On Being Liberal and Religious--Part 1
For convenience, we can give them the following names: Secular Liberals, Secular Libertarians, and Religious Conservatives. Each of these, it seems to me, congregates around a hard ideological core of separate ideas and views about American life and none of these ideologies is a place where I feel intellectually and emotionally comfortable. I frankly find myself a stranger in all three.
This is not the place to elaborately outline their ideological differences and, in one sense, these differences matter less than differences of temper and tone. I have tried in my blogroll to offer samples of all three types, and skimming that roll for an hour or so gives you more direct insight, actually, into these distinct ideologies than longwinded explanations. One Hand Clapping and Winds of Change are clearly not in the same intellectual universe as Majikthise and Matthew Yglesias nor is it precisely the same place as Outside the Beltway or A Small Victory.
Again, the understanding of this cannot be fully articulated in any particular doctrine for it extends beyond doctrine to attitude, to feeling, to the intuition above, below, or beyond intellect. The key to the religious life, it seems to me, is not so much religious answers as religious questions. These questions bedevil us all, even when we don't accept religious answers for them, or when we view those religious answers as something somehow separate from our public life and politics.
But those of us who do give religious answers to religious questions as well as see our religion as permeating our entire lives, whether Liberal or Conservative, have a ground for dialog which we share with neither of the other two secular tribes in our politics.
A while back in the comment section of One Hand Clapping, Reverend Donald Sensing and I had a little conversation that started when the good Reverend posted one of many responses to the Swift Boat stories where he raised doubts about John Kerry's service to the country in war and his fitness to serve as President. It is the epitome of the common ground the religious share, whether Liberal or Conservative, or even whether Buddhist or Christian. I reproduce it here:
"Joseph Marshall: Reverend, I'd like you to stop for a minute and think about something. If you were John Kerry's spiritual confidant and advisor, what would you say to him?
"Reverend Sensing: Joseph, why do you want me to stop and think about that? Furthermore, I do not know what a "spiritual advisor" is, except I think it's a kind of New Age thing. I certainly am not a "spiritual advisor" now, and it's even more certain that Jesus was not one, either. So I think your question just doesn't scan, Joseph. Or maybe I don't get your point.
"Joseph Marshall: Well, I suppose I mean that if you had a personal relation with the real man, the human being in the blue suit, as pastor and parishioner, what would you say to him to ease the obvious human suffering inherent in what he has had to endure for the past few weeks.
"My "point" is that there is a real human being there, in as tormenting a trial as any of us are ever likely to endure. And its a good thing, spiritually, to remind ourselves of that fact.
"Reverend Sensing: It would be a good thing, spiritually, for Kerry to start telling the truth about his Vietnam service, ie, Cambodia. It would be a good thing for us, spiritually, for Kerry to sign the form 180 to release all his naval records. It would be a good thing for millions of veterans, spiritually, for Kerry to admit his vicious lies about them in the VVAW and beg their forgiveness. But are you, a Kerry supporter, suggesting that he should now be an object of pity?
"Joseph Marshall: Whatever his failings, of which I honestly know of only by report, he has human shape and deserves human doubt. This does not mean anyone needs to think him capable enough to be President, or to vote for him.
"But what it does mean is that he will face his future as we all face ours, a future that leads at the least to the same doorway, wherever we may travel beyond it. And we should ask ourselves whether, were it us in his position, our public credit, our reputation, and our self-esteem would survive vast amounts of private funds--and the no-holds-barred quest for partisan advantage--searching to magnify to its largest size any possible personal weakness we may have displayed over sixty years.
"Nothing is to be lost by asking ourselves that question. Nobody's vote is going to be swayed by it. But our own, individual, long term future may be very influenced by it. Or at least I've always been told so.
"Reverend Sensing: Joseph, seriously, please wake up. Your strongly implicit claim that all the purity of this race is on Kerry's side, all the rancor and evil on Bush's, really makes me think - pastorally, please understand - that you simply do not understand what's going on. Allowing that everything you say is true, where were your protests when MoveOn and other Dem-backed groups - and Democrat politicians themselves - were savaging Bush, as they have since 2000? Kerry hasn't received a tenth of the beating that Bush has gotten.I'd give credit to your comments if they weren't so partisan in their object. You are weeping from only one eye.
"Joseph Marshall: I sincerely think that anyone in public life is squandering a huge amount of what I would call "good karma" for very little reward, and for tremendous suffering, both now and in the future. And I have no hesitation in saying that the candidate whom I supported first, Howard Dean, is by far the luckiest person of any of the people who sought the office this year.
I have a direct, explicit, religious obligation to cultivate compassion for ALL suffering. And, to the extent my own personal failings permit, I do so. I have, on many occasions, thought about the humanity of George W. Bush and the burdens that his time in office will leave him with.
And, speaking personally, I am inclined to think that the next luckiest man to Howard Dean will be the one who loses this election."
It still remains an open religious question, I think. Modern media bring us closer to the candidate--whether Howard Dean, George Bush, or John Kerry--as a human being than we have ever been in this country. What then do we do to ourselves if we ignore that humanity in our haste to combat the ideology? I'll leave the question open. I have a religious answer to it, myself. But, as I said before, posing the question is much more important than having the answer.
To Be Continued...