For a long time now, I’ve had a hard time fitting in politically. I’m adrift in the sea of American politics and even religion I know I’m not alone. I consider myself neither conservative nor progressive. When you study the Bible and Christianity, it’s hard to fit the beliefs you derive into the neat little packages that are offered by our political parties and cultural warriors.
That doesn’t stop people from trying. It seems, most of the time, people bend their convictions to fit their political party. The tail wags the dog, these days. Fervor for political parties has increased seemingly proportionally as the influence of true religion has waned. In a piece for Christianity Today entitled Have Your Political Views Become An Idol?, Mary Lederleitner writes about political beliefs that have eclipsed spiritual beliefs.
Jesus taught his followers that people would know we are Christians by our love (John 13:34-35), but political idolatry frequently holds opposing values. People begin thinking it is fine to hate, malign, publicly embarrass, ridicule and even bully those with different political views.
With such a strong tribal identity tied to politics, straddling the fence doesn’t win you any friends. Many people who are passionate about politics or religion either sit firmly on one side or the other. They either consider themselves progressive or conservative.
In his book Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr examines the false exclusiveness of progressivism and conservatism from the words of Jesus. Jesus understood the importance of traditions and the need to welcome the wisdom of new understanding.
In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, he says, “This is what a scribe of the kingdom is like.” Scholars think he is describing himself. He continues, “He throws out the dragnet and pulls in things both old and new.” In other words, he preserves the best of what we call conservative and the best of what we call progressive. This is always a rare vocation, because it pleases hardly anybody, especially our own ego need to have the “whole truth.”
Neither the progressive worldview or the conservative worldview can totally satisfy, though. If you want to have a consistent ethic of life, for example, you can’t stop at the borders between the red and blue. You can’t truly have care for others unless you try to help meet their needs and also ensure they are set upon the right path. The consummate progressive may emphasize the former but consider the latter too judgmental. The die hard conservative may eschew the former under the premise of personal responsibility but may even promote enforcement of the latter. The predetermined menus of values we are now offered obscure the rich buffet of the world of belief and disrupt consistent, end-to-end philosophies.
It is unfortunate when someone believes they can take one aspect of your person and determine your positions on a wide variety of issues. We are multi-faceted, complex beings, with a range of biological determinants and life experiences.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
~ Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
While Whitman muses on his contradictions, it’s important to note that many of the beliefs we are now told are contradictory are not necessarily so. Still, we contain multitudes. This seems to go unacknowledged in modern times. Increasingly we are looked at as narrow and thin or even one dimensional. As long as you can be folded in such a way as to fit into the right box, only then can you be understood. It is from these boxed packages of beliefs that the culture wars have been sustained. Kit Wilson writes for Arc Digital that we need more culture wars conscientious objectors.
But there is no rule woven into the universe that states that some specific opinion somebody holds must inevitably be linked with some other specific opinion, like atoms that are only configurable into a limited number of molecular combinations.
He goes on to lament the inclination for people to take one characteristic of a person and try to infer others from that single point. Our increasing reliance on inconsistent political frameworks to reduce the cognitive load of assessing people makes this more and more common.
We’re tired of being spoon-fed an ever-diminishing range of political views by even the most supposedly radical of artists. We’re tired of the assumption that your skin color or sexuality determines not only your politics, but your taste in music, literature and film, too. And we’re tired of the endless politicization of … everything.
We should reject the imposition of the particularly unique to the moment bundles of opinions. We can derive our own views and tastes. Let the Spirit, the wisdom contained in history and the insights still unfolding around us be our guide. In his book A Diary of Private Prayer, on the morning of the 14th day of the month, John Baillie prays:
Help me to make a stand today- ...
for the conservations of the rich traditions of the past;
for the recognition of new movements of your Spirit in the minds and lives of people today;
I hope that we can consider these things when we are both forming our own systems of value and reflecting on the value systems of others.