Monday, January 21, 2019

Eight Conservative Thoughts



1) Individuality and personhood are more important than systems, labels and categories.

The good and just society, wherever it has tried to rise, has been based on the rights of human persons.  Respecting an individual's freedom of conscience, speech, and religion (or absence thereof) is absolutely vital to the well being of culture.  This has always been true.

Preserving the rights of the individual against the oppressions of national, ethnic, or religious assumptions is and has always been the struggle of liberalism.

But in the progressive world these days, the individual is not the unit of analysis.  Individuals are agglomerations of intersecting categories, representative of systems and structures, and their unique personhood becomes secondary.

I'm just not there.  Nor do I wish to be there.

I am, therefore, conservative.

2)  Grace is a higher purpose than Justice.

Justice is a fundamental biblical virtue, and the essence of good governance since Hammurabi.  No culture that sneers at or rejects justice can stand.

But I am a Christian.  Jesus defines my existence, and though I struggle daily to live into his teachings, I acknowledge him as the source of all authority in my life.   From that basis, I can do no wholistic assessment of my faith that comes to the conclusion that justice is the ultimate goal, purpose, or method of Jesus.  That purpose, the teleological core of the faith?

It's grace.

What matters is not the quest for perfect balance, for being sure that every wrong is exactly and perfectly righted.  That's not our task.

Grace is the soil from which justice springs.  It is the light that give growth to justice.  Radical agape-love grace is both the essence of the the faith and the nature of God.

And it does not work the other way around.  In that, I'll freely admit to being convinced by Augustine, who...though he was an African man...isn't really well received in non-conservative circles.

I am, therefore, conservative.

3) The Good is a universal, not culturally subjective or personally relative.

As a person of faith, I don't understand the good as culturally mediated.  Cultures and societies all struggle towards the Good.  Sometimes, they get closer than others.  More often than not, they yield to the siren song of power.

But the Good exists, extrinsic to all of our human striving.  It is not socially constructed, but something deeper, something more fundamental, something more essential.  It does not depend on us, on our meat-monkey grasping and peculiar collective solipsisms.

And sure, sure, it's a transcendent mystery, one towards which we must always journey.

And yeas, it's of such mind-warping immensity that it tends to fill our souls with the kind of mortal terror that usually only appears in H.P. Lovecraft novels.

And yeah, I know, that's also almost neoPlatonic.  Seriously old way of thinking.  Technically, it's because I'm mystic, drawing my sense of truth from that deep wellspring of the divine that speaks out of every single faith tradition in human history.

I am not willing to let that go.

But that's what conservatives do.  We hold on to the good.

4)  Deconstruction sabotages progress.

Deconstruction is the method of progressives these days, and there's an irony in that.  Because progress implies growth.  It implies improvement.  It implies movement towards a better future.

And deconstruction, as a methodology?  It can be useful, if used judiciously and wisely.  You cannot make room for the new if you do not take some things apart.  You cannot step away from dark paths in your life unless you take apart those aspects of yourself that hunger for them.

If your eye offends you, as my Rabbi once said.

But unfettered and unbounded, deconstruction does none of those things.  It is nothing more than endless defenestration, as one assumption after another is smashed, and one edifice after another is torn down.  It burns it all down, always.

Nothing can give joy.  Nothing is ever right.  Everything is unworthy.

I mean, that's all that the howling mobverse of #twitter does.   Never was a communications medium so perfectly designed for the pharisee in all of us.

And a worldview that allows nothing to stand has no foundation upon which to build.  It leaves us with nothing but the churning, aimless chaos of self-annihilation, an unformed yawp of no-thingness instead of purpose and hope.

Again, I see no purpose in that, because it has no purpose.

5)  Science has limits

I love science.  I do, and I always have.  Our striving for the stars and our opening up of the fundamental physics of being is a wonder.  I'm right there with Carl Sagan, goggling at the billions and billions of stars.  Even on our fevered, changing world, there is so much beauty and intricacy.  It's a marvel.

But there are boundaries that we seem willing to cross in the name of "science" that trouble my soul.   Because I see human beings as having souls, which, given my profession, is unsurprising.

When I hear talk of how young people can't really make effective choices because their brains are still developing, I shudder a little bit, because that makes them less of a person and more of a "process."  When I hear a parent's love for a child or lover's delight in one another reduced to neurobiology and evolved patterns of response, I similarly balk.

Do not tell me that I love a doggo floof because of any reason other than that it is a doggo floof.  Seriously. Back off, science. You're adding nothing to this moment.

There may be truth in those insights, but it is an immaterial truth, a truth that misses the point of human existence in a fundamental way.  It doesn't deepen us, or grow us.  It just teaches us to view one another as flesh automata, and that is a terrible, terrible path for humankind.

We've walked that way before as a species, during the last century.  It does dark and horrid things.

6)  Friends are better than allies.

The language of progressivism talks about being an "ally."  Be a good ally, they say.  But that's all about power dynamics, about the actualization of self or collective interest as it "intersects" with the power interest of others.

Allyship falls away when interests diverge, or where disagreement arises.  In the zero sum game of the #twoke short attention span activism that defines our poisonous online life, it's become nearly impossible to disagree without it becoming about Not Being an Ally.

Friends don't think that way.  Friends don't care about power dynamics.  They just love you like you're their own flesh and blood.  They are as close to you as your own soul.

You can be completely yourself and unafraid with a friend.  This is not true with an ally.

Among the wisest of the secular ancients, that's why friendship was considered among the highest of the virtues.  Philia, that natural and volitional affinity, was a relationship of complete, freely given trust between one person and another.  Being an ally is a more sterile, formalistic, and self-interested form of relation, one in which lists of rules and trigger-avoidance-protocols define a carefully negotiated exchange.

And as one who follows the Nazarene as their Teacher in all things, the term "ally" sounds with a peculiar dissonance against the radical command to both love and friendship.   "A greater love has no-one than this," says Jesus, as he swore his life to his friends.  Not his "allies."  The Greek word for "ally" does not appear in any of the teachings of Jesus, nor does it occur in any of the Epistles.

It's also challenging, honestly, to integrate the conflict-assumption of the "ally" concept into the radical agape ethic taught by the Nazarene.  Sure, one can have enemies, those ruled by brokenness and the injustices created by our hunger for power. 

But the idea that your calling in existence is to go to war with those who your allies war with?  It stands in tension with the most fundamental ethic of Christian faith.  It is difficult to be authentically Christian and part of that form of binary relation. 


And so, being conservative, I am not.

7)  Marginality is not inherently normative.

My Teacher loved people who were marginalized.  I do too.  When power presses you down, and dehumanizes you, Jesus is there.

But just because you're on the margins doesn't mean you understand the whole picture.  Marginality conveys no inherent moral benefit.  It is a morally neutral state.  You can be marginal for a reason.  You can have internalized a pattern of thinking or lifeway that is less healthy and/or less lifegiving than others.

There are margins that lead us deeper into madness or farther into hatred.  There are margins that make us more selfish, or that pull us apart as cultures.

It isn't always the "leading edge," in the peculiar consultant speak of my left-leaning denomination.

Sometimes, unless we have the wisdom to know otherwise, the margin is nothing more than a precipice.


8)  Cultural identity is fluid and ever changing.

It's that melting pot thing, that old stodgy Schoolhouse Rock saying about the nature of the American republic...and, writ larger, a globalist view of humanity.

The Left sees the melting pot as an enemy of social identity, as a part of an oppressive system that strips away culture.  "Erasure" is the image, which indeed it does, vanishing the clean boundaries that establish discrete racial and ethnic identity, and that makes it dangerous.  If the deliniation between white and POCs ceases to be meaningful, if race and culture blend and shift and fold into one another, maintaining rigidly distinct identity groups becomes impossible.  Barack Obama, for example, ceases to be cleanly "black,"  and is suddenly something more complex.

And something more real.

That is a place where racism dies.

But reality and ideology mix poorly.

I see the melting pot as both more vibrant, more transformative, and more representative of how human anthropology and social dynamics have always worked.  Cultures shift and change in relation to one another.

Again, this is also how love works, in the most Jesusy sense of that word.

There's that.