In America there are two major philosophical camps battling year in and year out to see which will control the machinery of government. Both sides understand that whoever has the reins of government power has the ability to expand their particular worldview.
All decent Americans want the same things in life: we want healthy and safe children; we want everyone to have as little suffering as possible, we want the freedom to make important decisions; we want a good life for ourselves. The question is how do we achieve what we want?
The answer will differ greatly, depending on if you lean toward a conservative perspective or a liberal one. There is rarely a political issue in which these two political philosophies do not differ: abortion, health care, gun control, climate change, affirmative action, immigration, same sex marriage. The list goes on.
I’m going to use a resource that I think lays out both in a fair and balance way. It is difficult for a conservative to define liberalism, just as it is difficult for a liberal to define conservatism. Both sides are critical of the other and are therefore naturally biased.
Conservatives believe in personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty, traditional American values and a strong national defense. They Believe the role of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals. Conservative policies generally emphasize empowerment of the individual to solve problems.
Liberals believe in government action to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all. It is the duty of the government to alleviate social ills and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights. They believe the role of the government should be to guarantee that no one is in need. Liberal policies generally emphasize the need for the government to solve problems.
So the whole debate centers around the size and role of government. Seems to me we could find more common ground than we currently do. Why then is there so much divide if it is all about the role of government? There has to be more to. Right?
Yes. That is because the debate about the size and role of government falls easily within the arena of politics and politicians. It is the center show. It is where all the theatrics are. But, to truly understand the deepness of divide and the seriousness of the debate between the two parties you have to peel back some layers to get to the source of the differences.
What I am about to describe comes from a chart I developed for a course in sociology I use to teach.
Lets start with the first layer underneath politics and the debate about the size and role of government - citizenship. Both conservatives and liberals are citizens of this country but both have a very different perspective about what that really means.
Both talk about their rights as citizens but both focus on different set of rights. One will fight for the right to own a gun. The other will fight for the right to have an abortion.
Both also talk about responsibilities as citizens but both, again, focus on different set of responsibilities. So you have to listen to the arguments carefully and when you do you will realize that both groups are using the same words but both have very different meanings and connotations for those words.
For example, the question of sexual orientation is a hotly debated topic these days. Liberals want a wider acceptance of a persons sexual choices. They see this as a fundamental right. However, anything less than celebration of those personal choices are not seen as full acceptance. Liberals will accuse conservatives of being intolerant but conservatives make a distinction being tolerance and acceptance. They will say they might tolerate it but they do not have to celebrate it.
Freedom is another word with vastly different meanings between the two groups. Again, if you listen carefully conservatives use the word freedom to focus more on the concept of liberty from government while liberals use the word freedom to focus on personal liberties. Conservatives are all about Constitutional freedoms and liberals are all about personal freedoms or what might more correctly be called individualism.
The war between the two camps is a war over words because each side has different meanings for the same word. They have different meanings because each side is coming from totally different philosophical places. They have very different worldviews.
The word family seems like a word that would be easily understood by both groups but when you consider the policies promoted by each groups you realize they don’t both have the same meaning.
Conservatives believe in a "closed" definition for family. For them the traditional concept of family is where a man and a woman are married for the purpose of procreation. Liberals on the other hand believe in an "open" definition for family. They are more apt to say that family is anything you want it to mean. To them it is about relationship of love. For them it’s not about structure as it is with conservatives.
The same is true when it comes to marriage. Conservatives tend to hold to the notion of complementarianism - that both sexes complement each other with their different roles and status in the relationship. Liberals are more egalitarianist. They see marriage as an equal relationship and because they have open definition of the relationship, the couple is free to decide what the status and roles will be.
Conservative don’t see any need for government to be involved in marriage or the family except to protect it as a special, closed, relationship. Liberals believe government must change the laws allowing for a more open definition and to protect other groups who do not practice traditional relationships.
It all boils down to worldview. We see the world from own own filtered perspective. Conservatives have a worldview that believes ideas are more important than individuals. Liberals on the other hand, hold to a worldview that informs them that individuals are more important than ideas.
Conservatives are principled. That means they believe there are a set of principles that are universal and unchanging. Conservatives will live on die on their principles because ideas are more important than any individual.
Liberals are more pragmatist than principled. For them, ideas change with time and culture and circumstance and a dozen other things. Principles are not anchored in absolute truths. For liberals, truth can change and should change to be practical and liberating for the individual.
For the conservative the theology that forms their worldview is theo-centric. But for the liberal, the theology that forms their worldview is anthro-centric. Remember, one does not have to believe in God to have a theology. Not believing in God is a theology.
Conservative theology places a higher power, a higher authority, over them and therefore there are higher truths and higher principles that do not change.
Liberal theology has man at the center and the purpose of religion is to serve the needs of man and therefore the only truths that exist at any given time are those truths that are practical for a particular time and a particular place and for particular circumstances.
If anyone reading this is wondering, I am conservative. I am a conservative for all the reasons discussed above. But I haven’t always been one. When I was young I dated liberalism. You might even say we fooled around some. It even got serious for a while but eventually I decided that liberalism was good for dating but I didn't want to make a life with it.
What changed my mind? In the end it was the Bible that broke us up.
When I decided to take the Bible seriously my worldview began to change. When I decided that the Bible was a trustworthy source of authority for all issues of life and social order my political philosophies began to change. One by one, all the tenets of liberalism that I thought were cool and progressive and that made me smarter than others began to change.
Make no mistake about it. There is a certain arrogance that comes with Liberalism. After all, liberalism believes it knows better than tradition and history and the regular folks who hold to conventional ideas.
When I finally aligned my theology with the scriptures, I became a principled person and thereby become a conservative. By that I mean I became a person who believed that there are certain principles that are universal, that there are absolute truths that are more important than myself, my family, my culture, and my country. I came to realize that those universal and timeless ideas are more important than any individual (Including and especially myself) and that those ideas had direct bearing on every aspect of life and society.
Those eternal principles, I came to learn, have authority over every system of thought devised by man to try to understand the world. In other words, my theology influenced my sociology. My theology shaped my psychology. My theology formed my criminology, my biology, and all of the other "ologies."
My theology certainly influenced my thoughts about education, marriage and the family, charity, and the source and solutions to social problems. My theology also had a lot to say about my politics.
But you don’t have to be a Bible believer like me to be a conservative. There are at least three good, logical, secular reasons to reject liberalism as a worldview and political philosophy.
1. Liberalism prides itself on being more practical than principled, more concerned with the individual than with ideas but in truth liberalism isn't practical at all. It is not practical because their ideas do not work. In fact, most are huge and very expensive failures.
Not only do they not work but they are willing to sacrifice the well being of millions of individuals to the next new idea that comes along, even if it lacks any facts to support it. They will do this because liberals live in a world they want to exist instead of in the world that actually does exist.
2. Liberals say that “the end justifies the mean.” Well, I’m here to tell you today that it doesn't. The end never justifies the means. It’s a dangerous lie.
Some believe morally wrong actions are sometimes necessary to achieve morally right outcomes. But, you can never do something that is wrong in order to achieve something that is good. Wrong is wrong. Always. A good outcome doesn't change that. The rightness or wrongness of an action is found in the action itself, not in its outcome.
The “end justifies the means” kind of thinking is really nothing more than delusional self-rationalization for unethical, immoral, and illegal behavior. In other words, it’s a way to get what one wants while feeling morally superior to others who disagree. It’s a way to philosophically justify selfish behavior.
Cheating to pass a test, lying to get elected, stealing from the rich to give to the poor, destroying property to make a point is wrong. Always.
3. Liberalism isn't really about liberty or freedom. Despite what they say it is really about control. Liberals like to remind conservatives that personal morality can not be legislated but their purpose in gaining political control is to legislate their own version of social morality. And the individual liberty that they do legislate are for behaviors counter to tradition and morality.
Those are three good reasons a non Bible believer should reject liberalism. But you don’t have to buy what I am selling. As a conservative I believe in the free marketplace of ideas. The best ideas will win out if left to compete without interference.