OLD DIATRIBE


The Theological Heresy of Modern Liberal and Conservative Political Activism


by R.P. Nettelhorst

        Christians of a liberal bent criticize their brothers and sisters in the religious right for not caring about the poor. Christians on the conservative side of the aisle chastise their left wing colleagues for being weak on sexual immorality. Yet, in reality, both the liberal and the conservative are united in doing precisely the same thing: lobbying against the wickedness in society and trying to pass laws to curb the darkness. Both groups want something very good: a solution to the world’s problems. But they both blame society, or parts of society, and think that if we just have another law, another regulation, a little more oversight, then the difficulties will evaporate. The only difference between the left and right is in which elements of society they think are offensive and need to be corrected.
        The liberal argues that a violent society is to blame for the gunshot deaths of students on various campuses across America. If only there were more laws regulating guns, or better yet, if guns were banned altogether, then the problems would go away. Likewise, the conservative argues that sex on television or the Internet is corrupting the children of America, and if only such things were banned, or at the very least severely restricted by warning labels and ratings systems, then the problems would go away.
        How a person approaches the dilemmas of society will depend on his or her conception of sin. If he or she believes that human beings are essentially good, or at worst neutral -- neither good nor bad -- then he or she will imagine that society’s problems are the consequence of a tainted environment. If such is correct, then it follows reasonably that if the environment is altered, then the behavior of individuals will change for the better.
        Both liberal and conservative are operating from this same flawed point of view. The only difference is the targets of their righteous indignation. They both blame society, rather than the individual for his actions.
        Why?
        It is easier to pass laws than to convert individuals.
        But since when have laws prevented criminal activity? Does the speed limit really have that much meaning for people? Do laws against murder mean there are no more murderers? One might not suggest that there should be no laws against such behavior, but to think that the laws will end or even correct the behavior is wrongheaded. Yet the attempts to ban, outlaw and regulate never end, even though they ultimately do not solve the underlying fault. Giving morphine to someone whose appendix has burst does ease her pain, but nothing has been done to solve her basic problem.
        Fundamentally, it seems that many people fail to grasp the concept of sin. The idea of sin as an inner force, an inherent condition, a controlling power, is generally forgotten, if it was ever known. Christians, both right and left, tend to think in terms of "sins" -- that is, individual wrong acts. "Sins" are thus something external and concrete, and can be logically separated from the person. "Hate the sin, love the sinner." With this concept as a foundation, if an individual has not done anything wrong (that is, committed an external act of evil), then he pictures himself as good. There is no thought of sin at all.
        For most of those on the right and the left, sins are those things that only other people do. Thus, they become sin groupies. There are fan clubs for certain sins. Certain sins are stars, and they get all the attention, and serve endlessly as great ways to raise funds. Violence in society, signified by handguns is certainly a great money maker for good causes. Abortion. Homosexuality. Drugs. Greed (especially corporate). All these have huge fan clubs and raise large amounts of cash for good causes.
        And nothing gets better. Christians, whether liberal or conservative, are distracted by good causes, spending time and resources to get more laws passed, hoping thereby to solve the problems of society, forgetting that the problems of society are the consequence of individuals who are sinners in need of a savior, who are individually making faulty choices because they are sinners. To solve society’s problems, the church must work at preaching the gospel, giving help to those in need, taking in the unwanted and unlovely. Passing another law, getting more regulation, having more labels, is not going to do it. Christians wear themselves out, waste their resources, fight shadows, and the real problems go unsolved and the suffering goes on and on.
        You want to change the world? There’s a whole world in a single human soul. Do what Jesus asked us to do: be witnesses to his sacrifice, his resurrection, and the impact it can have on a life. Feed a hungry person. Visit the suffering. Spend time with the lonely outcast. Listen. Take in a homeless, parentless child. Be kind. Touch someone with the love of God. Don’t worry about what the neighbors might think (whether good or bad). Do what is right regardless of how someone else treats you. That will change society – has changed society – more than all the laws in all the nations in all the world.
        Unfortunately, it’s a lot of work, and pretty messy and inconvenient besides. You might get your hands dirty.


Copyright © 1998, Quartz Hill School of Theology
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