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Coffee & Wisdom 02.68: The Holes in Liberalism Part 4

David Breeden is speaking all week about the issues with liberalism.


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Hello, I’m David Breeden and the senior minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a humanist congregation historically. And so we talk about topics from a secular viewpoint, philosophical viewpoint, and we look at religious and theological trends in the United States. This week we’ve been looking at what I’m calling the Holes in liberalism. And I had added an essay because that’s one of the holes, as we have so many different definitions of what liberalism is. It’s not just the contemporary social liberalism that we tend to think of here in the United States and in European terms. It is very much a different kind of thing to be looking at today. I wanted to think a little bit about the way our political system works with religion a little bit here. The idea here is what percent of each political party is Christian, etc. and this is a Pew Research term and it says that among conservatives, e ighty five percent of conservatives in the U.S. consider themselves Christian. Of that, 38 percent are evangelical Protestant. That would be 38 percent of all conservatives do notice that we have then mainline Protestants at about 15 percent of conservatives, historically black Protestants, about six percent and Catholics at twenty one percent. And that is going down as time goes on, as the Catholic Roman Catholic Church itself bifurcates into two very different political stances.

This comes from religion dispatches. I’ve mentioned this before. It is a daily email that looks at religion in the United States. This particular article from Monday says, I have. “Why do evangelicals finally lost control of the narrative?” This is by one of the writers for religion dispatches, Chrissy Stroope. And she talks, for example, about a whole host of hashtags that are going on in social media now, people who are leaving evangelicalism. So X-band Jellico empty the pews, a church to to to write deconstruction decolonized. Yeah, I leave loud. Don’t just don’t just leave leave loud and say why you’re leaving white evangelicalism behind. She has this to say in that particular article that I think is interesting. Evangelicals understand the power of narrative, which is why they’re so concerned with controlling the stories the public hears not only about themselves, but also about those of us who leave evangelicalism and tell the truth about how it has harmed us. Criticizing evangelical theology as well as the racism, misogyny, anti LGBTQ animus and culture whoring politics that theology bolsters as evangelicals’ own story of engaging politically out of serious concerns about morality and sincerely held religious beliefs, has lost influence with the public because of the transparent hypocrisy they displayed to the trumpeter’s. Space has opened up for a shift in the national discussion that includes a sympathetic hearing for ex evangelicals.

Stories and perspectives, shifting the national conversation as elite evangelicals and right wing political strategies are well aware, lays the groundwork for shifts in politics and policy. Yes, what we’re talking about is that thirty eight percent of the conservative base that it calls itself evangelical Christian and that does appear to be eroding at the present time. Again, over the questions of what was the support of Trump all about. We’ve discussed that on “Coffee and Wisdom”. It is a little bit complicated because different theology within fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity see this in very different ways. But as I have mentioned the last couple of days, studies have found that religious individuals and political conservatives consistently evoke deontological ethics, such as “thou shalt not kill” from those Ten Commandments that our fundamentalist and evangelical friends keep wishing to put up in American courthouses around the country. Deontology does come from Greek Daehan, which means obligation or duty. And the study of that and deontology says that action should be based on whether that action itself is right or wrong under a series of rules rather than based on the consequences of the action, it says it in the Bible, “I believe it, therefore, this is what I must do.’ That’s Deontology. Sources of guidance on right and wrong among conservatives. More Pew Research here. And this is the percentage of conservatives who say they look to something blank most for guidance on right and wrong, 50 percent of American conservatives, that is, self-identified conservatives say that they look to religion for ideas of right and wrong, only six percent to philosophy and thirty seven percent, a bit over a third, to common sense.

They are calling it something else we’ve discussed and discussed quite a bit on ‘Coffee and Wisdom.’ Political liberals, on the other hand, consistently invoke consequentialist ethics, judging the morality of actions based on their positive or negative outcomes. Now, these are not consistent. There are some issues within that that I will be discussing tomorrow, different political views on different subjects. Sometimes a conservative will be also consequentialist and sometimes a liberal will be Deontologies. But we’ll get we’ll get back to that. Here’s the religious composition of liberals. Fifty two percent of self-identified liberals in the US say that they are Christian. Fifty two percent evangelical Protestant, 13 percent notice that 12 percent of mainline Protestants are in the liberal camp. So mainline Protestants, more or less balance that at the moment, what those percentages are within the country. Notice that Roman Catholics are little less within the political camp, but not all that much. And something that we’ve talked about quite a bit here on ‘Coffee and Wisdom’ is this unaffiliated or religious nones, which are now over one third of the self-identified liberals in the United States and a number that is rising with time, now, interestingly enough, and this is part of what media does, Pew has done a lot of research on what the evangelical Christians and the conservatives think, not so much on liberals, but we can find a little bit of the information here from this look religious tradition among conservatives by sources of guidance and right and wrong from twenty fourteen.

And you notice the dark brown over here on the right is the nuns. So only four percent of nuns in the the year of twenty fourteen said they look to religion for guidance. Twenty one percent look to reason or philosophy for that common sense, much less than conservatives at 19 percent, science makes a big showing at single digits among conservatives. But among the nuns, about 28 percent of the nuns look to science as a guide to their political decisions. 11 percent don’t know. That’s consistent with the findings that conservatives as well. So a little bit of difference in terms of how people are deciding these political issues. Our political views affect how we see reality. Of course, we see the same information, but we interpret it in very different ways. So this, too, is Pew Research. Most Democrats say Biden is at least somewhat religious and mentions his faith about the right amount.

Most Republicans disagree. So if you look at this, the Democrats eighty eight percent say that Biden is religious or somewhat religious, whereas thirty six percent of Republicans say that. Forty five percent of Democrats think he’s very religious and only seven percent of Republicans. Again, we’re looking at the same basic reality information, but we come to very different conclusions based on pre-existing prejudices and ideas. Well, we need to talk a little bit about the psychologist Sylviane Thomkins 1911 to 1991. He is most known for his work on Affect Theory. That is, he is the guy who came up with the idea that all over the world, human beings have a similar affect. We can through the diagram, such as you see here, tell all over the world whatever culture, what someone is thinking, what a face is thinking by looking at the affect. And that’s what he’s most famous for doing. But he also wanted to look at what makes a right wing person or a left wing person, a conservative or a liberal? So in the 1960s, Sylvaine Thomkins argued that all thought has a right and left extreme. And then he developed what he called his polarity scale, how much people are on the right or on the left? And he tried to come up with some questions as to how can I figure this out? For example, he developed this question.

“Were numbers invented or discovered?” Left leaning people he discovered favored, “invented,” people invented numbers, right leaning people preferred, “discovered.” In other words, the the reality of numbers already was there deontological and people just discovered how to use them, whereas left leaning people think that it’s consequentialist. We made up mathematics. We invented it. And so you see, even in questions that tend to be nonpolitical, Thompkins was arguing that actually you can see politics in them. According to Thomkins, the best question to ask to discover political leaning is are people mostly good or bad? Classic question. Are people mostly good or bad? And from his various studies, he did draw some conclusions. He said the right leaning people are rule oriented and see rules as external to themselves and other people. That’s deontology they dislike rule breaking more than oppressive authority and favor individualism and hierarchy. We know this in American politics from the questions of discussions about the rule of law, lawlessness in the streets, in these kinds of hot button issues in American politics, according to Thomkins, then, is it good or is it bad. Are people good or bad? Left leaning people then are oriented toward human needs and pleasures, not rules, and think that people create the rules.

Again, that would be consequentialism based on old utilitarian thinking from the 18th and 19th centuries, attracted to new experiences and positive feelings, he thinks are left leaning people. They are for equality, not hierarchy, tend to focus on groups and they are also allies of the underdogs. So they are looking at race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious preference, etc.. And where are the minorities, where the underdogs that we are for them, say left leaning people. This is based on quite a bit of research, although I mentioned yesterday one of the problems that we have discovered with Thomkins research is that he was doing it only basically on his college students who were privileged from the beginning. So we have to take some of this with a bit of a grain of salt. However, Thomkins 1960s research does lead up to the work of George Lakoff live today, who has been working on the ideas that the strict father of morality is a source of conservatism versus the nurturing parent as the source of liberal leanings. George Lakoff is very well known in liberal circles. Several books, “Metaphors We Live” by was his first book and in which is he argued that the kinds of metaphors we use kind of lead to the kind of conclusions that we’re going to draw from that. One of his books, “Your Brain’s Politics How the Science of Mind Explains the political Divide.”

We’ve been looking at that it does and doesn’t, as we have seen, research on fear, for example, is a little bit complicated. We do have to be careful about the pool of people that were asking these questions. Moral politics, what conservatives know that liberals don’t buy, Lakoff, etc. and this is really his field of research. And there’s quite a bit going on within that trying to talk about how liberals can change the way they use language in order to appeal to that vast middle range in American politics. Well, that’s what I wanted to look at today. Tomorrow, we want to wrap up ideas about what theology and politics, right and left, et cetera, means in the United States this coming Sunday. I’ll be talking at ten, thirty a.m. Central Time, and I will be talking about becoming part of something. And yes, you can tell from the Tompkins research that when a liberal is talking about becoming part of something we are talking about a liberal idea about joining that’s much more in the liberal rather than the conservative and individualistic camp, so that’s what we’re going to talk about, is getting together as liberals. And our theme for the entire month of April at First Unitarian Society is ‘Becoming.’ Thanks a lot. And we’ll be back tomorrow to wrap up these ideas. Thank you.

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