I don’t think I’ve ever written down the basis of my religiopolitical conversion, at least not in succinct form …
My conservative worldview came to an end in 1994. Why? I enrolled in seminary and began studying scripture. My transforming realization:
The primary goal of conservatism is to preserve the status quo
(e.g., ensure rich stay rich, poor stay poor, and powerful stay in power)
A primary goal of God in scripture is to turn the status quo upside down
(a Bible theme start to finish, stated most famously by Jesus as “The last shall be first, and the first last”)
These goals represent opposite destinations. Hence, I infer that the conservative road and the kingdom road don’t ever converge.
Soon thereafter I had my own Damascus Road experience, wherein I was confronted head on, I believe, by the Holy Spirit, who said (paraphrasing):
It is not for nothing I am called “the liberating Spirit.”
Liberating people — setting them free — is what I do.
It is not for nothing that the root verb for what I do, to liberate,
is also the root verb of the word liberal.
You therefore know where my heart is.
And I have been a liberal Christian ever since.
Nothing is ever as simple as labels imply, conservative and liberal included. However:
- Night, while not always dark, tends toward darkness.
- Day, while not always sunny, tends toward light.
Look for trends in the cloud of variables.
Are night and day meaningless labels? Or reasonable (if imperfect) descriptions of trends?
Similarly, I assert that
Conservatism, while not always destructive, tends toward destructive outcomes
in part because of its adherents’ tendency to believe that ends justify means, a belief that invites immoral behavior. [I wrote about this phenomenon in ^EJM.] I see nearly every outcome emanating from the last six years of conservative stranglehold in the U.S. as supporting this assertion.
Liberalism, while not always constructive, tends toward constructive outcomes
in part because the verb to liberate often explicitly informs and undergirds its adherents’ motives
Conservative and liberal, while indeed labels and therefore imperfect, I think do reasonably describe trends.
So. Is this revelation true across the board, equally applicable for everyone? I’m not certain.
Does it shape every aspect of my thinking? To the uttermost.
2006-07-01 update: I’m pulling the first two comments to this entry into its body because I think they’re an important illustration of the (mis)understanding of conservative adherents.
Commenter Phinster writes:
Phinster: Brother, co[n]servatism seeks not to preserve the status quo, but to cultivate the individual’s spirit and allow each to actualize their own God given potential. Conservativism means (con-with) (serv)to be servant to your fellow man. Man’s purpose is to actualize their own perfect creation in our Creator’s own image.
To which I reply:
Mike: Phinster, I understand the idealism of your assertions, as I am an idealist myself, but the dictionary disagrees with you:
1. The inclination, especially in politics, to maintain the existing or traditional order.
2. A political philosophy or attitude emphasizing respect for traditional institutions, distrust of government activism, and opposition to sudden change in the established order. …
Building an argument for conservatism on your definition, which is roughly the opposite of what the word means, doesn’t work very well; it brings to mind Jesus’ warning about the foolishness of “building one’s house on sand.”
Conservative thought’s valuing of the individual isn’t as God values individuals; it instead extols individualism, which sets one individual against the other. [This tendency manifests collectively as “us vs. them,” a stance that characterizes Bush’s America yet is antithetical to the Gospel.] Hence in practice conservatism offers very little “serving with” and quite a lot of “ruling with (others like me)” and its corresponding “ruling over (others not like me).”
I agree that actualizing our potential as bearers of the Imago Dei is indeed our highest calling. But conservatism as I’ve witnessed it is not built to get us there.
Dean divides conservatives into “the good, the bad, and the evil.” Then he explains the bad and the evil for the possible benefit of the good. I applaud this, and want to draw this kind of distinction, too, instead of lumping all together. But I’m not yet able: all I can do is divide conservatives into “the punch, the turd, and the radioactive bowl.” I’m sure the punch is delicious, but its proximity to the [turd and the depleted uranium] makes me no longer thirsty.