Monday, March 30, 2009

Liberal Band-aids

As readers of this blog know, I used to describe myself as conservative in theology and liberal in politics but now have decided to embrace my inner conservative more fully. Let me give a short answer as to why. Culture precedes politics. Is that short enough? OK, let me tell you a story.

Remember the one about the dangerous road and concerned citizens who decided to do something about the many accidents near a dangerous curve that cars kept failing to negotiate, thus going off the cliff? They took up a collection to station an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff to get the injured people to hospital faster. This is social service. But then somebody got the idea of launching a political movement to get the government to straighten out the road. This is politics. Moral: the church needs to go beyond social service into politics in order to avoid just putting bandaids on injustice. It's hard to argue with this point.

However, the problem is that, while the move into politics is a move upstream from the problem, it doesn't go far enough upstream. Politics is the expression of the shared values of a community and it is impossible to get a group of vicious people to legislate virtuously. If you really want to build a culture of life, it is necessary to have a critical mass of people who actually live in affirmation of life. Even if you have pro-life laws, if the culture of life declines the laws will be flouted and eventually altered. The laws reflect the culture. They also shape the culture; I'm far from denying the educative role of the law. That is why I said "a critical mass of people" above and not a totally pro-life culture. We don't wait for unaniminity, but we can't proceed with a tiny minority either.

Let's take the issue of unwed mothers. Conservatives like me are active in pregnancy help centers where we provide friendship, peer group interaction, information, prayer, mentoring, practical help etc. for unwed mothers. This is a admittedly a bandaid approach. But every responsible parent puts a bandaid on a child's skinned knee; bandaids are good not bad. They are just not the total answer to complex social issues.

So how do we move upstream on this issue? Liberals say increase the welfare state and let the government pay for raising the child since the father won't. Is that going far enough upstream? I think not. The real issue is sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility. Girls must be taught to say no; boys must be taught the meaning of responsible fatherhood. Increasing welfare won't address this issue and might even make the problem worse by further undermining personal responsibility. Insofar as it does help, it is still a bandaid. Surely the richest society in the world has something more to offer pregnant women than abortion and a welfare cheque. Money can't replace morality.

The folks who support Sojourners tend to despise those who support Focus on the Family. Why is that? It puzzles me to think that anyone concerned about the fact that illegitimate births are skyrocketing in our society would think that building up the family is irrelevant to social issues ranging from crime to poverty to education. Perhaps liberals perceive social conservatives as impediments to their "solve all problems through government programs" agenda. But do liberals really think that even if the problem could be solved without increasing the size and scope of government, it still would be preferable to do so through the government? It appears to me that the answer is yes. Liberal ideology simply holds that justice and peace can only come through the infinite expansion of government programs and the infinite expansion of the bureaucratic, managerial state. This is where I get off the liberal bus. (see previous post.)

One more point. Why do liberals put their faith in government to such an extreme degree? It is because they want to have a just society without becoming just people. It is an attempt to substitute a rational system of distribution for virtue. Liberals want to be personally irresponsible while being socially responsible. To be a conservative is to face up to the need to engage morality as well as politics for that is what culture is all about - morality. I think that politics only starts to get interesting when we move into issues of right and wrong, good and evil, virtue and vice. And liberalism just isn't interested in going this far upstream.


.evets@ubuntu said...


While some may tend to lean towards one extreme and say that social change must always come through new laws and better government regulations (and therefore the solution to issues like abortion is to elect enough pro-life people), I tend to lean in the opposite direction. That is, I'm highly skeptical of claims that electing just one more conservative pro-life politician is really going to change anything. I tend to think we need to change people not systems. I can't wrap my head around the whole issue of social justice and poverty, but I can serve in a soup kitchen. I think that rather than trying to force a society to change by imposing laws that the majority does not agree with, we need to instead first change the people's hearts so that they look at their current laws and then cry out for change.

Christians in Canada face the unique problem that they now live in a country where the majority of people do not share their values, therefore any attempts to push our values onto the public through political means is going to be met with massive resistance.

Craig Carter said...

We can't just choose one or the other as a fixed principle for all time. We need to have a mature and comprehensive approach and remember that history never stands still, but is always evolving. This is something that is easier to see when you have lived a half a century. Social action, politics and building a culture of life are all important; in fact we build a culture of life through social action and politics.

If we could get pro-life politicans elected and pro-life laws passed, that would mean we did have a majority pro-life culture, so it would not be imposing something on the majority. But how will we know when we have a majority if we never try?

You mention that pro-life laws will be met with massive resistance. So what this means is that the culture of death people (a minority of the total population) have more courage of their convictions and more fervor than Christians do. Christians are lukewarm and fearful. This is a rebuke to us Christians and our shame. It must not be tolerated; maybe it is time for Christians to be marching in the streets and lying down in front of the abortion clinic doors.

It takes courage to folllow Christ. As you know, discipleship is not making a comfortable and materialistic life for oneself. It means cross-bearing.