Until now I have purposely avoided writing a blog about anything that is extremely sensitive and potentially inflammatory, which would obviously include subjects such as religion and politics. After all, those are the two topics people always say to avoid if you want to sidestep any conflict among your friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers, etc. I think that general rule is a bit of a bummer because it suggests that people don’t talk about the things that are possibly the most important to them. But yes, I have seen many places where a person’s simple statements of personal belief with regards to religion or politics have fueled angry and insensitive debates or even rampant flaming.
I suppose I’m simply ready to take the heat or something because I’m going to throw caution to the wind and talk about both of those things in an interesting way (I hope). So, first of all I offer my disclaimer: This blog is based on my own random thoughts! It represents what I think. My thoughts are not necessarily gospel and doesn’t represent the collective views of any group of people, my friends, or my family, etc. It’s just me talking, and I don’t expect people to agree. But hey, you are here, reading a blog called “Todd Durrant’s Random Thoughts” so that’s what you’re going to get. I suppose you’re reading because you care what I think, for better or for worse. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it.
A few weeks ago I read an interesting blog article about conservatism and what is often called in the USA, “the Christian right wing”. You see, in the USA, if you talk about Christianity or those people who tend to go to church on Sundays and hold a faith in God and particularly in Christ as their savior, then it is assumed that those people are politically conservative and most likely republican. Of course, there are a good number of actively religious, openly Christian members of the democratic party. Take the democratic senator from Nevada, Harry Reid as an example. He is generally viewed as quite liberal, but is a Christian of the LDS faith– in fact, during a recent speech at BYU when asked how he could be a Mormon and a liberal democrat, he basically responded that he is a democrat because he is a Mormon. That suggests against common opinion that any true LDS believer in Christ would naturally lean to the democratic party rather than the republican party.
Anyway, the article I mentioned was basically saying that it doesn’t make sense that Christians would be conservative when the very things they claim to believe seem more obviously part of the liberal agenda, or at least closer to positions espoused by the democratic party. There were several scriptural passages quoted which show of Christ’s core teachings of loving one another, watching out for one another, giving liberally to the poor, and caring more about the welfare of others than for ourselves. Well, yes, that is exactly what Christianity is meant to be. It is a belief that in order to find yourself, you must first lose yourself in Christ and in the service of others. It is a belief that the two great laws upon which all commandments are based are 1) love God, and 2) love your neighbor (which basically means, love everybody else). Yeah, I’m sorry Whitney Houston fans — “learning to love yourself” is not “the greatest love of all.” In fact, an overly intense focus on yourself leads more often to destructive self indulgence, self pity, and a tendency to hurt those around you.
The greatest Christian love is to love God (and thus desire to do God’s will over your own will) and to love God’s children. And that is where this particular blogger was making his point– the republican party and “conservative right” tends to shout rather loudly against any government program or proposal which hints at a “redistribution of wealth” (to take from the rich and give to the poor), or which suggests that people should give up certain hard-earned extras for the good of the nation’s citizens as a whole. Typically, the conservative side says that people should work hard and struggle through school, a career, etc. to get where they are and to prosper accordingly, and that people who have made the struggle in a capitalist society to become rich have earned and deserve their riches. The rich shouldn’t be more heavily taxed or apparently “punished” simply because they succeeded. Conservatives do not like the idea that everybody should have to pitch in a large portion of their paycheck so that the “poor” can get government welfare, free health care, and have every need handed to them on a platter. The basic conservative sentiment is, “Yes, you may be poor, or I may be poor, but we can rise above through our own efforts and it is not anybody’s responsibility to give us a free ride.”
If capitalism or aspiring for financial independence and success appears to be selfish and anti-Christian, then how is it that Christians are generally conservative? The answer in some ways can be over simplified, as it so often is in places like talk radio. For example, it is said that Christians are believers in freedom (or in religious terms, “agency”). They believe that any social role the government takes over, even for the so-called benefit of the citizens, is an attack on the freedom of the people. To take over or dictate the means of education is to take away a freedom. To take over health care is to take over a freedom, just like it would seem that taking over any private enterprise (automobile industry, banking, farming, etc.) is to take away a freedom. To impose gun control is to take away a freedom. So, conservatives believe that taking away people’s hard earned money for pretty much any government program other than self defense is to take away a freedom. They believe that the government’s role is to watch over the safety and security of the people, and of course to maintain a rule of law that keeps people from hurting and taking advantage of one another. But they don’t believe it is the government’s job to impose and run new programs that delve into otherwise personal parts of people’s lives, even if the claim is for the “good of the people”. History shows how horribly oppressive governments came to power because the people of the land trusted their government to make sure everybody was equally cared for. If you send a message to government that you’d rather not handle your own problems and you’d prefer that they do it for you, then they too often will, and the result is usually not pretty. Here’s a nice quote for you: “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” (Doctrine and Covenants)
But wait, I’m not giving a definitive answer– I said I was over simplifying. Sure, conservatives love freedom. But have you ever heard a liberal or a democrat say that they don’t love freedom? Of course they love freedom! Maybe they see freedom in a different way? Maybe they look at those in our society who seem to have a disadvantage from the get-go and they have a truly “Christian” desire to see those people helped. They see the sick, the lame, the afflicted, the poor, the hungry, and they think, “we need to do something to help these people, because they are not free to pursue a life of comfort and happiness.” So, they stand up for programs which would take steps to insure that those who are at a disadvantage can have the same opportunities as everybody else. The poor shouldn’t miss out on education simply because their family has never had the kind of money to afford it, right? The chronically ill shouldn’t have to live in poverty because the free market health care system is beyond their reach, right? These are loving thoughts of concern for our neighbors! They are not wishes of communism or total government control. They are not attacks against freedom, but could instead be seen as dreams of freedom for all men and women who have otherwise lived under the yolk of disadvantage and hardship.
So, it is not a fair argument to say that liberals do not love freedom. But it is also not fair to argue that conservatives are merely proponents of capitalism, greed, and growing class distinction. Both are judgmental and short-sighted views, but we seem to live in a political environment these days which tries to polarize the two sides and display them in harsh opposition. It’s the same approach used to claim that science and religion are “at war” and that you can’t be a good scientist and believe in God, or that you can’t be a person of faith and be a student of science. Hogwash! People of faith and people of science (and there are many who belong in both groups) are after the same thing– truth. If religion seems to conflict with science, or science seems to conflict with religion, then you either have bad religion, or bad science. Or at least you have incomplete religion or incomplete science. Likewise, it is untrue to say that conservatives are right and liberals are wrong, or vice versa. They just see things differently, and to polarize the two is to misunderstand all sides of the argument, or to avoid looking at the big picture. If they seem in horrible opposition, then it’s usually bad conservatism or bad liberalism (or perhaps deserving of the term, “extremist”).
Now, before I continue, let me say that I personally am a person of faith. I believe to the very core in a loving God and that we are all children of God, brothers and sisters who need to love one another and look out for one another. I am a Christian, and I do tend to be politically conservative. I do believe in a free market (less government control), but I also believe in watching out for one another and believe it is our moral responsibility to do as Christ taught and care for the poor and the afflicted, and give up our own self interests for the greater good. See…I’m not a guy that believes I have a right to as much money as I can get. Some people have money, and some don’t. Some people succeed in business, and some don’t (I know that very well). What I really want to say is this– I feel that there is not really such a strong divide between what conservatives want and what liberals want. The only real divide is how the sides propose to reach those goals, and even more important, in whom they trust to do it.
You see, for pretty much any law you can think of, there is a higher law. Christ taught that principle during his famed sermon on the mount. There is a law (or religious commandment) that says you shouldn’t kill your neighbor, but Christ explains that you shouldn’t even think ill of your neighbor or call him a fool. There is a law or commandment that says you shouldn’t commit adultery, but Christ explains that you shouldn’t even lust after another woman because that which you seek in your heart defines who you really are. Basically, if you name a law, there is a higher law of better code of conduct that would override the need for the lower one. Laws against every variety of fraud wouldn’t be necessary if people lived a higher law of honesty. Basically, laws of the land protect us from those who break higher laws, the highest being to love God and your neighbor. If you love your neighbor, then you won’t commit fraud, petty theft, or cheat on your spouse. Now, don’t you wish you could just rewrite the volumes and volumes of laws of the land and wrap it all into the basics? But we live in a land of imperfect people (which includes myself) so we too often need it all spelled out for us. This is the point I’m getting at– if you understand the higher laws, then you start to understand the differences of opinion between the so-called conservatives and the liberals.
There is a financial law of the land that says you must pay taxes so that the government has money with which to implement their programs. There is a religious financial law as well that says you pay a tithe of your income to help pay for the growth of the Lord’s kingdom on earth (basically, you need money to buy land and materials with which to build churches, etc.). But I believe there is a much higher financial law. Basically, the higher law (called “the law of consecration”) is where you give everything to the Lord (or in other words, to everybody). Wait! That’s communism! Actually, it isn’t. There is a huge difference between communism and consecration. In communism, you are compelled to give up everything, and the “good of the whole” is dictated by a governmental body which is most likely not based in a love of God and a love of their neighbor. In fact, we’ve seen where such a governmental structure put God in exile entirely. In the higher law of consecration, you would give up everything for the love of God and your neighbor and you would trust God to reveal how the wealth is distributed based on real needs, every person giving their all and receiving everything they need. Also, every participant in such a system would not only be a willing participant, but would work hard to contribute, not for their own gain and own greed, but because they want everybody to have the best. This system would be 100% based on freedom, where other attempts at socialism or communism operate in an absence of freedom.
Well, we don’t live that higher law. People aren’t ready for it, and I think very few would choose of their own free will to do it, because they lack the faith that God could or would run such a system (if they believe in God at all). So, they go for the next best thing in their minds– they want the government to run the system. They look to the government as the body that could possibly become the great equalizer. That is where I personally see the main difference between conservatism and liberalism in the USA. Somebody like Harry Reid says he is liberal because he is religious, and he means it– he wants everybody to have a shot, and rightfully so. But I would be quite fearful of a belief that says our country’s governmental system has the righteousness and goodwill (or intelligence and all-knowing vision) to pull it off correctly. That is why so many Christians are conservative– not because they want something ultimately so different in terms of care for the disadvantaged, but because they believe it is not the government’s role to take over what they see is the job of an all-knowing God and His children. They don’t believe that God-given agency should be removed in the care for the poor, but instead that man should use his own agency to choose to help one another. But what if you don’t believe that God exists or that such a being is interested in running the political system? Well, then you look to the government as the higher authority. So, you may see a liberal side of the spectrum that wants very good things and turns to the government to provide it, possibly because they don’t think it is realistic to believe that anybody else will, or that mankind is capable of rising to a high enough level to do the right thing of their own accord.
So, is true Christianity conservative or liberal? I don’t know that it is right to claim one or the other. I simply say that I understand why so many Christians are conservative. It’s a matter of where they put their trust. But I also understand why a liberal view is based on righteous desires of goodwill, and thus fits a true Christian view of the world. Again, where do they put their trust to achieve that better world?
You can look at many “hot topics” in the political realm to not only see the differences between the two sides, but to see how both sides may have more similarities than you think. Take abortion as a “hot topic” example. Everybody knows that conservatives (generally republicans) are “pro-life” and that liberals (generally democrats) are “pro-choice”. Well heck, who isn’t pro-life, and who isn’t pro-choice? Didn’t I say above that Christians believe in the God-given gift of agency, which in itself means “pro-choice”? I believe in choice! And can you honestly suggest that liberals are “anti-life”? Of course not! They love life! Whenever somebody asks me if I am “pro-life” or “pro-choice”, I say that I am both. But how can that be? Well, remember, I’m religious, and I believe there are certain laws by which we should live. I believe if you break a law or a commandment, there is always a consequence. You can choose to live the law or not, but you cannot choose the consequence of your original choice. You can choose to take a five-finger discount on a cool wrist watch at the store, but if you get caught, you can’t choose whether or not you want to do the jail time, because that is the consequence of your actions. Apply that to the abortion argument now: If you choose (yes, a choice) to engage in sexual activities which could result in an unwanted pregnancy, then you have already made your choice. Yep, pr0-choice. But when you find yourself or your partner pregnant, you are now dealing with the consequence of that choice which you freely made. You can’t choose to avoid the consequences, even if you think it is within the reach of the medical world to get rid of the consequence for you. Abortion isn’t about pro-choice, but is usually a question of anti-consequence. Can I choose to smoke my entire life, then choose not to suffer the consequences of terrible health? Well, what if a doctor could take the life of an unborn child to replace my lungs? Would that make it OK to avoid the consequences by sacrificing the budding life of another? I don’t think so. See…both sides are “pro-choice” but you don’t see it unless you look at the bigger picture.
Both sides are also Christian, if you look at it in different ways. But when you break things down to the higher laws, and when you understand the reason religious people think the way they do, then maybe you can understand why so many Christians are conservative. And hopefully, more of those conservatives can understand that the other folks ultimately want the same thing, but have a different way of approaching the challenge. I hope for a country where both sides can work together and understand one another, and most of all, have a true love and respect for one another despite the differences that become apparent.
At this point I’ll avoid a debate about whether Christianity or a belief in God is right or wrong. Remember, we want to understand one another, and that can’t be done if you just throw out the core beliefs that define us. In all fairness, I’ll be the first to say I’ve seen horrible Christians (based on their choices vs. their beliefs) and I’ve met atheists who are very good people (based on how they choose to treat others). I remember reading another blog article saying that all people who believe in God are idiots. Now that argument is far to intellectual for me to handle. Whew…