Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Can Liberals Be Christians?

You get the impression from man Conservative commentators that Liberals don’t believe in God and Conservatives do. Personally, I know they both do. It all became much more clear though in a cover to cover reading the latest edition of The Big Sort, subtitled “Why The Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart.” My edition included an afterword updating the premise through the ‘08 Presidential election. When read, the book is much more revealing than what you hear from folks who just talk about the basic premise based on reviews etc.

The authors describe one significant sort that began in the late 1800’s that distinguished “private” and “public” Protestantism. Think of the “private” approach as symbolized today by the religious right and conservative mega-churches and the rational for Republican Conservatism which has effectively purged the party of its moderate and progressive elements since the 1960’s.littlebook

Private Protestantism, according to the authors, “promoted individual salvation and promised that personal morality would be rewarded in the next life.”

Public Protestantism was on the other side of the sort in religion and forms the basis for Democratic liberalism, that “the way to God required the transformation of society.”

The authors use the views of drunkenness or alcoholism as an example and you can frequently hear this on talk shows where some callers argue it is a sin or lack of responsibility and others argue it is a disease.

Private Protestantism views alcoholism as a personal failing. Public Protestantism also known as the Social Gospel views it as a social ill. One group promoted “blue laws” as a solution and the other promoted minimum wage and eight hour work days to use just one example.

One viewpoint focuses on missionary work to convert the individual, the other focuses on societal reform. One views itself as the only true religion, the other is more open to ideas and diversity. To use a term used by conservative columnist David Brooks, one group “cocoons” with only what the book terms “people like us” and the other is more open and liberal.

To me, the two viewpoints, provide explanations about non-Christian groups as well, e.g. the liberal tradition among Jewish Americans and the unyielding nature of extremist Islam fueling terrorism across the globe.

Just one tiny example of the richness of this excellent book. Everyone needs to emerge from our respective information cocoons and read it. It won’t hurt or try to demonize one side or another, I promise.

Non-readers beware it is 300 pages not counting acknowledgements and index. But it is sprinkled with charts, very well documented and written and includes charts etc.

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