Liberal vs. Conservative and the loss of imagination

This is a post a long time coming. I’ve debated with myself how much I even want to talk about politics, versus art and imagination. But really, imagination is a key component in this discussion. Walter Brueggemann, a Bible scholar, wrote The Prophetic Imagination several years ago, and talked about how rulers often discourage imagination and out-of-the-box thinking because it makes for a society that is easier to control, and makes it easier for those in power to stay in power. Prime examples of this can be seen in some African countries where the rulers live large and their people are without hope.

In the United States, we’re more in danger of becoming comfortable, lethargic, and apathetic, and still losing our imagination. But every 4 years, we get to be at each other’s throats over the Presidential election. Now, the next leader of the world’s most powerful country is not insignficant, but sometimes I get the impression that this is all people care about, as if there aren’t a number of other things people could do with their lives that matter, beyond arguing and voting for a single candidate.

Now, even with a moderate Republican and liberal Democrat, it seems people are settling into the liberal vs. conservative, Republican vs. Democrat camps to talk about how the other guy will bring about the end of civilization, like people said about Bush, like people said about Clinton, and on and on.

And the part that really annoys me is the oversimplification of it all. Somehow all the complex issues and complex people are able to be reduced into soundbites and various logical fallacies, and that’s assuming the candidates stances and platforms aren’t just words said to get votes. Yet, not only can we reduce the candidates, we can simplify so much that one side is always right and the other side is always wrong. Once we get there, we can just say, “Well, they’re a liberal,” and the discussion can be dismissed with those words. And actually, in a recent discussion I overheard, a guy said that Emergents were usually liberals and then equated them with socialists. Reductionism at it’s finest.

Funny thing is, I used to be squarely on the Religious Right. I went to Christian Coalition meetings, was a Republican Committeeman for a few years, was in the audience of the Rush Limbaugh show, met David Barton of Wallbuilders, and on and on. And after 4 years of going to a Christian college, I stopped thinking about just the USA and started thinking of myself as more of a world Christian, such that what’s in the best interest of the USA just doesn’t always seem like the Christian thing to do, and where the pragmatism (whatever works, common sense, etc) of Conservatism seems to rely on the wisdom of men too much while ignoring the life of faith…faith that sometimes propels us to aim for ideals. Prime example, I’ve come to be a big believer in fair trade with the 3rd world, a cause that is mostly championed by liberals. And why do I believe in it? Because, to me, it seems to be the more Biblical stance.

And so I have a hard time in election year, because not only does my search for truth sometimes lead me to different sides of the equation, but sometimes I end up off the line altogether. We can get so caught up in the dichotomies between each side that we may fail to see that there is no line, but that there are multiple choices in some cases, if we would use our imagination and actually think about it.

That’s one of the dangers of taking the Bible seriously, we may be challenged. My journey has led me to more of a moderate political AND religious stance, not because I can’t make up my mind, but because I have made choices, and they are sometimes conservative, sometimes liberal, and sometimes neither. It also forces me to look at things more wholistically. One comment I just read said that Obama is the least pro-life presidential candidate in a long time. If true (and you never know these days from what people say since there is rarely a source), and I’ll assume it is for now, then there’s the second part of the comment: thus, how could any Christian possibly consider voting for him? I honestly don’t know who I’m going to vote for because I want to research these guys myself and come to my own conclusions, and I find it insulting to have someone else reduce whether I should vote for someone to one issue crafted using problematic terminology. What about the whole body of work that the candidate has put together, coupled with who they are as a person? And while I oppose abortion, I have trouble reconciling the notion of pro-life with pro-torture, pro-war, pro-death penalty, no fair trade, and other typically conservative stances. All that to say, there is nothing simple about these issues, because there are a lot of factors surrounding them.

There’s a lot in this post that could be debated or that people could take issue with. I’m okay with that. If you want me to elaborate on anything, let me know. And if you flat-out disagree, you’re welcome to tell me that.

2 thoughts on “Liberal vs. Conservative and the loss of imagination”

  1. Amen amen amen. You and I are on the same political journey, it would seem. Then again, it’s not really a POLITICAL journey at all, though some would like us to think that. Oversimplification is the word. We’re expected (but by whom??? Society, the parties, the candidates, the media, our parents, the church¿¿¿) to toe a party line instead of actually think about the issues.

    Ugh . . .

  2. Adam Lehman says:

    Seth,

    you write a great blog and this post is not exception.

    I’ve been struggling very much with my “christian, conservative, republican, GWB-luvvin” dad to even consider that, in some senses, Obama makes a lot of sense. I had to work, for nearly a month, to get past the republican/democrat debate to actually talking about the nature of the issues.

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