I am intrigued when someone accuses me of being a liberal. What that tells me is that they only have two options in their mind, and I am clearly not conservative. They have no larger framework to understand that what I am actually outside of their spectrum all together (social constructivist).
What is helpful to understand is that our contemporary political ‘spectrum’ is actually a very small slice of a much bigger historical spectrum.
We live in the shadow of the Enlightenment which prioritized the individual. We are all, basically, at this point individualist – unless we come from a culture that is more communal or familial in its orientation.
What we call ‘conservative’ is a actually conservative individualists (which is a type of liberalism) and what we call ‘liberal’ is just a slightly more liberal individualist. We speak in a sort of shorthand: ‘conservatives’ are really conservative liberals and ‘liberals’ are liberal-liberals.
I always encourage people, when given an either/or binary of options, to find a third alternative to help clarify the skewed picture. In this case you might think of Libertarians. Libertarians, however, are actually extreme individualists and in sense are just radical liberals.
What I would want people to see is that a better alternative is more of a Communitarian approach that understands both the interdependent nature of our social fabric and the way that we are all enscripted (or conscripted) into a society with its expectations, behaviors, language, practices, beliefs, and narratives.
Now to be clear, I am very concerned about the embedded hierarchies, and specifically, patriarchy, built into communitarianism but I still think that it is a better option than the atomized individual that is plaguing every aspect of our culture right now.
What I am interested in is a radical democracy – not this thing we have now of representative democracy where our law-makers are beholden to special interest lobbies and big money. No, I actually want people to have equity (if not equality) in the system and for then to have actual say in their communities, workplaces, and institutions.
What may surprise you is that this politic actually comes from my theology – specifically my ecclesiology. I view Pentecost as the decentering and democratization of God’s presence in the world. My view of the church is an empowerment model of mutuality, participation, and accountability.
For me this is the power of the liturgical calendar from Christmas to Easter and on to Pentecost which leads to ‘normal time’. Normal time is the result of that narrative. In the incarnation God identifies with humanity. In the crucifixion the scapegoat is sacrificed and then God vindicates the victim. In Pentecost you have the dissemination of God’s spirit which is no longer contained with man-made temples since the curtain between heaven and earth was torn in two.
Side note: the silly either/or binary of a physical resurrection and a ‘spiritual’ one is the result of imposing our Enlightenment rationality back onto a premodern narrative (anachronistic) which is the most liberal thing I have seen. Jesus’ was neither a ghost nor a zombie – but had a glorified body. Read the story. Enter in to the narrative. He could both walk through walls and disappear but also bore the scars of his suffering and execution, and could be touched. He looked enough like himself the disciples could recognize something about him but was different enough that the mistook him for a gardener or fellow traveler. His glorified body was not the reanimation of a corpse but a glorified body that teaches us about new creation. The round and round debate about resurrection in an Enlightenment problem that will never go away because it is debating a set of expectations that the gospel itself has no interest in mediating.
Anyway, back the subject at hand. When we don’t know that all of our political options and arguments are actually centered on an individualism that foreign to the world of our sacred scriptures and then we try to import and impose our liberal (be they conservative, liberal, or radical) expectations on them, we will always be unsatisfied and impotent. We are trying to manipulate the variables in a equation that does not have any of the givens we are looking for and have learned to count on. It is just not there.
This anachronism (from the Bible) and amnesia (from the Enlightenment) leaves us in wasteland of polarization and arguments that are irreconcilable because they are inherently incompatible. This is why no election result this fall will fix what ails us – the cancer that plagues us in individualism which is baked into the bread of our system whether you fall on the conservative, liberal, centrist, or radical wings of that spectrum.
Moving toward a communal understanding, or communitarian approach, which prioritizes cooperation, compromise, mutuality, collaboration, and gifting (grace) is the only hope we have of getting out of this cultural morass.