on the Judgement Day, it’s a pathetic fact that what people are fighting (or quibbling) about is what path this supposed course took in the path and how it will ostensibly transpire in the future.
Owning the narrative
All sides of this argument, including Sunni and Shi’a sects on the Muslim side, as well as Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and all other forms of conservative Christian faith oas well seem willing to fight to the death over which narrative is chosen to decide how the world will end, and who might survive. Then we throw in the Jews, who get it from both sides of this great battle, and that pretty much explains fears over the Middle East “situation” in a nutshell. And it’s a fearful, angry, vicious batch of insanity.
And conservatives on every side just love it. Because it allows them to grab hold of all sorts of other controls in life. That includes social and political laws, and fiscal regulations. Everyone is afraid some other sect or religious worldview will get the upper hand.
Of course not all those who abide by conservative philosophy or identify as fiscal or political conservatives share these religious worldviews. But they can no longer escape the association because the conservative alliance initiated in the Falwell/Reagan era. That’s when the religious and economic “revolution” originally fused the language of triumph into a giant political zygote of social, political, religious and fiscal conservatives. Now the product of this marriage has emerged like a freak of nature, and his name is Donald Trump.
Liberals get their freak on
Like the tale of Benjamin Button, in which a man is born old and grows young over time, the Democratic side of freak births produced Bernie Sanders. His ardent gesticulations and socialist contentions have been discomfiting to those who just want a normal, somewhat liberal candidate to run for President. His supporters freak out at the idea of supporting Hillary Clinton if and when the Bern fizzles out. It’s a bit like a backcountry family feud, both ugly and beautiful in its unsophisticated way.
it is interesting to note that both conservatives and Christians lay claim to the authority of scripture. Conservatives side with the traditions and triumphs of the church while liberals share the heart of scripture and the ministry of tolerance advocated by Jesus. These simple differences may be responsible for the entire liberal versus conservative divide. We only wish these differences could be determined through dialectic, a term described as “a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments.” Instead all we seem to achieve is emotional arguments for one side or the other.
Back to the Future
Some of these debates over conservative versus liberal interpretations of scripture go back to the very formative years of what we now call Christianity. That’s when a Jew named Yeshua (better known as Jesus) debated vigorously with the Pharisees and others over their efforts to turn scripture into law. Jesus chastised the priests and tried to liberate the Jewish faith from its own strictures. But it didn’t really work. So the followers of Jesus started their own gig. And it’s been a Back to the Future movie ever since.
Some Christians never learned the lesson Jesus was trying to convey. They still behave like the priests Jesus tried to change. These are the conservatives of today. They side with political power because it feels like the best way to exact the philosophies of Christianity on the world. This is the Back to the Future plot we are now viewing.
The fortress of belief
Conservatism views the faith as a literal temple, a fortress of belief or a city to be defended or taken over by force if necessary. They Bible is one such fortress, and must be read as if it were a pile of stones placed one upon the other. Take out one stone and the entire structure may fall.
Liberalism takes a more modular view of what faith is about. Its interpretation of the bible is more about its transportable qualities. In that sense, liberalism is more like a nomadic tent community. It can wander the desert and be happy in the company of God. This is more like what Jesus professed. The structure of his ministry and how the disciples came to view the temple of God was centered on the idea that God is with you wherever you go.
Now we can understand why conservatives consider the Crusades so important. Their objective to evict Muslims from Jerusalem was based on the belief that God needed (or deserved) a place to live. Tradition demanded that Jerusalem be under Christian guard. The Holy City and the Temple had been there. What more was there to understand?
In this day and age there are supporters of Israel who abide by these same standards. It’s still about the Holy City and the Holy State of Israel. This is called Zionism, “political support for the creation and development of a Jewish homeland in Israel.”
Mess of beliefs
It’s a bit of an archaic notion, and a contradictory one at that, when Christians and Jews align to create and protect an Israeli homeland. The two faith traditions don’t even believe in the same thing. One accepts Jesus. The other does not. Meanwhile Muslims look forward to the return of Jesus while the Jews think the Messiah is yet to appear. It’s all a very confused mess if you really consider it. Yet the Crusades in the Middle East continue to this day and even the most informed people have lost track of what it is all about. The fighting now is about rallying the troops and never losing. Not at any cost.
Feeding worries and fears
The shared tactic of conservatism and liberalism is to consistently expound upon worries or fears about what is surely about to happen.
For conservatives, the list is long. The economy is about to collapse. Society is in moral decay. Terrorism is going to end our Way of Life. The Rapture is right around the corner. These are the go-to themes whenever conservatism fails on some, or many, fronts.
Meanwhile, liberals are busy wringing their hands in anxiety over environmental cataclysm and the collapse of civil rights due to prejudice and authoritarian rule by a select minority.
Beyond being afraid
The fact that both anxieties and fears align with the general belief that things could get far worse before they get better is telling. Isn’t there some way these two belief systems can come to a common ground?
The secret hides in how people on both sides of the philosophical debate define the idea of a “new world.”
For liberals or humanists, that would be world in which people actually collaborate to solve problems. This philosophy was effectively captured in the song Imagine by John Lennon:
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world
There’s a lot of Jesus philosophy in that very humanist set of lyrics. But the opening lyrics to the song would be of great offense to those who view the temple of God as real place.
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
But if we focus on the idea that Jesus wanted the Kingdom of God to be real here on earth, and that the Bible advocates the idea that a New World will someday be created on earth, there is a great source of convergence going on in those humanist lyrics by John Lennon and the soul of the ministry of Jesus.
That is, God wants us to create this New World for ourselves. In fact, the Second Coming of Christ may be our responsibility to initiate. Not through war and Armageddon, but through love and all the good works of respect and trust and ministry we extend to others.
That is the true convergence of conservative and liberal ideologies. It also assuages worries and removes fears. Because a world where people genuinely care about each other and dispel differences rather than turning them into definitions of “the other” truly is the Kingdom of God.
And that’s the point at which both conservatism and liberalism as social, political, fiscal and religious constructs will cease to be.
Christopher Cudworth is author of The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age. It centers on how biblical literalism affects politics, culture and the environment. Originally published in 2007, it is being edited for re-release on Amazon.com.