Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why I'm not Left or Right wing

Lately, I have been involved in a number of conversations that have touched on liberal, vs. conservative values.  The home I grew up in was fairly conservative (although my parents were thoughtful people, and didn't always tow the "party line"), but over the years, I have come to embrace ideas and values that would be seen as much more liberal or left wing.  Despite this, I'm not comfortable with the label.  I'm not exactly a fence-sitting moderate, either - but  I remember telling a friend years ago, that I felt "Left" and "Right" divisions in politics were kind of artificial - and not on the matrix I wanted to use.  I couldn't explain it better (& luckily, my friend didn't ask me to).  It keeps coming up, though, so I want to nut it out a bit more clearly.

I think we are all inclined to interpret Jesus according to our own values.  (Heck, we are inclined to interpret EVERYTHING that way!!)  I and plenty of others have often pointed out that Jesus was not exactly a moralistic, conservative fellow, in spite of the way he is often presented.  But was he really a kind of 1st century hippie radical freak??  Did he even fit anywhere on the Right/Left continuum??

If you look at the people who were drawn to follow him, we don't find any clues.  There was Simon the Zealot (about as Palestinian Left Wing radical as you could get!) and Matthew the Tax   Collector.  How on earth did THOSE two manage to get along??

If you look at the things he did and said, it's just as confusing! He starts out providing gallons of wine to already drunken wedding guests, then tells his listeners that they need to keep the laws better than the scribes and pharisees.  He tips the tables of merchants and salesmen over, then affirms the gift of perfume worth a year's wages - poured over his own feet.  He provides food to thousands, then appears to deny even bread, to a Canaanite woman, & on the basis of her race, no less!  He had no home of his own, yet his robe was so valuable that soldiers cast lots for it.  He railed against the unjust rule of the religious leaders;  then appeared to casually give Rome it's due.  I'm pushing the comparisons a bit far here, perhaps, but I want to make a point.  Jesus was deeply concerned about the plight of the poor and marginalised, yet he does not fit neatly onto the right/left continuum we so readily place people on today. 

The truth is, Jesus placed as much value on lepers and outcasts as he did on Roman Centurions, (and even the occasional religious leader).  And I think that's the "door to the matrix".  Jesus wasn't about taking sides.  He wasn't about moral codes.  He never laid out a coherent philosophy for us to follow.   Jesus was all about relationships.  He was there to connect with people, and to show them their true worth, connecting them with God and their own true identities. 

Justice matters - because people matter.

When you think about it, the whole right/left wing divide is not really about justice - everyone values that (although they may have differing ideas about what it is).  It's only about two things;  power, and resources.  And of these two things, power is only important insofar as it decides who gets control OF the resources.  So really?  It's about resources.  Money.  Do I want to line up on one side or another with regards to money?  Not really.  Do I want to value people as people (no matter what their leanings) and find means and ways of creating justice in community with others?  Well, yes.  I think I do. 

Incidentally, a fellow blogger (Joy, of Joy in this Journey) posted something today which really resonates with this whole discussion... I always enjoy TED talks, and this one, by Jonathan Haidt, manages to hit the same spot, from a completely non-religious viewpoint!  I loved it!! 


  1. The paradigm of left and right is an old one and goes back to the French Revolution I think. Also in Parliament, the opposition sits to the left of the speaker, the government on the right. Currently the "left" is on the "right".

    I think it is fair enough to analyse the stories of the gospels about Jesus as being about relationships. I also know the whole new testament was written about 2 millennia ago, and therefore has a very ancient perspective on what proper relationships are. Paul for example is anti woman and anti gay, so therefore i consider his views to be outdated. As for Jesus and the Canaanite woman, it may have been reported by a xenophobic writer, or Jesus actually was racist on that occassion.

    Though "left" and "right" are a carryover from our adversarial system and legal culture in my opinion; it is also my opinion they dont say much about individual political ideas either. Most of our political ideas are as mixed as our ideas about TV, Cinema or Theatre for example, its as much bout personal choice, preferences and personality.

    Having said that, I have heard how to vote from pentecostal / charismatic pulpits. Further, most christians in Australia, follow the stricly catholic tony abbot, than Julia Gillard, who lives in sin.

    In america the divide is clearer, fundamentalist idjits, who arent capable of thinking without a pastor guiding them, ove conservatism. God Guns and Gesus!

  2. Would be nice if we could step out of our stereotypes and actually listen to one another. It can (and does) happen - but needs to happen more.

  3. Ps - on the Canaanite woman, I kind of think He was actually challenging the stereotypes there - but maybe that's just me making him fit my own ideology...

  4. You might want to think of his hypothesis more along the lines of context with his peers. In this Reality Club, many give him a pretty thorough going over and then you can read his responses to the.

  5. Kerry! BRILLIANT! I loved the phrase about Jesus never laying out a coherent philosophy for us to follow; he was all about relationships. That's solid gold, that is. Well done! The language and phrases used, the way you laid everything out there... I loved it. Ah, excellent. Thank you!

  6. Wow! Thank you Ethan!! I feel super-encouraged by your words!! :D

    Tildeb (Mr. T - May I call you that?? ;) More Jonathan Haidt!! Yayy! I loved what he had to say in the vid (did you get a chance to watch it??) and will definitely read the article - thank you :)

  7. I think you are begging the question, buggarising around with history, fence sitting and ignoring radical nature of Jesus life and work, as acknowledging this, gives none of us room to be happy middle-class, very priviledged whities in a collapsing world; but indeed, should drive us to take up the cause of radical change, as our souls are in mortal danger, not just our bodies.

    I do not think that the intellectual religious circles you are coming from, want to see Christ as the radical social-change agent, as your comfortable life, involving very little in the way of ongoing and radical social change action, would have to dramatically alter if you did.

    Modern political and social life is certainly not simple to categorise and is in many ways different from that of 2000 years ago. I would therefore agree that the single axis nature of left right definitions are inadequate to describe either world leaders (eg Hitler and Stalin) or ourselves, let alone place the historical Jesus in any continuum, or place the Risen Christ in the 21st Century into some sort of political definition.

    However, as Christ brought about social change and challenged the status quo far more than supporting it, one could call him an activist, or social change agent and by those two terms, he falls much more into the conventional definition of the left wing, and as he challenged the reactionaries, and conservative leaders of the day, by deed, example and word, he would therefore be predominantly excluded from most “right wing political parties”.

    I think you are avoiding or misinterpreting a number of very significant actions or statements by the historical Jesus. Since before history and the written record began, there have always been tyrants, bullies and mass murderers, so I will not attribute those to the life of Jesus, but the convenient perversion by Emperors, Kings and Popes of the Bible to their own warped political ends.
    What however is exceptional are the radical social and political movements that have come out of Christ’s life and teachings.

    The peaceful change by being, of intentional and healthy religious communities over the millennia, as seen in the lives of St Francis and St Benedict and their religious orders still working today, the Quakers, Hutterites, Amish, Broederhof, Liberation Theology from South America and modern leaders of change such as Martin Luther King.

    None of these movements, orders, or leaders would support where the actions of the current mainstreamn, political right of the Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK and the USA.

    Right wing politics in Anglo democracies is largely about denying the disturbing and confronting teachings of Christ, as is also largely about denying the disturbing and confronting knowledges that the world’s scientists are bringing to the decision-makers.

    The scientific certainties and very worrying uncertainties or “unpleasant truths and warnings” that we are operating “Beyond Sustainable Limits” do not suit the predominantly right wing political parties representing those that achieved wealth at the expense of planet and people.

    Political parties sworn to achieve greater deregulation of the professional buccaneers, pirates, pillagers and rapists of the 21C world, the Transnational Corporations and the faceless big shareholders behind them. (to be continued)

  8. To a very significant extent, it is the right wing of politics driving the decline and suppressing the information on the certainty of these challenges of “Beyond the Limits to Growth” or being in “Global Overshoot”, and to a significant extent the left is more conversant with the challenges, more open to scientific facts and advice, and much more prepared take the radical steps of change.

    The Earth Systems Science is clear enough on where we are and the trajectory we are on… Unless radical change takes place in our modern conservative, market-driven economic decision-making, the “Business-As-Usual” path of Western Civilisation, will in the next 5-7 years, teeter over the brink and begin an unstoppable slide towards total collapse over the next 12-30 years.

    The West as a whole is well past being financially bankrupt, and more importantly bankrupt in Non-Renewable Resources and Natural Resources taken beyond their sustainable yields.

    So there is a growing consensus that we are past Peak Oil, Peak Soil, Peak Water (clean, available, underground & historical), Peak Food, Peak Fish, Peak Grain & Peak Phosphorus to name just the big ones.

    On top of that with Climate Change about to exacerbate just about every single unresolved economic, political, personal, social and environmental challenge we currently have, and created a hell of a lot of new challenges and catastrophes.

    WE ARE facing genocide of the poor and low lying cities and nations of the world, with some Pacific Island Nations already all but officially finished.

    Hundreds of millions will die, on the current business-as-usual path and it is the right wing of western Anglo politics and religion that is willfully driving the processes of greed and consumption and ignorance, causing and exacerbating the problems.

    Before I really dissect this blog post, which I think is a self-indulgent “I’m ok and fuck the rest of you” politically, theologically, ethically and ecologically naive avoidance of the realities of the nexus of civilisation, governance, politics and religion in this 21st Century, or that it’s a simplistic avoidance of the disturbing realities of the Gospel and what they really should mean for the completely fucked-up world of western 'democratic' politics, amidst a declining western civilisation and an ecologically bankrupt Planet , or the fact that the author is a blissful fence sitter, (even if she is a very lovable best friend - draws breath !) have a look at this site

    (It’s a test developed more for educational and infotainment purposes, but seems to have some illuminating properties none-the-less.
    It’s a further development of the 2 axis models of political style conceived by psychologist Hans Eysenck in Great Britain and Leonard Ferguson in the USA )

    By my reading of the Gospels, Christ is well and truly in the quadrant that contains Nelson Mandela and Gandi.

  9. Well, David, I can't think of the question you think KMW is begging. Her point is that she thinks Jesus is more about relationships than left/right politics. You seem to think Jesus is more about radical change... presumably social and economic change by first comprehending the disturbing realities of the Gospel and what they really should mean.

    I should warn you that I have spent much of my life trying to determine who is best qualified to do just that, and maybe you're just the person to finally answer my questions... if you care to turn down the heat a bit and turn up the light so that we can better see what you mean.

  10. Phew!! David, I do think you have missed what I was really saying, and read into the post, some stuff that really isn't there.

    I agree with you that, on balance, Jesus' words and actions fit mostly (if you choose to analyse them that way) into the category of "left". If you have another read, you'll realise that most of what I think and believe is also more neatly categorised as "left".

    However (and this whas the point of the post) I think the whole left-right continuum is flawed. I think to categorise Jesus that way is to miss what he was really about (relationships). I also think that lining ourselves and others up on such a one-dimensional axis simply reinforces in-out group stereotypes, and inhibits real dialogue - which is what we need, if we are going to get anywhere close to solving any of the crises you mention.

    I have some other thoughts, but a) I need to nut them out more clearly, and b) they are more personal, friend-to-friend stuff & the blog is not really the place for them - but a conversation I'm happy to have over a cuppa or a beer next time I see you :)

  11. I didn't miss what you said, I took up what you didn't say that needs to be looked at.
    I'm still working, so will explain rant and the problems of splinters and fence sitting later, but in the meantime to advance beyond the left/right one dimensional single axis scale go do/look at the
    it's 2 axes make sense, see this diagram


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