Thursday, June 2, 2016

Liberals and Conservatives: Clash of the Titans

My first year in major seminary, one of my professors, who happened to be the Academic Dean, had enough of us seminarians.  We seminarians liked to throw the words 'liberal' and 'conservative' like poisoned darts at each other.  He reprimanded us for misusing the words incorrectly. He told us the following"  From a philosophical standpoint, liberal and conservative refer to where one's locus of authority is.  For a conservative, the locus of authority is someone or something other than themselves.  For a liberal, the locus of authority is themselves. He pointed out that you can have right and left wings of both.  For example you could have left wing conservatives who locus of authority was the state and right wing conservatives whose locus of authority was the Church.  In the words of Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride, "You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means."

The difference is how a person uses objective truth.  The more conservative a person is, the more objective truth is the center and they rely less and less upon opinion.  The more liberal a person is, the more personal opinion and tastes weigh in on decision making.  A strict conservative can lean towards being rigid whereas a strict liberal will embrace anarchy. 

People will attach specific traits to either side.  It is a fallacy.  Rarely in life are all A =B.  Love, rationality, mercy and such are not traits specific to one side.  They are exercised in different ways.

Christianity is by its nature a conservative faith.  The locus of authority is God.  What He says is the way life is to be lived.  This is passed on through the Scriptures and the teachings and beliefs of the Church.  Because the locus of authority is outside the person, then it is up to the person to conform to that belief.  Most of the tension within our churches comes from trying to make Christianity a liberal faith.  We see this in the desire for the Church to get with the times; that it is the Church and the Scriptures that have to conform with the become relevant to the society.  To do this requires that the Church move away from objective truth (something that is true by its own merit) and replace it with subjective truth (something that is true because I say it is true).  The more that this move is made, the more that the teachings of the church are first treated as a cafeteria and later as irrelevant to life.  The quicker the move, the emptier the churches become.  Why?  Because in losing their authority, they lose their relevance.

What rises in its stead is the tyranny of opinion.  The worth of something is based on what I like and/or believe.  We see this clash in multiple arenas in our society.  The tyranny of opinion, of philosophical liberalism will lead to this.

Let's take our politics.  The words republican and democrat really mean very little any more.  There are really liberals and conservatives, with the vast majority being liberal.  The telltale sign is this: for a true conservative, he or she holds their beliefs as true and do not need other agreement with it to validate their beliefs.   There is room to debate ideas without personal attacks.  A  TRUE conservative can walk away from a debate without feeling as animosity to the other side.  He of she doesn't need to shut down or censor the other side.  The same cannot be true for a true philosophical liberal. Because they are their own locus of authority, they need outside approval of their ideas to validate them.  Alternative voices must be conquered or silenced!  Hello, safe zones!  Hello censorship.  The tyranny of opinion can only lead to division.  Debates are personal as disagreement equals personal attack.

If we as Catholics are to rise back up again and refill our churches, it is going to be through adhering to the authority of Christ and His Church.  This means conforming ourselves to Christ and His teachings instead of wanting the church to change its teachings to conform to what I desire.  this is much harder to do, but unlike expecting God to change truth to suit me, it is not an exercise in futility.

In today's Gospel, when Jesus is asked is asked what is the greatest of the commandments, his reply is the shema: Deuteronomy 6:4-9..."in essence, "You shall love the Lord with ALL your mind..." with the addition that you shall love your neighbor as yourself."  It is  a complete submitting of our will to God.  It is making God the locus of authority in our lives.  We priests and those charged with teaching the faith within the Church must (and I mean MUST) teach an complete adherence to the Gospel, especially when that adherence is difficult.  If we are true to the faith, then we must have God as He has revealed His will as the locus of authority in our lives.  In this we will find the union that escapes us when we become our own locus of authority.        

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