I have not always been liberal. I was born into and raised in a conservative/Republican household. My father was definitely Republican, as were, to my knowledge, all his friends. He reckoned that President Richard Nixon was “hounded from office” when he resigned the presidency in August of 1974. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Ronald Reagan, and he hewed to the conservative view on most social and political issues that I remember. My mother was (is) also conservative. Her brand of religious expression is what I would describe as fundamentalist Christian. She would watch and listen to religious Christian programming on TV and recorded material and buy into the messages they would peddle. (Are you detecting attitude here on my part? Perhaps you are. I vainly groped for a word other than ‘peddle.’) She believes that there are signs that Jesus is coming soon, prays ‘in tongues,’ and repeatedly renounces Satan when praying aloud in English. Needless to say, she was and remains conservative on social issues.
All right, well, maybe my shift toward liberalism did begin as the result of my upbringing after all. My parents made it easy enough for me to reject their views. My dad’s recurring argument-ender was “common sense.” I have come to understand that to mean, “If you disagree with me, you’re an idiot.” Demeaning as that is, “common sense” is also code for, “I can’t persuade you to my point of view using reason and logic.” Someone else put it, “Common sense isn’t very common and rarely has anything to do with sense.” The way I used to put it was that my dad was probably the only person in the world with common sense: Uncommonly common. My mom’s views were easy to reject because they were based not on a value system I respected, namely using one’s reasoning skills, but rather relied on ‘spiritual’ experiences that I found to be suspect. She is also one to subscribe to the belief that holy scripture, the Bible, is the literal word of God and inerrant. I will never buy into that and don’t believe that anyone actually does. Rather, I believe that everyone who refers to scripture at all will cherry-pick the passages they like best and that conform to their biases. I claim to be no different in that regard.
To this day, I have never lived in a congressional district in which the person elected to the U.S. House of Representatives is someone for whom I have voted. Never. I’ve lived all my life in California, so I have voted for U.S. Senators and Governors who are Democrats, as well as for other offices where their elections are statewide. But where the voting district is more localized, not so much. I’ve lived most of my life in Western Riverside County, and I’ve also lived in San Diego during my college years, Oceanside briefly, and Orange County. In each place, the Democratic Party candidates I have voted for in elections to the U.S. House of Representatives, State Senate and State Assembly have lost. Therefore, I have always been “represented” by Republicans.
I was raised attending a Lutheran church, and I remain a Lutheran to this day. My wife was an ordained Lutheran pastor and served a congregation for fourteen years. Politically speaking, Lutherans are a diverse group, but the higher profile persons tend to be conservative. I know that there exist liberal people in the congregations (especially among the clergy), but the more vocal people in matters of politics and social issues are the conservative ones.
My point is this: I am very familiar with conservative thinking, conservative expression, conservative living. I have not escaped it in any community in which I have lived, nor in any church I have attended, nor, for that matter, the media. I have been immersed in it my whole life. Conservatism surrounds me.
Two main elements, as I see it, inform my liberal bias. The first and foremost is the one thing to which I was exposed on a continual basis when I was young that fostered liberal thought: The Gospel of Jesus. Now, I confess that I have not polled anyone about the following contention, but I believe that even most of my atheist and other non-Christian friends and acquaintances will concede that a couple thousand years ago there lived a man we English-speakers refer to as Jesus of Nazareth, and furthermore that stuff was written about him. Stuff written about his life in what Christians regard as holy scripture, the Bible, is contained in the first four books of the New Testament: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Is there disagreement with this contention so far? So what I maintain is that in reading the accounts of Jesus’ life and the things he is purported to have said, as contained in the four Gospels, with any degree of comprehension, would lead a reasonable reader to conclude that Jesus of Nazareth was the most liberal liberal in the history of liberalism.
Think about it. Think about those with whom he associated and how he defied social conventions of his day in order to do so; sinners, tax collectors, women, children, the unclean and impure, lepers, widows, orphans, even the loathed half-breed Samaritans. Think about the ones he rebuked; the priest, the Levite, the profiteers at the temple, the judgmental, the guardians of scripture and keepers and enforcers of The Law. His harsh words were for those who placed themselves above others and his kind words were for society’s outcasts. Can you think of anyone in history who is even close to being so liberal? Can you think of anyone today? Can you envision anyone in the future? I can’t. I can only wish that I could be so liberal. According to scripture in the Old Testament, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Jesus boiled it down to two: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. I admit that I fall short on both counts. I don’t always love God, and I certainly don’t consistently love my neighbor as myself, if ever. But I want to. To the extent that I strive to be a better person, whether or not that puts me in better standing with God, I wish to be more liberal. I describe acts of kindness, acts that elevate the downtrodden, acts that help the needy, as liberal acts. I believe that’s what Jesus would have us do. I believe that’s what he did in his time on Earth among us. It’s what he taught.
The other main element that informs my leftward-leanings is that while conservatives are prolific at making assertions, they are not so good at backing them up. When a right-winger says, “That Nancy Pelosi – what a bitch!,” the bobble-headed think-alikes nod in agreement. But it’s fair to ask: In what way is she a bitch? What has she said or done that justifies the considerable vitriol that is hurled in her direction? Curiously, in her own district, some of her own constituents criticize her for not being liberal enough. But what about liberalism is bad in and of itself? Explanations are seldom, if ever, forthcoming. And of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), please be specific. Is it that she is way, way smarter than average? Is it that she was, unlike her successor as Speaker, John Boehner (R-OH), successful is passing legislation, that she didn’t bring bills to the floor that lacked the votes to pass until they did have the votes? It’s hardly her fault that Boehner is bad at counting. Conversely, and this is not to say that liberals are above name-calling, when liberals are critical of a conservative on a particular issue, the conservative’s words and/or deeds are provided to point out the inaccuracies, flaws in logic or hypocrisies.
Over time, I will be citing a veritable plethora of examples where conservative politicians and pundits have neglected to explain what it is they’re talking about, leading me to conclude that they themselves don’t know. It seems to me that far too many conservative “thinkers,” and I use that word perhaps giving them way too much benefit of the doubt, have simply excused themselves from making a lick of sense.
So to summarize, I reject conservative thinking because I find it incompatible with Christian philosophy. I would further add that the propensity of many conservatives to demonize those who disagree with them is very un-Christian.
Also, conservatives tend not to back up their rhetoric with reason. The late Chicago columnist Mike Royko once wrote, “Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Let the Republican Party put that on their platform and watch those campaign dollars roll in.”