Thursday, August 8, 2013
Conservative, Progressive, and Automobiles
There’s an interesting piece today in the Washington Post about the challenges facing the possible emergence of a progressive religious movement. Once again, this causes me to think about what we (and, by we, I’m speaking mostly to those who follow Jesus) mean when we use the categorical terms conservative and progressive.
As I’ve written before, I would like for us to challenge our own categories by asking questions like: What are the things that we desire to conserve? Do those things have lasting value? What are we trying to conserve that is merely culture-bound? And how is it that we see ourselves progressing? What are we progressing from, and what direction are we progressing? By what motivation, energy, and power do we progress? Is our progress energized by the Spirit of God, or by the power of cultural voices?
When I wrestle with these questions, I wonder if we can’t be both of those things at the same time, given some legitimate answers to those questions. If we act conservatively with the assumption that everything we cherish has ultimate value, then we risk an arrogance that can blind us to what God is doing in the world (biblical example: The Holy Spirit falls on Peter’s gentile friends [Acts 10-11], and the conservative value of Jewish exclusiveness is rattled, and a progression revealed by God emerges). If we act progressively with the movement of culture, we risk losing our basis for theological and biblical reflection and end up getting swept up by every societal shift that claims to be progressive.
If conservatism is characterized by safety, and if progressivism is characterized by new risks, then the only things I can think of that adequately hold both in tension are new cars.
Think about it: The safety features in cars today are a quantum leap from what existed 40 years ago. Airbags, seat belts, braking systems, and overall construction all help to create cocoons of safety for human beings. At the same time, theses cars have the capacity for face-distorting speed, with a mechanical responsiveness that would dazzle the minds of stunt drivers of past generations. A new car has the capacity to create joy in the hearts of both conservatives and progressives. They might even take a ride together.
On top of that, these cars are expensive. Conservative or progressive, both will dive deeply into our capitalist economic system in order to purchase new automobiles. That’s just how it is. Banks who offer car loans could care less about our politics.
I would love to see us all quit screaming at one another, caricaturing one another (and then skewering the caricature), and condemning one another. Now might be a good time to start listening, talking and reflecting. We have to question the things we think need to be conserved. We have a long Christian tradition of conserving the wrong things and ignoring the right things. We also have to question our progressive leanings. If culture is our only criteria for interpreting Scripture, theology, and ethics, then any cultural shift will do.