|The Meaning of
"Truth lies within a
little and certain compass, but error is immense."
- Henry St. John
"Do not offer any part of
yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer
yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life;
and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of
- Romans 6:13
J. Budziszewski is a political philosophy professor at
the University of Texas at Austin. A number of years ago he published on the web
his detailed explanation of the differences between the liberal and conservative
ideological perspectives. He wrote two different pieces and in each he
identified what he felt was the error within each of the most significant facets
in each perspective. He contrasted each notion with the way that he believes
Christianity holds such considerations. Some of those things were reasonably
accurate, and I like how he emphasized that Kingdom thinking is often radically
different from World thinking. Some of his explanations, however, were quite
simplistic or even qualified misconceptions. To his credit he did explain
further in each section of his eloquent pieces, and to give him the best
consideration those are
I share this because I have discovered
that there isn't a single thing that is irrational. All things
anyone does are completely rational. The issue is whether or not
they are righteous. So many things people do are wholly
unrighteous, but often people do things quite justified in that
there is some substantive righteousness in them. In simpler
terms, everyone believes they are doing something good
whenever they speak or behave. When large groups of people come
together with the intent to translate their "goodness" into some
kind of public policy based on their righteous causes, whether
liberal or conservative, there is some legitimately good reason to
With that in mind, I've added my remarks.
All of the following "errors" have the cited righteous aspect to
them, wholly, fully authentically righteous
— it is a
truly good thing! The problem is that while each has a
righteousness, much of it is unrighteous as well, as Budziszewski is
articulating. My goal is to point out that if one looks deeply at
any given perspective, he will discover much more about it than he
previously knew, identify the genuine rationale behind it, and
distinguish the righteous and unrighteous aspects of it however
nuanced each may be.
We'll begin with the article Budziszewski
wrote first, on liberalism, then further down you'll see the
treatment of conservatism.
The "error" of liberalism
What is actually righteous about
"According to this notion I should do
unto others as they want; according to Christianity I should do unto
others as they need."
Because it is very hard to
distinguish between wants and needs, it is often the proper thing to do
to err on the side of graciousness. There may be a point where it is easy to
identify where codependent enabling begins, but that is why the truest
way to measure that is in Christ and by being immersed in His words and
wisdom. It is righteous to acknowledge that we all do need at least a
few of other people if we are to regularly thrive in our lives to some
degree. The simplest example of this: we may work hard in our
employment whatever that may be, but there must be some purchasing customer who
provides our income. Essentially, we all do need others.
Additionally, very few have problems with what we should all do with the
young and elderly, the sick and injured. It has been much more
disconcerting about what to do with the disabled or exploited, those who for whatever
reason (not just physical) cannot earn an income as well as others, and
this has been the case through the ages.
"According to this notion I may take
from others to help the needy, giving nothing of my own; according to
Christianity I should give of my own to to help the needy, taking from
Helping others requires an
investment. It is righteous to help others, but whose money and
resources will be used? Isn't it just as righteous to solicit funds for
that help? Why is it any less righteous to enlist government
— an economy of scale and thus theoretically a lower-cost
operation — to do that? Look at how many people say they're perfectly
happy to pay taxes (and as such enthusiastically support the use of
government force) to accomplish this.
"According to this notion human
beings make themselves, belong to themselves, and have value in and of
themselves; according to Christianity they are made by God, belong to
Him, and have value because they are loved by Him and made in His
We all acknowledge each of us is a
self, with some measure of autonomy. It is how we are made, and is the
basis for the meaning of relationship, discovery, and accomplishment as
God wants us to feel connected to His joy and purposes. Yes, without God
that gets really messed up, but having the most accurate perception of
self is wholly righteous. When Jesus tells us to "die to self," He wants
us to have that perception and from that we may truly live.
"According to this notion we cannot
be blamed when we violate the moral law, either because we cannot help
it, we have no choice, or it is our choice; according to Christianity we
must be blamed because we are morally responsible beings."
Deep compassionate expressions of
mercy are highly righteous. Acceptance of the ways people behave
rationally, however unrighteous, is healthy. The key is this also
requires understanding of justice
— no matter how much people say they dismiss the meaning
of temporal forces of justice, they don't. Punch a relativist in the
face and he'll still call the police. He may be saddened — very
righteously indeed — but he still cries for the most perfect justice to
be executed, all the time.
"According to this notion human
effort is adequate to cure human evil; according to Christianity our
sin, like guilt, can be erased only by the grace of God through faith in
It is quite ironic that all I ever
seem to hear is revulsion at any attempts at reaching perfection.
The truth is everyone very righteously wants their world to be perfect,
even if they pronounce how perfectly imperfect they and their
perspective of it want it to be. Even when an individual genuinely
seeks God's very best in all things, he finds that God still uses frail
and faulty humans to accomplish His ends, and that even the worst among
us have some conception of achieving things for a higher purpose.
"According to this notion the human
race forms a harmony whose divisions are ultimately either unreal or
unimportant; according to Christianity human harmony has been shattered
by sin and cannot be fully healed by any means short of conversion."
It is perfectly righteous to consider
that all humans are made in the image of God, even more that Christ died
for each individual on the planet through all of history. He is no
respecter of persons. There are indeed those universals that apply to
all, and very rationally considered by all. The trick again is to
insightfully understand what things are universals and what things are
particulars, or things in-between. It is also very righteous to hurt
when accepting the very real and, yes, universal reality that
there are at least some humans who stand condemned because of their
"According to this notion the virtue
of tolerance requires suspending judgments about good and evil;
according to Christianity it requires making judgments about good and
It hurts to think of the real
condition of man, that he is indeed evil, and that just saying he has a
"propensity" for evil doesn't really make it any better. It doesn't
matter how evil is understood, defined, explained, it's still there.
Most people are very righteously grieved by evil and repulsed by the laborious
efforts to try to rationalize it away. On the other hand, seeking that
which is truly good even when called "neutral" is also an exceedingly
"According to this notion the state
is more important to the child than the family; according to
Christianity the family is more important to the child than the state."
There are few things more righteous
than to fully acknowledge that each of us needs others in some
meaningful manner and substantive measure. Why wouldn't it be righteous
to arrange all of that to best manage and conserve resources required
for optimum living among all in family, community, and nation? The real
question is which people are doing that? Are they working in the World
System or in the Kingdom of God? And how can one know which is doing
what in their proper role?
The "error" of
What is actually righteous about
"According to this notion America is
a chosen nation, and its projects are a proper focus of religious
aspiration; according to Christianity, America is but one nation among
many, no less loved by God, but no more."
Christians have a vibrant connection
to the biblical narrative of God's work in communities through which He
moves. They very righteously desire to replicate the best from the
nation of Israel and New Testament church. They merely want to find ways
to have some current expression of that community. It may be quite
misguided to forcefully conscript others into a powerful group's
cultural expectations, but working toward some civil religion is a
perfectly rational response to this desire.
"According to this notion faith
should be used for the ends of the state; according to Christianity
believers should certainly be good citizens, but faith is not a tool."
People get nervous knowing so many
around them would do awful things unless powerful law enforcement
officers of some stripe are vigilant. There is a grounding for goodness
that everyone acutely senses somehow no matter how "neutral" they try to
be. Though it is tremendously foolish to try to make Caesar a follower
of Christ (even though he often looks very Christian), the
efforts to make bad people good are definitely not unrighteous.
"According to this notion God's grace
needs the help of the state; Christianity merely asks that the state get
out of the way."
One of the most righteous principles
of all is the meaning of the law. To the follower of Christ it is
good to shine light on our sin
— out of that we can be free in Christ. To the World inhabitant it is
good to be used by the state to crack heads as necessary, whether that
head is yours (not so comfortable) or it is any other murderer, liar, or
thief (much better!)
"According to this notion the laws of
men are higher than the laws of God; according to Christianity the laws
of God are higher than the laws of men."
The World inhabitant must have
someone to follow if it isn't Christ. That followed individual will
always be Caesar, despite the many avenues of temporal governance
one must go to ultimately see him there. Caesar himself is instructed
and manipulated by the ordained World operatives whose will he labors
valiantly to do. Furthermore, the Catholicist
— a "Christian" living by the World — will always
respect, honor, and carry out Caesar's work quite righteously in the
name of the law.
"According to this notion what has
been done is what should be done; Christianity, however, though it
cherishes the unchanging truths of faith, insists that any merely human
faith may have to be repented."
There is a reason familiar things are
so appealing, compelling, and gripping. God made each of us to desire
security; at the opposite extreme is the equally desired novelty.
Many traditional things are very good, indeed righteous, things that
move us to work hard at maintaining important and very legitimate
security things. If we do indeed build our house on the rock instead of
the sand, isn't it just as good to enjoy it many years after building it?
"Whereas the liberal sort of
neutralist exclaims, 'Let a thousand flowers bloom,' the conservative
sort cries merely, 'Leave me alone.' Conservative neutralism is the
notion that because everyone ought to mind his own business, moral and
righteous judgments should be avoided. Christianity holds that [they]
can never be avoided."
It is righteous to desire
righteousness that not only emanates from one's own being but is seen,
recognized, and lauded by others. Each of us wants our own brand of
righteousness derived from our own unique, innate character, and we'd
like to believe it is not up for grabs, it is not subject to others' whimsical
dismissals of it. It is even more important when we've had to work a bit
to cultivate it through our lives. This principle means it is quite
righteous to be suspicious of any government's judgment about our firmly
girded righteousness, and people get quite nervous when the force of
large government is employed against us in the face of the industriously
bold sustenance of said righteousnesses, if you will.
"According to this notion wealth is
the object of commonwealth, and its increase even better; according to
Christianity wealth is a snare, and its continual increase even worse."
Money is legitimately used to measure
value. The question really is, what is it that is truly valuable? Often
money is an accurate reflection of that. But acknowledging that many
sinful people in powerful places are in the mix of determining what
value matches up with what money reveals the true nature of man and this
issue. When followers of Christ are managing value, it is sowing into
others by love. When World operatives are managing value, it is
extracting from others by fear. Because so many only know of
the latter, it is quite righteous to believe that increase of wealth is
a bad thing.
"According to this notion I should do
unto others as they deserve. With the addition of mammonism matters
become even simpler, for those in need of help are by definition
undeserving, while those in a position to help are by definition
deserving. According to Christianity I should do unto others not as they
deserve, but as they need."
It is one of the most natural things
to do: match up work with reward. In fact God made it that way; it is
extraordinarily righteous! The things that make this very tricky
are our deficiencies in accurately knowing those matches, as well as our
woeful capacity to act on God's love in effectively caring for those who
appear to have done less than others. Really, that's the issue: who's
done what things that are actually valuable? We could try to break those
things down into categories, indeed. But this relates to the greatest
problem of all: when talking about our merits spiritually, what
we really deserve to get is something no one wants. The follower of
Christ knows well biblical meritism: Mercy - not receiving
what we really deserve (death, hell, separation from God). Grace
- receiving what we don't deserve (salvation, life, eternal bliss with
Jonathan Haidt is a psychology professor at the
University of Virginia. One reason I assembled the above treatise is in response
to his book The Righteous Mind. In it he does the very same thing
Budziszweski does: attempt to work through the liberal and conservative
Haidt does it this way. He breaks down the
important commitments each individual has and measures the intensity
of each depending on his/her ideological constitution. Those
commitments are (for/against) care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal,
authority/submission, sanctity/degradation. Most of his book
involves analyzing these. For instance, he points out that liberals
score very high in the "care/harm" area, and their political positions
will put that above most of the other concerns.
While quite edifying, Haidt's work suffers from the
typical error of all World scholarship. He is indeed being very rational, but
because of his willfully poor thinking it is also very unrighteous.
First, Haidt is a Darwinist. As such he
rejects God who has ultimate rule over all things and incisively judges men's hearts.
Even though Haidt may believe in God, go to church, and do nice
charitable things, his rejection of God is based on his clearly
to an evolutionary paradigm as the explanation for the way man
behaves, something all those in mainstream academia must pledge
to do or suffer pedagogical demonization.
This is important because
if God is meaningless (as He is in such a model) then nothing makes
sense, and the concepts rational and irrational
have no meaning because there is no firm grounding for that meaning.
He echoes the standard behavioral
economists' claim that there are all kinds of things people do
that are irrational, but how can that be in an evolutionary model?
Why is anything I do irrational when I naturally evolved into what I
naturally do now anyway? No, I think the word Haidt is looking for
The problem here is that this concept has no place in his
system, because his system has no true, firm standard for goodness. Everything
must then be righteous as well, and if that is the case then this
term loses its meaning. When he speaks of the righteous mind
it makes no sense, and as such he knows he can only really say
that unsavory things are irrational, but this too makes no sense if God
is effectively non-existent.
The giveaway is in his brief section
titled "The Rationalist Delusion" where he spills his real
impression all over the page. He dismisses reason wholesale
declaring that it cannot be trusted (again the idea: people are
hopelessly irrational) and instead champions intuition.
Reason just leads us to deceptive rationalizations, he says, while intuition
is where real identification of truthful things lies.
What is the truthful justification,
however, for any given individual's intuition? Isn't reason employed
to determine that? Yes, there are objectively truthful
things, and I also believe intuition helps us see those things. The
problem is that intuition is not the same as righteousness. All of our perspectives are irreparably messed up
— whether formed by cold
logic or heated passion
— and we need God's
perspective to make them right again. Without God, there is no way
the highest human reasoning or deepest abiding intuition can
guide us to the truthful, especially about what is most important of
all: that which is righteous. Furthermore both reason and intuition
are heavily exploited by World Operatives who for millennia have
made mush of anyone not regularly reading, studying, and praying
While Haidt does share some genuinely
insightful things about human behavior, the ultimate result is that
he has nothing to say
— there's just nothing
there when it all comes down to it. He does certainly spout the party line of all academics, that we need to see the good in everyone and try to find
agreement and get along anyway. His conclusion is about being civil
to one another, which is great, but
— why? He finishes with the pukifyingly
weak (as it always is with these types of works) "We're all stuck
here for a while, so let's try to work it out."
The real conclusion to what is really
reality is that most civility is flimsy window-dressing and every
single person very rationally wants to kick the crap out of one
another. Those who straight-away dismiss this plain truth are
abjectly fooling themselves and wallowing in their mucky prisons of
denial. The only righteous thing one can do is acknowledge this,
turn to Christ who is the only Righteous that matters, and then
experience the blinders coming off to see why and how people act the
way they do
— insightfully, comprehensively, righteously.
In brief, every perspective,
every one of them, has profound righteous dynamics in them. What is
the big deal, then? Those living by the World still hold on to their
sin contaminating any righteousness they claim to embrace or labor
to manifest. They use the law to try to justify themselves
(perfectly rational, thus the more accurate term "rationalize") and
the World System is authoritatively mobilized to arrange this.
The Kingdom way is to abjure
that realm, drop oneself into the arms of Christ unconditionally (He
accepts no other way), and enter into community to sow His love,
truth, grace, and power by Him and for all. It is then
and only then when whichever truthfully and vibrantly righteous aspect of
liberalism or conservatism finds its most bountiful expression. "For
Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who
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(The closing verse in the
last paragraph above is
from the tenth chapter of the letter to the Romans.)
This page was originally posted by David Beck at
yourownjesus.net on August 18,