Thursday, March 31, 2005

Liberal Me

Well, down the toilet with my original plan for this first (um, second) post. I had planned to write a fascinating and comprehensive tale, outlining my plans for this blog, but then I realized that I was full of crap. I only have the vaguest ideas about where I'd like this blog to go, and even if I had a brilliant, all-encompassing plan, I suspect that planning a blog is kind of like planning a garden, or a big software project: you can make lots of rules up front, but eventually you just have to sit down, start working, and guide the project as it progresses.

So instead of beginning with a big, grand idea, I'll start with the semantic pain in the butt that is the word "liberal".

"Liberal" is one of those words that is absolutely useless out of context. When I was about five years old, my teacher at school tried to teach us about right and left. For some reason, this concept infuriated me. I couldn't understand why the chalkboard was right and the window was left, and then when I turned around, the chalkboard was LEFT, and the window was RIGHT! It didn't make any sense. If the chalkboard was right, it should always be right! And if the window was left, well darn it, it should always be left! Why should its leftness or rightness depend on me?

I think lots of people have the same problem with the words "conservative" and "liberal". Put simply, a liberal is someone who wants to change the status quo, and a conservative is someone who wants to protect it, but someone's liberality is always relative to someone else's liberality, usually yours. So while my opinions on most social issues are fairly liberal compared to those of my friends, there's always going to be that radical feminist who makes me look like Jerry Falwell.

Another problem is that people are complicated, and so is the world. There's more than one thing to be liberal about. Our good buddy and vice president Dick Cheney may be rabidly conservative about defense spending, but surprisingly liberal about gay rights. So you really have to have an idea about someone's overall track record to call them a "political conservative" or a "social liberal". The political compass tries to solve this problem for political issues, but 2 axes may not be enough.

So if liberal is such a loaded word, why did I name this blog LiberalJesus?

To be honest, partly because I wanted a simple name. BlogAboutLiberalPoliticsAndChristianity is kind of a pain to remember, and not very compelling. And it's partly because I want to draw the attention (the ire, even) of the conservative Christians in the blogosphere. Though they may be wacky, you can count on them to post.

But it's also because I think Jesus was a liberal. Read the gospels: in general, he's interested in the poor and the marginalized. He's down on the status quo and up on changing things for the better. And that's how I'd like to be.

Darn liberal me.


A. Lo said...

I talked with liberal Bart Campolo last night, and he's speaking at a rally this week to encourage young Christians to see politics as a way to help the poor. He says we too often think helping in soup kitchens, etc. is enough, but don't realize that if we don't change the political system and the rich are still getting all the tax breaks, etc., we're going to need more soup kitchens than we can build. So I'm sure this blog is timely.

He also said something interesting about the fact that justice and charity are not the same thing.

So blog on, liberal you! I'll be interested to read more of what you have to say.

Paul said...

I think of liberal as basically meaning liberal. Generous. Concerned with the wider world and bigger picture.

Giving your life to save the world would sure seem to fit that definition, and of course that idea is central to Christianity's idea of Jesus as the Christ. And I agree with your perception of the general tenor of the gospels being about Jesus' concern with the poor, the sick, the marginalized.

When it comes to scripture, however, many Christians leave their reading skills behind, as I try to point out in the "Three Little Pigs" March post to

I think Rush Limbaugh did a tremendous disservice to the nation when he lauched his radio program in the 80s. A bright guy, he knew how to churn out simplistic sound bites and verbal formulas that appeal to the worst in people: their prejudices, vindictiveness, and desire to identity themselves with a superior "in-group" as over against an outgroup. The outgroup was liberals - as portrayed by Limbaugh as being unprincipled, indecisive, mealy-mouthed and vaguely effeminate. RL tarred and feathered the word liberal until it became a pejorative.

I don't know how we get it back. Reality is not in fact the simple realm of "evildoers" and "good guys" that this administration and Rush fans believe in. But that simplictic world is perfectly suited for slogans and the media's short attention span.

One thing for sure: while it is tempting to make fun of conservative Christians, probably because many don't seem to have thought out their positions and appear unwilling to do so, it does no good. I don't really believe they're stupid - I'm not saying, Matt, that you do. But when I was younger, I thought so.

I think they are powerfully motivated to use scripture the way they do. I would like to understand more about that motivation, and the subsequent thought processes. But I find it very hard to engage them in real dialogue. I wish it were possible, and hope that a conservative willing to converse will comment on my blog at some point.

I'm not so sure that looking to "draw the ire" of conservative Christians is the way to go. I think that approach entrenches everyone in their existing positions.

Looks like we both started our blogs last month, yours with more of a political slant, mine focusing more squarely on religion and spirituality. Keep me "posted..."