The Adventures of Lamby the Liberal
jhutson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 12:35:00 PM EST

Maybe a li'l diagram would help some theocrats clarify their fuzzy thinking. According to an influential theocratic think tank, the terms "liberal" and "Christian" are mutually exclusive. The Chalcedon Foundation's Communications Director, Chris Ortiz, clings to the pejorative term "oxymoronic liberal Christians". Ortiz writes: "Progressives will continually lose the 'War of Ideas' because they have no faith in a transcendent God."

If Ortiz believes he's in a "War of Ideas," then he needs some better ammo: in the face of all reason, he falsely claims that liberal actually means secular. That's like saying that peanut butter means chocolate -- two things that may share the same space, and taste great together, but are distinctly different. Then Ortiz takes his error a gigantic leap further and claims that Christians who are liberal are also secularists. Huh? It's impossible to be both secular and religious at the same time; these are two distinct concepts. See, secular means "non-religious." It's all in this Venn diagram that I borrowed from a public school that teaches secular subjects like logic and science.
Lamby the Liberal goes to church and helps out poor people and the sick -- like Jesus did. Sammy the Secular used to be a liberal, but now he's not. Sammy happens to be a conservative who doesn't believe in God, but who does believe in slashing Medicaid health care funding for seniors who have trouble paying the heating bill. Sammy also believes in giving huge tax cuts to wealthy corporations and spying on fellow citizens, like liberal Quakers, without a warrant. See? Lamby and Sammy are not so much alike after all. (Note: Although Sammy does not speak for all conservatives, or all secularists, he does make a nice nut while holding down a nest in the West Wing.)

In modernist categories, things are either religious or secular. Our constitution, for example, deliberately established a secular government that took no part in religion, whether positive or negative. But "liberal" refers to that which pertains to all free citizens. If you believe, for example, that all free citizens should have the right to vote, that's  a liberal idea. The opposite of that would be some political ideology that runs toward monarchy, totalitarianism, or oligarchy or plutocracy or something, any system that limited the vote to an exclusive in-group, whether that group is defined by gender, ethnicity, social class, religious test, literacy, ancestry, or whatever. What conservatism is about, from a political point of view, is conserving the power of the in-group. What liberalism is about is spreading power out to more people.

Ortiz writes: "For my audience, when saying someone is a 'liberal' that typically refers to a secularist, left-leaning, unbeliever."

Being liberal or conservative is a different matter from being religious or secular. You can mix and match: there are liberal Christians and conservative Christians; there are secular liberals, and there are secular conservatives. But since liberals tend to give voice to more people, that means that they give voice to secularists and atheists and Hindus and whoever comes along. The ACLU is, of course, the poster-organization for this. But it is inaccurate to claim that all folks who hold or merely tolerate the expression of secular or even atheistic ideologies are necessarily liberal. You can be a conservative and an atheist, just as you can be a liberal Christian.

To claim that one cannot be both a liberal and a Christian is to defy logic. And Lamby loves his logic as much as he loves his neighbors: that's how he got to be a liberal.


by jhutson on Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 01:33:51 PM EST

Thanks for the object lesson about logic.

by Mainstream Baptist on Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 01:37:22 PM EST
Its also an important lesson here in how you challenge people's ideas, including making fun of those ideas, without attacking, ridiculing, or deliberately or ignorantly mischaracterizing people's religious beliefs.  

Admittedly, there is a gray area in this turf, and it can be tricky, but if you know the turf, going for the humor is a good thing. Its when you don't know the turf that attempts at humor can misfire.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 01:51:14 PM EST

...Trapped in a shrinking bubble of exclusivity! Public school children, quickly, grab your chalk and see if you can draw some Venn diagrams to help Fang reason his way out!

by jhutson on Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 01:58:34 PM EST

You suddenly have a genius for graphics. Is this new ? I love the Venn Diagram.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 02:46:03 PM EST

Typical of the far right attacks - vilify our terminology ("liberal" as a bad word), then define us their way. Of course it is ridiculous to claim that secular/non-religious = liberal, but this is accepted as fact by the far right, taught to their children, etc. Another example: I just heard a quote from a Christian Fundamentalist stating, "Everyone knows this is a country founded on Christian values..." No, actually, not everyone knows or believes this - there is a HUGE difference between a "Christian Nation" and a "nation founded by Christians" (and even that is debatable). That's why it's important that we make our case immediately and explicitly - first reject their definitions of our terms, values and beliefs, then challenge their terms and their version of "truth."

by joelp on Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 05:46:32 PM EST

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