Friday, August 25, 2006

sobering thoughts for a born-again liberal

I grew up politically conservative but somehow found myself leaning more liberal in the past few years. Right now, it's actually kind of hard to know where to put myself in terms of political categories. I tend to prefer a deconstruction of the American left-right paradigm as mostly a false dichotomy designed to marginalize the masses. (Does that make me sound like a Communist?) Maybe my outlook is just a product of the current political landscape, where all mainstream politicians seem to agree on the issues that are important to me. Maybe I just like being on the fringe, where it's more fun to debate. But there must be some significance to the fact that Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan can be found on the same side, over against the President and his chief opponents in Congress.

Anyway, I was excited a couple of years ago to discover left-wing Evangelicalism. I had been feeling pretty depressed about how difficult it was to find Evangelicals who weren't rabid supporters of Bush. That's when I came across folks like Ron Sider and Jim Wallis, who seemed to preserve a more liberal strand that had always been part of Evangelicalism but had been drowned out by other forces. Remember that early in its history American Evangelicalism was actually a progressive movement that pushed through morality and social justice agendas. It seems like the rise of secular socialism caused a lot of Evangelicals to recoil into a more conservative outlook, for fear of guilt by association. Well, it wasn't too long after this discovery that I found my way out of Evangelicalism altogether and into Orthodoxy (at least in heart, if not all the way just yet). But I still sympathize with a lot of left-wing views. Here, then, are some excerpts from letter #16 in St. Theophan the Recluse's The Spiritual Life:
I would guess that among your friends are progressive thinkers, or that you have joined a society having such people in it, and they have scattered your good sense. Such people usually rave in this manner. Phrases such as "the good of mankind" and "the good of the people" are always on their tongues. . . .

Do whatever falls to your hands, in your circle and in your situation--and believe that this is and will be your true work; nothing more from you is required. It is a great error to think that you must undertake important and great labors, whether for heaven, or, as the progressives think, in order to make one's contribution to humanity. . . . The purpose is the blessed life beyond the grave; the means are the works according to the commandments, the execution of which is required by each instance of life. It seems to me that all of this is clear and simple; there is no reason to torture yourself with difficult problems. You need to put out of your mind any plans about "multi-beneficial, all-embracing, common-to-all mankind" activity such as the progressives rant about. Then your life will be regarded as enclosed within peaceful boundaries, and leading toward the final goal without hindrance. Remember, the Lord does not forget even a glass of cold water given to someone tormented by thirst.

Well . . . hmm . . . I guess I have some thinking to do.

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