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:


  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

Why we need to “pray away the conservatism”

IMG_8609Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “pray away the gay.” It is used to describe the action religiously conservative people recommend in relation to homosexuality, which they regard as a “choice” rather than a biological part of the human condition.

While there are a few references to homosexuality as a sin in the Bible, they are quite often contextually positioned with a host of other sins that include avarice, greed and other examples of human desires gone out of control. Yet homosexuality remains a favorite target of religious conservatives because it is far less common than uncontrolled greed, which is so common there always seems to be an excuse to justify it as a lifestyle that exists to the benefit of others. In fact one could say there is a strategy to uphold the worship of wealth  because the power  conferred by such appetites is so admired on this earth it seems senseless to tear it down. But that worldview’s is not really the way of God. It just seems like it sometimes.

Contradictory doctrines

These hypocritical excuses for biblically contradictory behavior are essentially institutionalized in the belief system we know as conservatism. Jesus Christ warned against the radical actions of the Pharisees who ran religion in his day. He called them a “brood of vipers” for their attempts to control the lives of others while personally benefitting from their station in life. Jesus reserved genuine anger for these manipulative conservative rulers who turned scripture into law and ran a religious state where religious power-mongering and corruption ruled the day.

And of course the controlling yet hypocritical tendencies of religious and political conservatives continue to vex the world to this day. Yet these modern day Pharisees radically refuse to see themselves in any sort of biblical light when it comes to their desires to impose their visions of moral values on society. It is so interesting to witness, for example, Pope Francis calling even his own church leadership to account for bad behavior. Of course conservative media attack any logic that runs counter to their blathering talking points calling Pope Francis a “radical” when all he’s doing is pointing out what the Gospels really say and advocate.

Contextual conservatism

That is not to say there are no benefits to conservatism as a rule. Where the damage occurs is in the contradictory aspects of the conservative belief system as a religious and political movement, which essentially demands hypocrisy as a foundation of its worldview.

Let’s take a look at why this is so.

The conservative influence on culture

The admirable goals of political conservatism; keeping the powers of government in check, protecting citizens from excessive taxation, maintaining moral certitude as a principle of government, and encouraging free trade and commerce are all noble ideals. 20  At a values level, conservatism prides itself on support of tradition, liberty and love of God and country.

And despite its reputation as a staid element of social structure, conservatism has at times been quite progressive in the manner with which it has pursued its goals. This has been particularly true in using the media to communicate its message.This trend has escalated from the 1980s to the present. As a result, conservatism’s doctrinal approach to seeking power, influencing culture and leading government has attracted many followers.

If you are looking for a single factor in the success of conservatism with the American public, convictions are the political capital of conservatism. Any discussion of politics, social policy or human welfare must contain a healthy dose of “convictions” to be taken seriously by conservatives.

People with strong convictions love clarity. Yet the desire for absolute moral clarity among conservatives can lead to intolerance for other viewpoints and cultural prejudice. This may be one of the principle points at which conservatism contradicts the true message of the Bible. It is difficult for people to have compassion and tolerance for others if they are blinded by a discriminatory fixation on the competing interests of a material, political or personal priority. The missing component of doctrinal conservatism as it relates to Christian beliefs is therefore unqualified compassion. That is a Christian principle advocated by none other than Jesus Christ. Yet it is violated on many fronts, and every day, by those who brand “liberals” and “liberalism” as a sin. 

Manufactured empathy

There have been attempts by the conservatives to manufacture empathy for its political causes through use of terms such as “compassionate conservatism.” But there is little room for compassion in a political movement bent on doctrinal dominance. The fact that a term such as compassionate conservatism even needs to be invented is evidence of the moral contradiction—one might even call it hypocrisy—at the heart of the conservative alliance of fiscal, social, political and religious conservatives.

By definition, hypocrisy means, “a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not.” And, more specifically; “the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.”

Hypocrisy is a strong accusation to make toward any belief system. But the alliance of fiscal, social, political and religious conservatives fits the description in at least one critical sense, and perhaps many. Conservatism as a social movement struggles in particular with its ability to reconcile the market-driven demands of its fiscally conservative constituents with the call to charity and compassion inherent to religious faith and the liberal agenda of Jesus Christ.

Specious terms such as “trickle-down economics” that celebrate the supposed beneficence of the free market show only how cynical some elements of the conservative alliance can be toward those in need. If the most conservatism can manage is the grudging spoils of the rich, then greed remains in control and the collective ideology remains contrary to the liberal agenda of Jesus Christ.

Free market = no free rides

Ardent belief in the free market holds that traditions and institutions are useful only as instruments to create and trade wealth. We see this principle in action in corporate mergers, buyouts and dissolutions. The supposedly Darwinist principle of “survival of the fittest” is alive and well in the market economy. Fiscal conservatives are known to celebrate their brand of social Darwinism with joy and fervor, embracing the idea that “greed is good” and that the pursuit of wealth is the right and responsibility of every individual.

And among strict observers of fiscal conservatism, there is no such thing as a tithe or any moral obligation to share. Wealth is wealth. Those who earn it deserve to keep it. That makes fiscal conservatism the most radical element in the company of conservatism as a movement. True believers face an absolute dichotomy between the Ayn Rand philosophy of personal objectivism (be selfish) and the call of Jesus Christ to love all others above self. What more clear contradiction can there be? 

What the Bible says about wealth

Absolute contradictions enter the picture when conservatism seeks to justify the doctrine of free market conservatism with the liberal agenda of Jesus Christ. In Mark 10:12, we find the story of a rich young man who wants to know what he can do to reach the kingdom of heaven:

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered.  “No one is good––except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

“At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Granted, this passage may be steeped in hyperbole. But this and a good number of other passages (John 2:12-17, Luke 12:22-34, Luke 12:16-23, Matthew 27:3) leave little doubt that pursuit of personal wealth and social advantage are not the top priorities of Jesus Christ.  As Mark 10 suggests, a ministry in the name of Jesus calls for a selfless disregard for wealth as opposed to the “winner-take-all” focus of unbridled capitalism.

Trusting the Bible, not conservatism

If the Bible is to be trusted as a tool for social justice and democracy, then those who borrow its authority must keep in mind the liberal standard at its core. That predicates treating people as equal souls, avoiding discrimination and exploitation and promoting the virtue of charity through actions as well as words. Jesus emphatically calls us to reach out to others with resources that we might normally keep for ourselves. The liberal agenda of Jesus Christ always puts the needs of others first. Otherwise its message is captive to motives that have little to do with the ways of God. 

All told, it appears the priority of Christians should be to pray away the hypocritical aspects of conservatism that have long undermined the real meaning and message of scripture. That’s what Jesus recommended, and that’s what we all should do.

Today’s blog contains excerpts from The Genesis Fix, A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age, a 2007 published book being revised for release in 2015. Christopher Cudworth is the author of The Right Kind of Pride, a book about facing life’s challenges with positivity and hope. 

Ken Ham the Creationist versus Bill Nye the Science Guy proved a lot about how wrong Ken Ham has the Bible

By Christopher Cudworth

Bill Nye listens carefully as Ken Ham makes the claim that the Bible is a better source of fact than material science

Bill Nye listens carefully as Ken Ham makes the claim that the Bible is a better source of fact than material science

It appeared from watching the “debate” between creationist Ken Ham and scientist Bill Nye that Ham wanted desperately to prove science wrong about everything.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the conclusion of the so-called debate. Ham never mustered the ability to answer simple questions that would have proved creationism has any sort of relationship with science. His entire contention rested on the contention that the Bible must be understood “naturally” in order to understand the world. That is, the parts in the Bible Ken Ham judges to be crucial to a literal interpretation of scripture must be abided to the letter. The other parts, such as the “poetry” of Psalms, according to Ham, actually have no real bearing on the role of the Bible as science. Wow. That’s a whopper.

Yet that is the biblical foundation of Ken Ham’s creationist worldview. It begins with a denial of a significant portion of the Bible’s verity. Creationism literally starts with the assertion that not all the Bible can be trusted as fact.

And that’s just the starting point of a confused, frustrating and inaccurate worldview. Ken Ham seems to misunderstand and completely disregard the nature of what Christians call the New Testament. In fact he makes very few references to Jesus in any of his assertions about creation.

He certainly never mentions the methods by which Jesus himself taught by using organic metaphors. In simpler terms, Jesus used symbols from nature to illustrate spiritual principles. That way everyday people could comprehend what he was trying to teach about the nature of God.

But Ken Ham can’t seem to grasp or embrace that style of teaching, about nature, or about science. He prefers instead the literal view of scripture. His motive appears to be focused on leaving no room for interpretation. He is a zealot about that.

Of course that is the very same legalistic approach used by the Pharisees, leaders of the faith in Jesus’ day. He branded them a “brood of vipers” in clear reference to the Genesis depiction of Satan as a serpent.

You don’t have to take that reference literally to get the message. Jesus would not have liked Ken Ham. Jesus would have knocked the Creation Museum to the ground because it is a crass attempt to control the faith and belief of people through legalistic force and deception.

So the truth speaks for itself. Ken Ham is at odds with Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. Ken Ham considers Jesus’ method of teaching with metaphors inferior to his own brand of truth based on narrow interpretations of a book written 2000 years ago, conveyed originally as oral tradition and translated multiple times.

The simpler, more clear understanding that Jesus gave to all those who would listen is not good enough for Ken Ham. Jesus would gladly have accepted the findings of science.

Jesus said God is nature, and nature is God. All things worthy of consideration can be discerned through that simple statement. Anything else is fiction, or worse, a lie about the Word of God. And God is never happy about that.

Why the Catholic Church is quackers on natural law and same sex marriage

Cardinal Francis George, a Chicago-based Catholic bishop, may have had a natural order in mind when writing a letter to his flock of Illinois priests and parishioners stating that same sex marriage violates ‘natural law,’ but his viewpoint actually has little to do with how nature actually works. From the lowliest bacteria up to the supposedly highest life form on earth, the human race, natural law is a far more nuanced and intelligent dynamic than the narrow definition prescribed by Cardinal George.

Tending to the flock

Common Goldeneye ducks in a group of 3 males and one female.

Common Goldeneye ducks in a group of 3 males and one female.

In fact, all Cardinal George has to do on any day of the week to see the real natural order at work is step outside and look for a flock of ducks or geese. They’re everywhere you know; easy to find and even easier to understand. Geese and ducks travel around in flocks. And of course, some geese and ducks pair up and mate for life. We love to romanticize these connections. Yet by looking so closely at the male-female bonds that result in procreation for the species, we essentially neglect the dynamics that lead to the survival of the species as a whole.

No cardinal rules

It is well-known that in nature, pair bonding is hardly sacrosanct. In fact female cardinals have been studied and found to be secretive sluts around nesting time. They better their odds of creating and raising young by getting some action on the side.

Many birds and other species do the same. Breeding is a game of odds and in some cases, a brutal game of dominance and even death. It is important work, getting laid in nature. But it is not the only work that goes on in any population or species.

Flocks and colonies

When you study a flock of ducks or geese, there are always individuals and even groups that do not engage in breeding in a given year. Natural law dictates that not every individual is designed for breeding. Creep on down to the ant colony, the closest thing we have to human society in many respects, and you’ll find that natural law exhibits tremendous creativity in assigning roles to ants that protect the queen and have no sex. Ants that function as hunters, warriors, caregivers and builders of the colony. There are even pet ants, and ants that milk aphids for food.

Prosperity without marriage

There is no legal form of marriage, per se, among ants. Yet they are one of the most prosperous of all creatures on this earth. According to Hyptertextbook.com, they may be the most numerous of all insects, numbering nearly one quadrillion. There are an estimated 3.5 million ants per acre in the tropical rain forest alone. Ants are getting along just fine without legal protections against same-sex marriage. Procreation is not the problem in natural law.

7 billion and counting

There are nearly 7 billion people on earth. Not so many people as ants, perhaps, but that’s plenty of people. Human beings are very good at breeding, both in and out of wedlock. Yet a significant portion of the world seems to be concerned that the human race will go extinct if we break structure with a society that insists breeding is the only reason for marriage.

Not so fast

The Catholic church may have even that part of its theology wrong. The Bible in Genesis 1:28 states, “God blessed the humans by saying to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it! Be masters over the fish in the ocean, the birds that fly, and every living thing that crawls on the earth!”

If Genesis was indeed inspired by God, yet written by humans, then “natural order” naturally favors superiority of the human race. Yet to be “fruitful” also means many other things in the Bible, especially related to good works as documented in Colossians 1:10: That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

Fruitfulness in faith

Being fruitful in this world means more than breeding our way into power and dominance over the earth. The well-adjusted believer recognizes that fruitfulness means to prosper and create the Kingdom of God through humble recognition of grace and to embark on extensive good works as an expression of that commitment to faith.

Dimensions of natural law

The Bible understands natural law in more dimensions than those communicated by Cardinal George, who in seeking to limit legal access to same sex marriage stomps on the manner in which nature and the Bible both deliver wisdom about how the natural order actually operates.

Wrong again?

We should remember that the Catholic Church has been way, way wrong before on the subject of natural order and natural law. The Pope long ago convicted men of truth like Copernicus and Galileo for simply telling the truth about the structure of the universe. That’s a pretty big swing and a miss. The subject of evolution also vexed the church for a time, but it ultimately relented, recognizing the sheer evidence for biological change over time.

Fearful theology redux

The death grip of the Catholic Church may be its own limitation.

The death grip of the Catholic Church may be its own limitation.

Yet here we stand in 2013 listening to a Chicago-based Catholic bishop lecturing us about “natural law” by building his case on a fearful theology that insists the world will collapse if we don’t stick with so-called traditional interpretations of scripture. The Catholic church seeks to retain a death-grip on its social influence, but may be captive to its own aims.

Tellingly, Cardinal George engages in the same sort of twisted legalistic stances that drove the Pharisees to castigate Jesus for allowing his disciples to break with traditions kept by the Jewish faith. That very sort of fear-based power-mongering was what Jesus came to eliminate. Jesus advocated the freedom to worship God without binding believers to a set of laws designed to qualify those same believers as worthy of grace. The Catholic church has never really been able to free itself from the strictures of the early priesthood. There is either form of direct descent from the Pharisees visible in the power structure of the Catholic church or there is convergent evolution at work. And how ironic, that the natural order of a corrupt church could manifest itself repeatedly over time? That is what the Catholic church needs to address.

Desperate purposes

Listen to the arguments of Cardinal George and you’ll find the same desperation in purpose, which is to control the lives of believers and the direction of society at any cost. This is what George said about same-sex marriage: “We will all have to pretend to accept something that is contrary to the common sense of the human race,” he wrote. “Those who continue to distinguish between genuine marital union and same-sex arrangements will be regarded in law as discriminatory, the equivalent of bigots.”

This argument is no longer about natural law at all, but how the Catholic Church and its members will be perceived if it again winds up on the wrong side of history. The Catholic Church is never really good at defending that kind of position. Its brand of serpentine logic, obsessed with reaching every corner of society, always twists around to bite itself in the ass. And that is not natural at all.

Fundamental good

As noted in a Chicago Tribune article on January 2, 2013, “in the tradition of natural law, every human being must seek a fundamental “good” that corresponds to the natural order to flourish. Natural-law proponents say heterosexual intercourse between a married man and a woman serves two intertwined good purposes: to procreate and to express a deep, abiding love. For that reason, they say, homosexual relationships are not equal to heterosexual ones.”

One can see the reason why Cardinal George cites natural law as the foundation of his argument against same-sex marriage. But truthfully, the reason the church turns to natural law for support has nothing to do with its inherent or intuitive knowledge of natural order––on which it has been grossly and repeatedly mistaken over time–– so much as it fears its own lack of eminence on any biblical or social issue. That is the worst fear of the Catholic church, because it fears it will have failed Jesus Christ in its mission.

Fear: the worst motivator

Yet this fear of admitting wrong in its actions and theology has plagued the Catholic church for years, which protects its authority against all threats, even those that come from within.

The social record of the Catholic church lacks credibility from the inside out, because it has proven itself to be the most insecure of all faiths, failing even in its mission to protect its own parishioners against priests engaging in child sexual abuse.

That “tradition” within the church deserves castigation because those “relationships” between priests and innocent children are not elective in any form, but are the product of an abusive and selfish dynamic where the power is clearly in the hands of one individual only.

The peace and goodwill of same-sex marriage

By contrast, same-sex relationships are consistently consensual and designed, dare we say, to provide support and social order for people who are homosexual, bisexual, transgender and whatever configuration nature deems to invent, and has. That is the real natural order of the universe. The Bible is not even clear on the topic of homosexuality save for a passage or two blown far out of proportion by religious bigots who simultaneously ignore hundreds of warnings against abuse of power, exploitation of the poor, pursuit of riches over good works, failure to forgive and dozens of other values expressly addressed by Jesus Christ, who significantly refuses to mention homosexuality anywhere in his ministry.

Selective service

The Catholic Church conveniently ignores these nuances to serve its own argument for control over the social fabric of the world. But in so doing, it neglects the real diversity of natural law, which is fruitfulness of spirit and prosperity of kind. That is what God wants for the world. That is what Christianity should advocate, and what our nation and state should support in laws of equality for all, with no exceptions. Because anything else is just quackers.