Where is the real common ground between liberalism and conservatism?

photoThe feedback one gets when commenting as a liberal on social media covers a contradictory spectrum. Either people blame liberal worldviews on an accident of thought (or afterthought) or else accuse such thinkers as having some kind of marginalized, crazily zealous outlook that does not comprehend how the world really works.

The word “liberal” is also used as an insult in such cases. Which is very strange if you actually slow down to think about it. The definition of liberalism almost seems like a foundational value for the American form of democracy laid out in the United States Constitution:

Liberalism: 

  1. progressive views: a belief in tolerance and gradual reform in moral, religious, or political matters
  2. political theory stressing individualism: a political ideology with its beginnings in western Europe that rejects authoritarian government and defends freedom of speech, association, and religion, and the right to own property
  3. free-market economics: an economic theory in favor of free competition and minimal government regulation

That’s like a checklist of American history and American values. So why do so many so-called conservative thinkers claim to hate liberals and liberalism?

There are quite simply explanations actually. The first-rate measure of any hard-line conservative is to have convictions from which you do not back down. But the ironically common ground here is that liberals have quite strong convictions as well. It is understanding the common roots of those convictions that holds the most potential for collaboration on important issues.

For example, despite accusations that most liberals are socialist or communist, liberalism (check the definition above…) most genuinely aligns with free enterprise than any social or economic theory that says change is not good.

Consider the definitions of conservatism as a value system if you do not agree:

  • con·ser·va·tism
  1. reluctance to accept change: unwillingness or slowness to accept change or new ideas
  2. right-wing political viewpoint: a right-of-center political philosophy based on a tendency to support gradual rather than abrupt change and to preserve the status quo
  3. desire to preserve current societal structure: an ideology that views the existing form of society as worthy of preservation.

None of these values really align with a free market philosophy that says change is good at whatever rate it occurs. That’s a bit of cognitive dissonance on the part of conservatives. Yet we also find cognitive dissonance among liberals. Consider the following examples of parallels in cognitive dissonance between liberals and conservatives:

1. If the reluctance to accept change is a hallmark of conservatism, so is the reluctance to deny change a hallmark among liberals who think social justice is being compromised by the status quo.

Common ground? It is the appeal of individual rights and freedoms that forms common ground between conservatives and liberals.

2. Liberals frequently advocate change for the sake of change, no matter how rapid or gradual, as a sign of a progressive society. Conservatives find this to be a meddling worldview, especially when government is involved. And yet the American government was formed to foment and manage change. So which is it?

Common ground: If anything in this world holds true, it is that change occurs whether we want it to or not. It is the imposition of change on social standards that most offends conservatives. So we need to find shared examples of healthy moral change that conservatives and liberals can share as a tradition. These might include the changes wrought when Jesus confronted religious leaders in his day with a new message of faith founded on grace and salvation over law. That same message needed to be reiterated with the advent of Protestantism through Martin Luther and others. Each of these examples demonstrate that both liberals and conservatives have trouble conceiving the real meaning of change and from where it emanates. Even traditional institutions have need of real change.

3. Conservatives love to claim ownership of the free market economy, but it is often true that the free market destroys as much as it creates. That includes many traditional institutions. Common ground: Liberals and conservatives can engage on which elements of society are “worthy of preservation” as outlined in both conservative and liberal ideology. This holds true across a number of fronts; economic, social, environmental and political.

And thus we have it: the real common ground between liberals and conservatives is in this single word: preservation. Of that which is good, including individual freedom and social tolerance. Of that which is prosperous, which includes stewardship as well as progress. Of that which is traditional, because all worldviews have traditions and many originate from the same stories of creation and good books.

The real challenge in all this is to identify and call out cognitive dissonance wherever it occurs. That is, the accusations made by one party against another are often simple ploys to hide the own worst flaws within each of us.

No lack of discipline on either side

The claims against liberals that they are undisciplined in their thinking and lack convictions ignores the fact that genuine liberalism requires real and honest work in terms of thought and belief. Jesus, for example, required much from his disciples while learning the meaning of his ministry.

As a rule, Jesus taught using parables that were metaphors for the true kingdom of God. He grew frustrated when his closest friends and supporters failed to grasp this methodology and missed the point of his teachings as a result. His liberalism actually served as an important tool and access point for the conservative goal of salvation.

No leadership without questioning

Jesus also castigated the conservative religious leaders of his day for accusing him of being too liberal with his behavior and his associations. But those same accusations came from Jesus’ own family and the liberal camp of admirers who loved his welcoming message but also wanted him to become an earthly king. They were disappointed when it did not look like that was going to happen.

So it’s a pretty incredible thing to realize how closely conservatives and liberals lie in this process of cognitive dissonance, and how its revelations illustrate how closely we all operate in the real world.

Failing to try to understand and accept the good things in another is the very thing God calls us to avoid. The real kingdom of God, including all faiths and all belief systems, is about finding and supporting common ground here in this world so that good will can be done “here on earth, as it is in heaven.”

Yet his ultimate method was patience. That is the common ground of Christ, and always that

Who are my mother and brothers?

Mark 3:33 New International Version (NIV) 33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

By Christopher Cudworth

It is not often preached from the pulpit that Jesus so profoundly emphasized the isolation of the human condition. In 50 years of cognizant Christian worship, I have not heard this isolation emphasized with much clarity or conviction. It is too lonely a piece of scripture upon which to focus. It can frighten believers and frighten away possible converts.

The power to stand alone is important, but not the point of Christianity.

The power to stand alone is important, but not the point of Christianity.

Yet the Bible clearly shows that Jesus, and God especially, want us to know that to be human is ultimately to be alone.

Part of the plan?

Of course that is what Christian fellowship is designed to conquer. And the Kingdom of God is created here on earth to prevent this form of isolation. From others. Even from oneself.

Yet the undeniable message of Mark 3:33 is this: Even your family and friends can and will let you down. God alone is the ultimate solace.

This isolating message is likely ignored in the Christian church because it flies too near the methods used by cults to trap people into wicked devotion. The famously devious method of some network marketing organizations is to have you try to sell and recruit your friends into the organization. But people are repelled by such efforts. Those who see the folly and the scam are legitimately repulsed. Yet a desperate soul often tarries on, convinced perhaps of possible wealth if only friends and family really understood the potential in the scheme.

The ultimate effect of network marketing schemes is that they can divest people of their human network. Then the “organization” or whatever you want to call it (some call it “my business”) has you dead to rights. Because once you have scared off your friends and family, the network marketing organization (or a cult) sets out to replace that network with whatever they tell you is vital and true.

Who are my mother and my brothers? 

How does that compare to Christianity? To the example set by Jesus in saying, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

We can take another example from the Bible to examine the issue of isolation. Just before he was taken into captivity by a calculating band of priests from the very faith he had come to fulfill, Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.

Mark 14:32
Gethsemane ] They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”

Of course we know how that segment of the story comes out. His disciples, who are depicted in the Bible as often failing in tasks of devotion and understanding, cannot stay awake while Jesus goes to pray. They fall asleep and when Jesus returns, having prayed to understand the very life he would soon give away as redemption for all, finds his devoted friends asleep on the job.

The deeper meaning of disappointment

It happens often to all of us. People disappoint us. We disappoint other people. And look at the word structure of that word, “disappoint.” To dis-appoint is to disassociate, or to send away either by intent or by mistake.

Jesus tries to warn us that disappointment is a big part of the human condition. Our failures are characterized by many as our sins, or our almost predestined capacity to sin.

Sin is the ultimate isolation from God. It is what separated the proverbial Adam and Eve from God in the Garden of Eden. Another garden. Another time. The garden is supposed to be a place of consideration and worship, our connection to stewardship and creation. And yet here we have two biting examples in the Bible where a garden is a rife example of disappointment. God disappointed in Adam and Eve. Jesus disappointed in his disciples.

And what are we to make of the idea that the world can be such a disappointing place?

Friendship and fellowship

This message seems to run counter from the idea that our fellowship here on earth can be a salve for the soul. Well, it is not wise to give up on friendship and love so easily, now is it? Our relationships are clearly of great value in this world. Love is built around and in them. Our families are designed, both in faith and through nature, to be a sustaining force in this world. The friends we gather around us and trust are people in whom we find joy and support.

None of those truths is undermined by the example Jesus makes in both his statement about his mother and brothers or his disappointment in his disciples. Jesus is master not only of this world in the spiritual sense, but also of necessary hyperbole. His teachings are full of striking examples that cut through our perceptions of what human relationships really are, and what they offer.

Salvation

Our disappointment is our salvation, you see. Friends and family can and do disappoint us, just as we sometimes disappoint them. It is the isolating nature of the human condition to disappoint those we need and love the most.

But the real message of disappointment and resultant isolation is that God provides a model of unifying faith. Because to love is to forgive, even when our friends and family doubt in us, and disappoint. We trust in God because God trusts in us to make choices that reach across that disappointment to heal and forgive. God even asks us to love our enemies. That is a potent message if you want to understand the true “way of the world” through the eyes of God. You cannot ultimately conquer disappointment and isolation if you do not choose to love. You will be alone if you choose not to forgive, or fail in your devotion to a friend.

Yet when hurt comes calling, our natural tendency is to withdraw, pull back, and feel disappointment. We feel it so keenly we can begin to hate. Then we begin to seek targets for our hate because it becomes part of our nature. We look for the disadvantaged and the weak because in our own weakness and fear we want only to feel superior to others, somehow, so that we do not feel put down or pushed away from life itself.

The dangers of prejudice

Those are the foundations of prejudice of course. And of economic inequality, and caring not for the poor. We find the wealthiest among us susceptible to this isolating force of the “other.” Often that sense of disgust toward those we consider inferior becomes magnifying the more life seems to dispense fortune upon us.

Jesus recognized all this potential for prejudice, power and loss of imagination. Because imagining ourselves to be superior to others in any way is the ultimate sin, at least in the eyes of God. That is why Jesus told the wealthy to give away their riches and follow him. That is why it is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to gain entrance to heaven. Wealth can be an isolating force.

It can, of course, also be an instrument for good. We see many examples of people who use their wealth for good. Even the robber barons of the early 20th century, who built monopolies and wealth beyond imagination through industry did turn around and do great things with their money. Carnegie. Rockefeller. The list goes on, and continues to this day.

So it is not wealth alone that is a sin, but wealth in some way that combines with isolation that God does not appreciate. Jesus broke through social strata and perceptions that people who were disadvantaged or different were somehow victims of their own sin. He also forcefully resisted the practice by priests of his day (and ever after, it seems) to turn scripture into laws that trap and hurt others. Jesus did not tolerate using God’s word for punishment and isolation. He would definitely not approve of the manner in which so many supposed Christians  use scripture to create false social and economic strata today. The practice of using literalism to ostracize gays and women, for example, is abhorrent by nature to Jesus. The idea that the Bible is somehow a scientific text would also be absurd to Jesus, who taught in organic parables using examples from nature to teach spiritual concepts. Jesus was no literalist. He was no fool, in other words. Jesus disliked the actions of fools like that.

And what do we find as a result of such actions today? An increasingly divided faith, in Christianity. It has been that way since the start, it seems, where zealots who wanted a literal earthly kingdom ruled by Jesus were “disappointed” to find that his kingdom was one of spirit, not earthly wealth and power.

The many kinds of wealth, and corruption

Wealth is relative, of course. One of the catchiest devices of certain political parties is to figure out how to make people feel like they have ownership or a stake in the result of an election simply by making people feel like they will “win” somehow if they cast their vote in favor of the party making the promises. Of course, people can often be found voting against their best interests, be they economic or even spiritual, and voting on a one-issue platform that hands over power to people who pretend to care but really do not.

So we see that it is at times the power of isolating people from their best interests that is the most powerful political tool of all. Politics is the ultimate form of network marketing. It is the cult of all human cults.

Cutting through the lies

Jesus cut through the lies to make us understand that disappointment and fear of isolation is our worst enemy. Yet he calls us to stand alone first, to accept and understand that with the love of God, the grace of acceptance, we are never alone.

So have the courage to stand alone, and not be disappointed to the point of isolation when your friends or family fail you, or your work environment seems poison, or the very church that you attend turns out to be a flawed human enterprise. All these things are to be expected. Jesus and God want us not to be surprised by events like these.

Yes, we can still love the world, our friends and ourselves if we understand that the kingdom of God is made from the commitment to love and forgive. Then we will find and know our mother and our brothers, our sisters and our friends. They will be drawn to us by our humility and our example of faith. That is how it is all supposed to work.

The Godly storm of consternation on Republican losses

Did Republican wishes get blown away by God? Painting by Christopher Cudworth

For more than 15 years, my writing partner (www.werunandride.wordpress.com) Monte Wehrkamp and I have exchanged emails over politics, religion and modern culture.

We talked our way through 8 years of a Bush Presidency that shot forth religious triumphalism whenever it did anything, good or bad, on America’s behalf. You could almost feel America sag under the weight of those heavy claims.

Patriot Preachers

Over the years we’ve listened to various TV preachers complain about the supposed downfall of America and the many publicly laments about its causes, especially those they judge to be morally reprehensible. The Reverend Jerry Falwell and the Reverend Pat Robertson in their prime moments have both claimed to be the mouthpiece of God on matters of religious consternation such as abortion, gay rights and evolution, to name a few. These issues they indict as signs of a morally depraved society, therefore deserving of a good whack on the coast by a hurricane sent from God, or an earthquake or two.

 

Does it work both ways? 

So let’s take them at their word, for a moment, and suppose that God really does use natural disasters to correct moral wrongs in a nation. Who has he thwarted most profoundly, and most recently? Here was my friend Monte’s take on the situation, sent to me via email this past Friday:

“There’s a lot of handwringing going on by Republicans, wondering how it was they lost an election they so thought they were going to win.

Some think Romney did a poor job of letting us get to know him, the person. There have been the typical accusations of Liberal media bias by everyone besides Fox News. Then of course the blame might lie in the conflicting messages regarding immigration, reproductive rights, gender equality, and homosexual unions, and what Americans make of the Republican position on those issues. 

But I think the reason for the Romney loss may be more obvious than that. To the party the tries to embrace “God” more than the Democrats (and heck, even the Taliban, for that matter), I would like to suggest that God, Hissownself, is the reason Romney lost.

Do not forget that the Republican Convention was washed out in the early days by a hurricane named Isaac, who rose from the sea and flooded asunder the introduction of Romney, the candidate. The subsequent rearranging of the program for the TV audience meant the highlight of the convention fell upon a senile, rambling, incoherent, spaghetti western actor talking to an empty chair. That certainly sounded like an act of God. Or someone talking to God. Only God did not appear to be listening. 

And then, during the critical election period, another hurricane – nay, a super-frankenstorm  named Sandy roared up the coast and threw fury and water upon all those Republicans who would have cast votes for Romney, were they not cowering in shelters or their homes.

So in the beginning, and at the end, God’s wrath upon Republicans was evident. He sent the Holy Spirit in the form of Isaac and Sandy to do His bidding, and that was to secure President Obama’s second term. Oh, and keep a Democratic majority in the Senate. Knock off a couple House seats as well.

The Republicans should stop for a moment and think about that. I await Pat Robertson’s comments regarding God’s wrath upon the Republicans and why God has felt it necessary to choose a black, socialist Muslim from Kenya over the all-American, magic-underweared, private schooled, Bain Capitalized, Wall Street annointed, 5-point-planned, Tea-Party vetted former Governor, Mitt Romney?”

Good questions all. The answers don’t seem to be clear even to the supposedly God-fearing announcers on Fox News, who certainly appeared like they’d seen a Holy Ghost of some sort when their own station called the race for Obama. Shock and Awe came home to roost.

God beats the crap out of Karl Rove

Karl Rove seemed the most stunned of all, as if the nickname Turd Blossom given to him by former President George W. Bush has literally come true, right there in his pants. Rove spouted excuses like diarrhea, a political scoundrel exposed by the prodigious amounts of closeted money he spent to win the election, only to lose to big, and lose often. And what did Rove have to say about Hurricane Sandy?  To quote the Turd Blossom himself, this is what he said:

“The president was also lucky. This time, the October surprise was not a dirty trick but an act of God. Hurricane Sandy interrupted Mr. Romney’s momentum and allowed Mr. Obama to look presidential and bipartisan.”

Even the candidate himself, Mitt Romney, a devout man by all reports, seemed confounded by God’s abandonment of his campaign in his hour of need. As a story on thinkprogress.org shared, “Mitt Romney reportedly told donors at a Wednesday breakfast that Hurricane Sandy hurt his momentum.”

Thinkprogress.org also reports that MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews also credited the storm with “possibilities for good politics,” though he later apologized.

Rove and Romney never went quite so far as to suggest that the so-called ‘act of God’ in Hurricane Sandy was in fact intentional. But by the line of reasoning given by so many other Republican leaders claiming that God is on their side, perhaps nothing the Republicans could have done would have helped them win this election. The handprints of God Himself were all over this race, dumping buckets of rain and throwing gale-force winds at everything the Republicans did.

Getting real

Honestly, none of us rational types really thinks God threw those storms at the Republicans. A mature faith knows that it is our response and support for each other in the face of such threats that truly defines the kingdom of God. What we witnessed instead was the will of an American people suspicious and fed up with  the false righteousness of Republicans convinced they can do no wrong. Because the Romney campaign barely disguised the fact that they would double down on the policies implemented by George W. Bush, tossing our weight and defense budget around in foreign policy while gutting the help and human services of domestic policies back home. Everyone sensed that this was a far worse prescription for disaster than the organization challenges of figuring out how our health care system can work more compassionately and efficiently. That and taxing the rich were the only two things the Republicans had to complain about leading up to November 6, 2012. They knew in their guts their own policies were the cause for the Great Recession and resultant slow growth of the economy.

So it really was like God calling their bluff on the Big Lie that Republicans offered the better alternative. Sorry GOP boys and girls. You were not David to Obama’s Goliath. More like Noah being puked out of the whale. You have not learned your lesson yet. Your skin is still bleached white and you have to learn to pay attention to God’s real orders, like loving your enemies, before you’ll be allowed to inherit the kingdom of God here on earth. Which you call America.

It certainly is interesting to note from a biblical perspective that very few Republicans have offered to don the sackcloth and engage in real repentance before the Old Testament God they like to enlist whenever it suits their political aims. Taken at their own word, it would appear that the latter day Republicans only believe in a God of justice when that God abides by their politically selfish desires.

But as they recently learned, that kind of God is tough to rely upon. Especially in an election year.