Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Christian Left

I have the entire house to myself today. My body still doesn't know how to process it. My shoulders are still hunched up to my ears, waiting for a child to jump out at me and tell me somebody hit her or won't allow him to ride his bike. I was shooing a rather annoying fly earlier and thought it felt familiar...

Anyway, I'm spending the day writing. I've got a rogue little young adult novel I hope to get going before I die, I am getting my basic thoughts down for an article I'd like to write for a print magazine (which one yet, I'm not entirely certain, but I'm looking), and I'm blogging.

I've thought a lot about Mormon culture lately. It seems to be the bane of many more members than we may think. Though I appreciate some of the culture, I really do hate a lot of it. Part of that is the almost inherent conservatism that exists. I don't know where it comes from, but I can assume it's from the idea that good = conservative.

I don't get this.

I was on the phone with someone the other day, somebody I've respected for the entire decade I've known her, and our relationship has changed dramatically. We used to be best friends, then we married, had kids, etc., and we're different people. When my husband and I moved away from his hometown so he could go to school, he and I changed even more, and away from the eyes of family. Different experiences and acquired new knowledge brought us away from the more conservative viewpoints and we started thinking...liberally. While we are still friends, our more "lefty" views have come under light lately. I was explaining blogs to her and said I had this one because nobody else really shared my views.

Her entire tone changed to something foreign and hinting of disdain. "You can say that again."

Her words and tone caught in my heart. I worried about this once we began to think differently because it happened while my husband attended a rather liberal university. You always hear conservatives grumble over these institutions. The young voters of this country are more often than not liberal - and unfortunately, this connection has brought some to think young - naive - liberal - naive. Never mind that my husband, at age twenty-eight, isn't considered part of the "youth" vote anymore.

But there's always a quote that rings through my brain: "If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain."

It's cute, really, but rather insulting as well. And a generalization. I know of many older liberals who are not only highly intelligent, but highly compassionate as well. Moreso than their conservative counterparts. This is not to say that conservatives lack a heart, but it is to say that not all liberals lack a brain.

It's a fun quote conservatives like to toss around, and I think it plagued me because I knew much of my LDS family would love. Being a worrier, I worried about the almost inevitable backlash when Eric and I started allowing quiet thoughts a stronger voice, thoughts like, "hey, maybe not everyone on food stamps is a lazy ass working the system" or "hey, maybe this whole Iraq thing really was a mistake and is stupid and we need to get out," or "Huh, the UN is messed up and kind of a joke" (you want to know why Darfur is still happening? look at the countries with veto power in the UN - China, specifically)

or "Hey, isn't the Law of Consecration more of a liberal ideal than it is conservative?"

We know about the "religious right" and how everyone likes to pander to them. Conservatives love their ideas about working for what you get, no on abortion (period) and gay people need to just stay in the closet and pretend to be straight. It sounds good. It brings back cozy nostalgic memories of cowboys and men opening up doors for women and people knowing their place.

We like to dream about the "good ol' days," but like my great-grandma, who will be 95 this January, said "the good ol' days weren't all that good."

We can idealize what it was like when men were men and women stayed home, barefoot and pregnant. We can idealize what it was like when if you were hungry, you cut your chicken's head off and ate. Self-sufficiency. Work.

It's all fabulous and I agree: work ethics, manners, chivalry, self-sufficiency is all great. The problem is when we decide we're better than other people, that we know what other people are up to. The problem is when we assume.

Once I realized that the world was not black and white, a whole rainbow opened up to me and I saw that everything, everything was relative to experience, history, associations, and the like. One truth is not another person's truth. Only God knows the intentions of our heart, only He knows who we are, and nobody else can say that. We all have our secrets. We all have our skeletons in the closets. They all come together to make up the fabric of our being, of who we are and what we think. It doesn't make any one viewpoint invalid because it doesn't agree with a majority of people.

We have to remember that we are all brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. While we need to work for our bread, we also need to have compassion on those less fortunate and share a bit of our bread. Not everyone has the same opportunities others do. Life sucks sometimes. I have a niece and a nephew, half brother and sister, who don't have a mom because she decided she wants to play. While their grandparents are my heroes, I know those kids have suffered and their actions often testify to it. But people don't know.

No matter how moral you think you are, you mess up too. We shouldn't kick people who mess up. We should offer them a hand up and some support. It's another thing completely if they're intent on living in the dump, but it is our responsibility to show some freaking compassion.

The Lord in His scriptures exhorted more often charity than he did self-sufficiency, hard work, and narrow mindedness. He didn't toss a stone at the sinner, even when he was the only one without sin.

How often do we toss stones? Even in the Church?

When a woman (or man) goes through a divorce, do we gossip?

When a person in Sacrament meeting passes up the Sacrament without partaking, do we gossip?

When we hear of someone turning down a calling, do we gossip?

Do we think we're better and they're not faithful or "worthy"?

When we're listening to a lesson that tells us to be better, do we look within, or do we look for other people who may be guilty of that crime?

There are basic conservative values that are good, that everyone should strive for. But I believe with everything in me that liberal values mirror more closely what Christ would have us do. No, I do not "love the sinner AND the sin," but I allow for people to sin because that's just what we do. It's what Christ has allowed us to do, what Heavenly Father has. There is good in sin, in that we learn and we are polished, and we grow. Of course this isn't the case unless we repent, but aren't we grateful that's there? If it wasn't, then I'd be more on the side of "keep everyone locked up in a cage. Chastity belts! Prohibit drinking, smoking, gambling, premarital sex, gay sex!" (not all of which I necessarily believe are immoral, per se)

If we continue to push and shove people who have different thoughts, viewpoints, and - gasp - even values, we will not be convincing them of the error of their ways, but be sending them on their way.

You do not have to be a strict, my way or the highway, kind of person to be a good person. You don't even have to be LDS to be a good person. Hell, I know of a lot of amazing non-LDS people who I admire more than most in the Church. It's because we can be a damn haughty people.

While the Gospel is perfect, people are not. Gray isn't bad. Black and white is. What matters more is that a person has come to their decision after prayer and by confirmation of the Spirit. If their decision does not mirror yours (or the bishops, or the stake presidents, or for heaven's sake, even the Prophet's), it does not mean it is wrong, it means it is different.

Our system of government often, if not always, allows for the accused to have the benefit of the doubt. We presume a person to be innocent until proven guilty.

We should all be willing to give one another the benefit of the doubt. You would want it, after all.


Amanda said...

Grey is my favorite color. ;)

Good luck writing your book.

Noe said...

So if I'm not a conservative in four more years than I have no brain... Interesting... considering my IQ is probably higher than the dumbass who came up with that quote in the first place... lolol

I hope you took advantage of having the house to yourself and took a nap! I need one, but I don't think I'm going to get one. *sigh* Such is the life of the mother.

Katie said...

Interesting how pervasive conservativism is in our culture, including the idea that everyone on food stamps is a lazy bum working the system... I just find it ironic, since 95% of those in our ward are on food stamps, Medicare, and/or CHIP, since they are dental students and, therefore, poor. They receive welfare, yet probably wouldn't call themseleves "welfare recipients."

Interesting indeed.

Lisa said...

Amanda: Gray is a lovely color. I appreciate gray skies the best. I love rain.


Noe: Well maybe we'd know if you'd, I dunno, tell us your IQ ;)

And no nap for me. Work. It was nice. I didn't feel like killing the kids later. Very refreshing.

Katie: haha! I know!

And not only that, they're on government programs because we're encouraged greatly to start a family ASAP (not to mention get married ASAP) - even though we are not able to live within our we're forced to live off the government. As in, not within our means.

But we're totally different because we're following the prophet. Everyone else must be lazy and sucking off the system.

It is very interesting.

And don't forget annoying.

I smell another blog entry...

Katie said...

It really is a shame. And then you have those who are on CHIP/welfare/etc. asking those moms who ARE working outside the make ends meet why they aren't following the prophet. (For once, I'm actually not talking about myself here - just a general observation. I work because I enjoy it, not because I have to - evil, I know). And you have just just bite your tongue and not respond: "Huh. Well, I was trying to be self-sufficient, and thought I was following the Prophet. Did I miss something I guess there is a heirarchy in our culture as to which laws are more important than others, and how to interpret church council.

Katie said...

Wow, my punctation and grammar in that last post were horrendous... my thoughts were getting away from me again. That happens sometime when my brain works faster than my fingers type.

Hope you understood what I was trying to say...

Lisa said...

No worries, I did.

(and I sympathize. I'm a perpetual editor not just because my fingers are dyslexic, but syntax gets bad, etc)

I just so appreciate the self-righteousness of my fellow members. So good to know I'm on righteous welfare and everyone else must not need it as bad as much as they think they do. Oh, if only they'd learn they didn't need a car or anything. Ride a bike! Walk!


It's okay to be on welfare as long as you're being a SAHM. If not, well, then you're obviously unworthy of it and you need to take a second look at your budgeting skills.

Welfare is for the conservatives, or religious right obviously.

Ugh, I really should wait to write on this for tomorrow or Monday. I may be getting ahead of myself here ;)

adorned with life said...

I think you got a bit repetitive there because you felt so strongly about it. If I were your magazine editor, I would have cut that down. :-)


That quote, by the way was from Winston Churchill.

Here are some posts I just wrote that you will appreciate. Feel free to pass them onto friends and family to say "Na na na na na naaa! Here's someone else who thinks I'm right and you're wrong!" ;-) Kidding. (Sort of.)

And the ones about why Mormons should vote Obama:

I would not normally be so blatantly self-promoting. I just know how I feel when I read something that totally validates my point of view. It's kind of like a big hug. So, this is my big hug to you.

(Ignore my old blog. You don't allow anon comments where I can just put in my name and link and I'm too lazy to put in my Typekey ID.)

adorned with life said...

Just read the comments above. Funny that someone said Winston Churchill was a dumbass. LOL. Churchill was pretty brilliant, actually.

Lisa said...

I'll go check out your links

Actually, I did cite the quote as Churchill's at first, until I started reading that he never said that at all (claimed he was a liberal at age 35).

Brain twins. Awww :)

Thanks for coming by

Laura said...

Great post, Lisa. I do believe that if more conservatives really understood the ideals of the Democratic party, they might find themselves converting.

"But I believe with everything in me that liberal values mirror more closely what Christ would have us do."

It does kind of bother me when both conservatives and liberals try to claim that God is on their side. When we say things like, "God would do things this way instead of that way" or "God would allow this to happen if He were here," I think we make some pretty dangerous assumptions. None of us really knows where the Lord stands on social issues since his ways are higher than ours. I would imagine that He knows the perfect balance of justice and mercy. Yes, he allows us to sin, but he also excercised righteous judgement when it was needed (i.e. like when he cast merchants out of the temple)

In any case, I have to believe that there is good in both political parties. I like to think that it is the spirit with which you involve yourself in the political process that matters.

Lisa said...

lol, Laura, yeah. You've got a point, and the better woman in me would've deleted that little sentence a while ago - or at least changed it.

It's not that I don't see the good in either party. Hell, there's good in the Green party, Constitution, etc.

What I get annoyed at, and what probably happened in my writing this, is the insistence of so many of my conservative friends that THEY are right, that you cannot possibly be a good christian (let alone LDS) and be liberal. Period. Because then, according to that stupid quote, you'd be stupid, regardless of your age. Just stupid.

You see?

That conversation with my friend, the one I spoke about in the entry, rattled me...a lot, and perhaps that's where that line came from as well. Frustration.

While I know there is good in each party and while I completely insist God wouldn't involve himself in our silly politics, I do believe the principles of the gospel regarding charity and compassion are found more in liberal ideals. Right now, that is what matters the most to me. Right now, that's what I think we could use more of. I wince every time someone tells me they're going to be picky in who they are charitable to because "who knows if they deserve it or not."

But no, no party has God's stamp of approval on it. If He came today, he'd probably pat us on the head and create his own government ( exactly what is supposed to happen, no?)

Anyway, I hope that helps clarify things. Thanks for bringing that up.

Steve M. said...

Wow, awesome post. Wish I could say something more profound than this, but your feelings and experiences really mirror my own.

My in-laws have become progressively more uncomfortable as I've become progressively more open about my liberal views. My wife is definitely more of a centrist than me, but that still puts her pretty far to the left of where her family stands, and they tend to attribute her that to my corrupting influence (because obviously my wife can't form her own independent opinion about things, right?).

With the recent election, my in-laws didn't hesitate to say that they "don't agree" with my politics, but they couldn't really articulate why. My father-in-law offered a flimsy explanation that he didn't agree with Obama's economic policies, but that seems like a poor justification for their discomfort.

Anyway, I'm just trying to say that I can relate.

I don't know where it comes from, but I can assume it's from the idea that good = conservative.

And I think we can attribute the "good = conservative" idea in Mormonism to the lasting influence of conservative minds like J. Reuben Clark, Harold B. Lee, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Ezra Taft Benson, as well as the Church's consistent support for right-wing political causes over the last half-century (opposing civil rights, interracial marriage, the ERA, abortion, gay marriage, etc.).