the fun of listening to liberals and conservatives

June 13, 2008

Just read a number of posts touching on liberal and conservative again, so here is some thoughts…

I guess the liberal/conservative debate just wont ever stop. I actually find it quite funny. I remember earlier in my studies often saying that the problem with fundamentalists is that they simply define themselves by what they are not: “We are not like those liberal people who don’t believe in the resurrection”. Today I must acknowledge that many of my non-fundamentalist and non-conservative friends, are just that, non-conservative: We are not like those conservative people who take the Bible literally.

OK, I know I’m making a caricature again, and many evangelicals or reformed people (I guess the two groups I have the most contact with) would be able to talk about what they are. We believe that sin is the problem of the world (see Nati Stander blogging on the blog of his father Hennie Stander yesterday), or we believe in the grace of God (for the Reformed people), and obviously many would say that they simply believe in God.

So while it’s funny to see people identifying themselves by who they are not, it’s just as funny to see people asking excuse for who they are, Nati is a good example. In a way I think it’s a manner of speaking, saying “I’m sorry but this is what I believe”, but there also sometimes when there seem to be a factor of having this gut feel that the other one is saying something that makes sense, but not being comfortable with what is being said, and thus saying sorry because you just can’t get yourself to agree, but can’t really disagree without this nagging feeling that you might be wrong.

I’m pretty sure that those who know me, and those who’ve read the blog for a while, would be able to point me to places where I’ve done similar things, and I won’t mind you joining me for a laugh when you notice me doing it.

I guess I could go on for quite some time with stories on liberals and conservatives, but let’s get this post done. Two things I just want to point to: One, I’m not sure what liberal or conservative mean. I learned the terminology in the context of Theology and Biblical interpretation, but later found that the terms is much more complex than that, so complex that I usually consider the terms useless in a conversation, just a way of saying that I disagree without giving a reason. Two, and this is well-known, people can be labeled conservative on one aspect of life, and liberal on another, which further adds to the complexity.

More and more I think that there must be something much deeper than this divide. I have conservatives that I love to work with, while in our context most would consider me a liberal (not sure if this is an appropriate label though). Steve also point to something similar when he write about the real liberal. And for fun read this post about how liberals and conservatives really sometimes seem to play for the same field (a feeling which many of us must have had quite a lot of times in our lives).

As a footnote let me just point out that I think there might be a difference between not something, and not anymore something. The not something state which I’m describing is finding identity in whom I’m against. Philip Harrold wrote an article about Deconversion in the Emerging Church which talk about not anymore whatever I’ve been. But this is seen as a transitionary state, even by those who find themselves in this state, it’s the post state of being. This state of self-critique, of looking back at where I was but cannot be anymore I think should be taken very seriously, but let us all strive to find identity in who we are right now, rather than in who our enemies are.

2 Responses to “the fun of listening to liberals and conservatives”

  1. Steve Says:

    Cobus,

    Part of the confusion is that people fail to distinguish between political, economic and theological liberalism, which are not at all the same thing.

    The NHK was (I have been told) theologically liberal but politically conservative. I was told that by Prof Chris Botha, Prof of Church History at Unisa, when I asked why politically conservative members of the NGK broke away to form the Afrikaanse Protestantse Kerk — why didn’t they just join the Hervormde Kerk, which was politically conservative. And he said that they didn’t like it because it was theologically liberal.

    For more on some of the differences between political and economic liberalism, see another blog post of mine: Notes from underground: Liberalism, neoliberalism and neocons

  2. Cobus Says:

    There is a joke running that in the NHK you can say what you want, but watch out for what you do. In the NGK you can do what you want, but watch out for what you say!

    The joke is actually very near to the truth. Theologically you can say just about anything in the NHK, but they still can’t get past the “volkskerk” debate.


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