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How Do Conservatives And Liberals Think...The Right Brain And Left Brain Of Conservatives And Liberals

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Author of Jesus Rode a Donkey: Why the Republicans Don’t have a Corner on Christ 

In the last few articles, I’ve been looking at different ways that liberals and conservatives think, and see this as a spectrum of attitudes and values, while also recognizing that there seems to be a distinct difference. 

Recently, Nature Neuroscience Magazine published an article about the biology of  politics, and discovered that there does seem to be a clear difference between the brain activities of conservatives and liberals. And, this might clarify why we often have so much trouble getting along, and understanding each other.  

In their experiments, they discovered that there are two cognitive styles – the liberal and the conservative style. They discovered that conservatives tended to be more structured and persistent and to block distracting information. Liberals tended to be able to tolerate conflict and ambiguity better. They were more open to new experiences, and new social, scientific, or religious ideas. Liberals also made fewer mistakes in the experiment.  

In another article on the differences between liberals and conservatives, a Christian writer, Peter Kreeft, in “Knowing the Truth of God’s Love”, looks at how liberals and conservatives tend to have misunderstandings because of their focus on different qualities of God. He says that the Conservative emphasizes the absoluteness of truth, and the Liberal emphasizes the absoluteness of love. The Left then calls the Right dogmatic, and the Right calls the Left the “bleeding heart liberal”. He says that conservatives tend to see truth as hard and impersonal, and liberals see love as soft and subjective. The Right thinks the Left is simply  “anything goes”. And the Left thinks the Right is cold and harsh. Both of them can become judgmental of the attitudes of The Other.   

The Right then sees God as judgmental. He punishes. He is always right. And, according to Kreeft who uses a delightful metaphor, the God of the Right is much  like John Wayne or Charlton Heston.  The Left sees God as compassionate and loving and forgiving. But they can just as easily forget that God is also righteous and holy. Kreeft sees The Left’s image of God as more in the image of Alan Alda or Woody Allen.  

This can be confusing to religious and spiritual people, who can’t figure out why we can’t all get along. Yet, from a religious perspective, God is a God of love, justice, and mercy. It is the lack of balance of these qualities that can lead to distortion, and can lead to a Far Right or Far Left, “I’m correct and nobody else is” approach to life that judges the other as not lining up with their way of thinking.  

And it’s true. Our thinking doesn’t neatly line up. I’ve reached the conclusion that those of the Far Right and Far Left probably will always have trouble finding a place of coming together. But those from the Right and Left who are more centrist, and more moderate, and more in balance with these qualities, will find many places of agreement, if we can get past our need and desire to have everyone think exactly the same. And this is where most of us reside – in a more centrist place.

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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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