Tag Archives: conservative

What Lies Ahead

Things change. You’d think the fact that we all now carry the internet around in our pockets would’ve demonstrated that. What did President Nixon ever tweet? Conservatives, however, want it both ways. They want to pretend nothing has changed, but they still want to keep and reap the benefits of that change. This was shown most clearly by the ouster of Paige Patterson from his presidency of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Seminaries don’t make national news without a good scandal. (And some good scandals are never discovered.) This one involves demeaning statements made about women in Patterson’s long storm track through the Southern Baptist Convention, of which he was past president.

Journalists seem to only now be catching on to the fact that “conservative” is a codeword for misogyny. Thus it has always been. The fact that it would take nearly two millennia before women could take leadership roles in Christianity (and in some very large sects they still can’t) should’ve been a hint. It’s the old frog in the slowly heating kettle thing. Nobody notices until it’s too late. Since conservative Christianity has always downplayed the worth of women, it didn’t come to public notice until the #MeToo moment. Enough women had to speak up before society took notice of the obvious. Many men feel theologically entitled. Entitled to run things, and they live by the lie that things haven’t changed since Jesus strolled out of that garden tomb a couple thousand years ago. Well, apart from the fact that men no longer wear dresses and keep their hair short, in Roman style. But let’s not call it that, let’s say Evangelical style.

You see, the way you say things matters. Said a certain way, a misrepresentation of the truth is called a lie. It’s considered one of the greatest sins possible in the conservative lexicon. In another way, however, the same statement becomes doctrine, and that’s a whole different way of looking at things. Make it the fault of the Big Guy up there and the other big guys down here are off the hook. After all, the Almighty’s a bachelor. Such a theology has no possibility of treating women equally. Theologians say God is sexless. What’s that like? We have trouble imagining it. English has no neuter gender so we use the masculine pronoun and once we do thoughts go back to sexual features. It’s deeply ingrained. That doesn’t mean it’s the truth, however. After all, Mr. Patterson will still be kept on as theologian in residence. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sell-by Date

Labels give us the information we need to enact our prejudices immediately. Having been on the receiving end of great cruelty by “conservatives,” for example, I’m immediately cautious of anyone bearing that brand. A strange confession, perhaps, from someone who grew up in that camp. I struggle to remind myself that a label’s not a person. For example, I had a very good education at Grove City College, a conservative school. It wasn’t uniformly that way, of course. Now having a better sense of higher education politics I can see how this might happen—how a school committed to a doctrine might inadvertently challenge that view in the name of education. Quite a few things swayed me to broaden my view as a religion major at Grove City. One of those collegiate experiences was watching Cabaret.

Enough time has passed that I can’t recall the exact context of the film. I suspect it was a weekend entertainment required by some humanities intro course. For a kid from the sticks, seeing a ménage à trois on the big screen made a deep impression when I’d always thought of the world in binary terms. The larger message of the film was not lost on me, however, that those who are prejudiced will always find ways of expressing their hatred, if society will let them. Last night I watched Cabaret again. As a movie it hasn’t aged a day. Society, however, seems to have regressed back to those days when a Nazi could stand and proudly sing at a social gathering and others, distressed by economic hardship, would willingly  overlook the evil that lay in plain sight in the hope of change.

Back when the film was made I suspect the Vietnam War was on the public mind. We thought we’d safely gotten beyond the fascist threat. In the scene where the boarding house residents are complaining about conspiracies between “Jewish bankers and Communists” it became clear that people fall for the same tactics time and again. Rumors, fear, and economic disappointment are a dangerous combination in a democracy. The players have changed but the fact of fascism hasn’t. We can see it being enacted plainly, as it has been every day since 11/9. Accommodation is more deadly than conservatism. As the story opens Nazis aren’t welcome at the Cabaret. By the end they predominate there. Their hateful agenda had been accommodated, normalized by the press. And who can forget the song that could well be the anthem of the current administration, “Money Makes the World Go Round”? There’s an accurate label for that, I’m sure.

Dirty Words

I don’t have any bumper-stickers on my car. As clever as I may think any particular one to be, driving down the highway is not the place that I want other drivers to get ticked off at me. A more judicious use of turn-signals would be my preference over mass-produced witticisms. I suspect that most readers know of my liberal leanings. Some have even bothered to inform me that they no longer read my musings precisely because of this. On the information superhighway, unlike the real highway, you can just click off and not be annoyed anymore. My bumper, therefore, will stay clean. While in a parking lot recently I saw a bumper-sticker reading “Not A Liberal.” I had to ponder this a bit.

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I grew up conservative, although, as working-class folk, we didn’t label ourselves with that word at home. I wouldn’t have even known what it meant. Liberal, in its basic form, has to do with generosity and being respectful of others. The media has built it up into a kind of evil juggernaut that intends to take over the safe, unchanging world of religion and politics. I wonder how liberal became a dirty word. Who, among your friends, would want to remain so if you disrespect their views and refuse to show generosity? I get the sense that even conservatives are liberal with their friends. When I walk past the homeless sleeping on a subway vent to keep warm, I wonder if conservatives ever read the parable of the good Samaritan. What bumper-stickers would the homeless wear?

A polarized society had better prepare for the big chill. In my admittedly limited experience, people come in a continuum of positions, not just one extreme or the other. It makes better news, however, when we divide into camps, the more clearly to spar with one another. What separates us is more important than what brings us together. Yes, I grew up conservative. I continued, however, to grow up. I suspect in some things I am still conservative, while in many I am liberal. I’m not sure what I’d put on my bumper-sticker. What do I want people to know about me while I’m driving? I think it might be better to suggest “I Respect You,” than an implied “I don’t like your views.” Then again, since it happens so often, I now look for a Jesus fish automatically when I’m cut off in traffic. Be careful of what you put on your bumper, because dirty words are in the eyes of the reader.