Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Also by Fr. James V. Schall, S.V.

The headline of this article, On Being Neither Liberal Nor Conservative really grabbed my attention.

He opens with this salvo: "The division of the world into 'liberal' and 'conservative' on every topic from politics to our taste in cuisine, clothes, or automobiles is one of the really restricting developments that has ever happened to us." Amen, brother!

And then offers this reflection:
Such a view makes things very simple, I suppose. But it also reduces our minds to utter fuzziness. We are required to define everything as either liberal or conservative even when the two allowable terms of definition are not adequate to explain the reality that they are intended to describe.
And the rest of the article is a refreshing look at this terminology and its semantics.

I hope I don't start to turn into a broken record, but it really is one of my big pet peeves how constrictive the typical liberal/conservative framework really is. I fully realize that I generally find common cause with those who admit plainly to being the right hand side of the spectrum. Yet it seems to be such an injustice to simply be reduced to this - as if one's outlook can't encompass more than a particular spot on an imaginary gradient. As the article notes, terms mean different things to different people in different ages (and even in the same age!). And what really matters for Christians is the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether it's "liberal", "conservative", "traditional", "progressive", "orthodox", or you name your favorite term, all that really matters is whether it conforms to the Gospel. That's one of the reasons why figures like John Paul II are so mystifying for many people (especially the press). He would say one thing that seemed to place him squarely on one side of the spectrum, and another that placed him squarely on the other. Was he schizophrenic? Clearly he wasn't - he just had a greater vision, focused on Christ, which transcended any categorization that we could place upon it in human political terms.

Clearly, the human condition is that we must communicate using words. And though language is always fraught with difficulty, as different words mean different things to different people, it is a necessary medium, without which we would get nowhere. So, categories such as these do serve a legitimate purpose when communicating ideas. Yet due to their volatile nature in the current culture, they require a great degree of restraint with their use. In order that they not be misunderstood, when used they also require an accompanying clear definition of the speaker's intent. Unfortunately these days, this isn't often found to be the case...


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