Sunday, December 04, 2011

"Top 10 Liberal Hypocrisies" Considered (1): Definitions of "liberal" and "conservative"

I'm sometimes told that I'm a "lightning rod."  I do seem to be able to create discussion ex nihilo, more or less.  I've posted Bible verses that started arguments, for crying out loud!  So, I do have my critics, and now and then some of them like to send me pieces that they think will convert me from my evil "liberal" ways to good Christian conservatism.  I read these, and I think about them.  The one I'm going to consider here in a series of posts was actually sent to me by my wife who over the years has started to consider me a little less crazy than she used to do.  (Or so I think; the truth is that I've become more "lefty" over the years.)  She saw this posted on Fb a few times so for some strange reason decided I should see it.

Now, I don't know the author, but the piece is posted on a site called "The Patriot Update: A Free Press for the Conservative Revolution."  You can read it all in one piece there if you like.  I'm going to post it in smaller chunks as I consider each of its alleged discoveries of hypocrisy in order.  This is the first installment.

Some initial clarification is in order.

First, I don't consider myself a liberal at all.  I know a lot of people see me as one, but I've written about this before.  Philosophically I'm a conservative.  I'm going to attempt a brief explanation here.

What does it mean to be a "conservative"?  It means to conserve something -- to believe that conserving this thing is important and to work to do so.  When we use the term "conservative" we're usually talking about certain traditional "values" that we think are important -- like marriage, life, honesty, etc.: "conservative values."  Why do we think these things are important?  Can we prove that they are somehow "better" than their opposites?  Can we prove that honesty, for instance, is better than dishonesty?  How would we do that?

Well, we would likely try to show all the trouble that DIShonesty can get one into, and that makes sense to me -- except that our world often rewards dishonesty, and those who are impeccably honest sometimes get, well, shafted.   While it would be nice to think that honesty always gets rewarded and that dishonest folks always "get theirs in the end," we know it just doesn't happen that way in our world.  Some dishonest folks right this moment are living lives of great luxury and laughing at all us "honest suckers."  If you're smart enough and ruthless enough, you can (as Nietzsche said we should) create your own moral standards and leave the "honesty" to those stupid enough to buy into it.

And of course we can all think of situations in which we would lie -- situations like in WWII era Holland, when some of the Dutch were hiding their Jewish neighbors.  If the Nazis came and knocked on YOUR door and asked you, "Are you hiding Jews in your house?", would you lie or tell the truth?  I'll tell you -- if I had been hiding Jews in my house, I would have lied to protect them.  No doubt.

So, why do we continue to think that honesty is better than its opposite?  We might simply claim that "everyone just knows that it is" along with the philosopher Immanuel Kant.  Problem: if everyone just knew that, why don't they do it?  Clearly some people think there is a better way.

In the end, as Christians (and this is the point of view from which I operate) we might have to fall back on a theological explanation: either that God (or scripture) has told us this is what we should do, or that we are told to be imitators of God or of Jesus, and this is they way God/Jesus is.

In other words, when other attempts at justification of honesty have failed, we're going to fall back on our Christian faith and heritage = tradition.  Why?  Because we think this is the best way to live.  Why do we think that?  It depends on how you define "best way to live."  As Christians we define that by means of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the stories of whom have been passed down in our scriptures.

So, we're going to be relying on the Christian tradition that produced our scriptures, and we have to admit that not everyone accepts our scripture as, indeed, scripture.  Other religions have their own scriptures.  And this means that we think that the Christian definition of honesty is worth preserving simply because we think it is the best definition available.  We could ask "why?" here again, but pretty soon you realize we're just like a dog chasing its tail, and this chase for a "final answer" can go on interminably if we let it.  I do think we'll finally come down to comparing Jesus to other great religious teachers, and I don't think we should be afraid of that.  But even then, we're going to have to argue that Jesus' life represents the best way of life for human beings -- and again, we're back to trying to define what we mean by that, and we have another argument on our hands.

My solution is to admit that we have a tradition that we think we can argue for, but it's still a tradition.  In reality, all thinking takes place within traditions (that's a broader point I won't try to demonstrate here).

So, I believe in conserving the Christian tradition.  That means I'm a conservative.

Now: "liberalism."  The liberal point of view was created in and along with the Enlightenment, and was indeed a rejection of tradition.  To be "enlightened," according to Kant (in his little book What is Enlightenment?) was to reject traditional morality in favor of "thinking for oneself."  More specifically, to "think for oneself" entailed a rejection of the traditional sources for morality, such as family, society, church and even the Bible!  In fact, Kant later wrote a book called Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone in which he tried to set Christianity on a purely rational basis (in my opinion it was a colossal failure).

So, as several contemporary thinkers have pointed out, America is by definition a nation of liberals.  We all (with only a few exceptions like myself) believe that we have rejected tradition (which we haven't -- but that's another argument) in favor of thinking for ourselves.  We believe that morality can be determined in a purely rational manner (but even Plato and Aristotle believed that you could not have morality without divine input!).  So even people like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly are liberals.  They do not believe in conserving certain values because they are traditional, but they argue for them on (what they think is) a purely rational basis.  Further, they think that anyone who is really rational will see the truth of their positions -- which is another of the myths of the Enlightenment, i.e., that their version of "rationality" is indeed UNIVERSAL rationality = shared by ALL RATIONAL PEOPLE.

To be sure, there are in America different kinds of liberals: there are "left-leaning liberals" like Al Gore and Bill Clinton (and I really can't put Barack Obama in this category) and "right-leaning liberals" like Limbaugh and the GOP and the Tea Partiers, etc.  But they're all liberals.

And I'm a conservative.

So, if you want to argue with me, at some point you'll have to dispute my claims that certain positions deserve the label "Christian."  In other words, you'll have to argue that my positions are not "Christian," rather than that they might be bad economic or foreign policy, etc.


Pat said...

Hello Chip,

I enjoyed your blog today and look forward to more of this. I can accept your explanation of 'liberal' and 'conservative' but I suspect you know that we're really talking about political views here. What words would you use to define the political spectrum and where people are?

Perhaps it's not possible to define a single spectrum since there are groups who share views on fiscal policy, but diverge in other areas? Does "Libertarian/Federalist/Anti-federalist (democrat)" work? Whatever we use it should help understand the foundations that are influencing a person's view.

What do you think?

Scott Starr said...

As you know, this point you've made here about the definitions of conservative and liberal drew me in years ago. I am still using this logic on a regular basis. Thanks again.

S. Starr

chip said...

Pat, for the most part I think those additional labels ("Libertarian/Federalist/Anti-federalist (democrat)" and a few others -- Republican, for instance) name errant attempts to solve issues that we face. I'm just not interested in approaching the issues from a non-Christian point of view. Since I am a Christian, I can only (or SHOULD only) argue from that (overriding) viewpoint. What that means to me is that our starting point as Christians for these discussions should be the Kingdom of God. That being said, I think "KOG" needs some careful consideration (i.e., it is a mistake, in part, to equate it with "the church"). It indicates something closer to "the reign of God." So we have to ask what God's reign will look like. We have indications in Scripture about it being a reign of peace between people and God, people and people (all of them), people and animals, animals and animals, etc. All of God's creation at peace. That's God's goal for his creation. We should work toward that goal. We should LIVE OUT that goal. We should live as if God really is in charge of his creation. That's what the death and resurrection of Jesus accomplished, though we don't see if ultimately and completely fulfilled just yet.

So, what fiscal policies best move us in that direction? That's a better argument to have.

Scott, I don't remember having that conversation with you before, but thanks. Glad the logic works on someone!

chip said...

Pat -- I don't think I was clear in my comment. What I mean to say is that I'm not interested in approaching our national or world issues from some perspective that is based only on some worldly logic or philosophy. At best those systems would give us a temporary fix, I suppose -- it might work for some people for a short time until someone finds a way to cheat the system and thus corrupt it. I would not, as our former president did, name Jesus as "my favorite philosopher." I can, however, name him as the One who lived out God's reign in his life completely and fully. That's not some "philosophy" that we can set beside others and do a comparison, or accept parts of it we like and discard the rest. Of course, that is done, but doing so is, well, bogus (a good philosophical term! ;-)). The Kingdom of God is for us a "direction" or a "goal" and even an "orientation," but not a "philosophy."

So again, the arguments I'm interested in having are arguments about what policies best approximate the fairness, equality and general peacefulness of what I believe is our ultimate destiny (the reign of God).