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If so, is that a problem?

By Dr. Linda Seger
Author of Jesus Rode a Donkey:
Why the Republicans Don't' Have a Corner on Christ

I've been both a Conservative Republican and a Liberal Democrat at one time or another. As a result, I've reached the conclusion that conservatives and liberals truly think differently, not just reaching different conclusions about issues, but going through different processes by which they reach their conclusions. I don't know if this has to do with our personalities, or how we respond to ambiguity, our education and experience, or whether we are rebelling, or accepting, the values of our parents. Here are some of my observations:

I have found more hypocrisy and self-righteousness and judgmentalism among Conservatives than among Liberals, particularly with Conservative Christians. Liberals don't care as much about what someone else thinks, as long as they don't try to push their belief systems on others. They care more about the action that results from one's beliefs.

I have heard far more about the Letter of the Law than about the Spirit of the Law from Conservatives. There is much more boxing in of ideas, and more emphasis on what people believe, than about how they act. We have seen plenty of discussion about George W. the Christian, but less from Conservatives about the stances that he takes that seems to be definitely non-Christian, and non-Democratic.

Liberals seem to think more in social terms. They try to en-vision a better future through creative thinking. They don't accept war simply because they can't envision the possibility of peace. They don't accept inequality because equality seems to be a pipe dream. They are willing to try to create something that has never been before and to go through the difficult process of figuring it out, experimenting, making mistakes, and re-figuring. They believe that there can be far more justice and mercy on earth.

What is sometimes called moral relativism by Conservatives comes about because Liberals don't always see life quite so neatly. Liberals don't tend to believe that they know all the answers. They are more apt to consider, to think through and reflect on an idea, and see the moral ambiguity. Sometimes they can get so deeply involved in Situational Ethics that they can lose their moral compass. Sometimes Conservatives can get so involved in Absolutes, that they cause more harm than good.

Liberals, like Conservatives, can go off the deep end, and have Wobbly Ethics, to the extent that anything goes and there might not be a moral parameter. But Conservatives can have Hard Ethics, with little compassion for anyone in difficult circumstances. Yet, they're more apt to be very clear, and often more sure of themselves that they're right, whereas liberals are more apt to see ambiguity in many moral decisions. Liberals are more apt to say it's not enough to be Right. One also has to be Effective.

Liberals believe that things can be better for our society. They see that many who are individually oppressed are oppressed because of certain structures in society that keep them in their place. They see that many of these problems are too big to be dealt with through charity or through churches or through neighborhoods, and that the structures have to be changed to change the oppression. Sometimes, in spite of doing all the right things, and changing structures, the problem remains and has to be dealt with on the individual level. This does not negate the necessity of a systematic approach, but does demand discernment to decide which approach is most workable for various circumstances.

The work of liberals, many of them religious liberals, has led to abolition of slavery, women's rights, prison reform, educational innovation, and more work in the field of peace-making. Of course, not every liberal or conservative fits so neatly into these categories. Often, just when we think we've put someone so carefully in a box, they keep jumping out of our categories. So everything in this article may be true, somewhat, for some people.

I'd be interested in hearing reader's perceptions about these categories.


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Dr. Linda Seger is an internationally known author, keynote speaker and seminar leader on spirituality. Dr. Linda Seger has a broad religious background. She grew up Lutheran and did several years of spiritual seeking in her 20s. She became a (more...)

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