A Liberal and a Conservative Walk into This Bar

35  92%  35%  1mph  windroseSSE  bar falls  dewpoint33  First Quarter of the Snow Moon     Holiseason

There is a puzzle in me, one that come to light when I worked at Unity Unitarian in St. Paul for a brief time.  It was a difficult and painful time for me, but I liked Roy Smith, the minister, and admired his intellectual grasp of the liberal faith tradition.  We had many conversations about theology, especially the work of Henry Nelson Weiman.  As we talked, I realized I had twin intellectual/emotional currents, perhaps running in opposite directions.

While my training in anthropology and philosophy made me sensitive to the plural and often conflicting belief and faith systems among the world’s many cultures, it also made me yearn for something with a center, a place to stand, as Martin Luther said.  An initial enchantment with the surprising (to the post-college me) intellectual rigor of Christian thought led me into a fruitful and often mystical 20+ years beginning in Seminary and ending when I left the Presbytery to write in late 1991.  As I pulled away from the institutional life of the Christian faith, my commitment to it weakened and finally broke.  In retrospect it’s more wonder I lasted so long. 

Systems of thought with certainty and exclusive claims like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Marxism, and Capitalism did not fare well when attacked at their base by philosophical analysis or the comparative method of anthropology, and I was only too happy to go at them.  The chief problem is the notion of permanent truth.  When looked at from, say, the Taoist living in X’ian none of these have any claim, with the possible exception of Marxism, but Marxism, looked at from the perspective of the American mainstreet, has no claim.   These universal claims, especially the religious ones with their cosmic implications, fail on the face when confronted by others who simply don’t agree. 

Capitalism and Marxism compete in the political and economic arena, but their mutual demands for faith–the invisible hand and the rational allocation of capital on the one hand and the inevitably of class struggle on the other–rely on large blind spots, i.e. the victims of Capitalism whose boats not only don’t float, but get swamped; and, the victims of Marxism, the millions in the USSR, Cambodia, and China who died that class struggle might prove triumphant.

 This mode of thinking leads me into the liberal faith tradition which raises a question mark, a big question mark, whenever claims of certainty are made.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, most often lacking.

And I’m happy there.

Yet.  There is this other river.  The classics inform my writing and my life.  Carl Jung, whose psychology I feel drawn to, looks within for the collective, archetypal elements shared across individuals and generations.   Classical music is the form of music I enjoy most.  My journey in the arts has led me back into the distance reaches of the human experience, not quite as far as the search for the origin of Homo sapiens, but at least as far back as Lascaux and the small stone amulets of big breasted, fertile women.  I love Dante, Ovid, Rembrandt, the bronze artisans of the Shang dynasty and the misty landscapes of the Southern Song. 

This is a conservative flow, a search for permanent things in a world of impermanence and diverse cultural history.

Both of these rivers, I’ve come to realize, are about equal in their pull on me.  It gives me a sense of two different people, perhaps one the German intellectual and the other a Celtic traditionalist; or, one the German Romantic and the other a feisty Celt ready to go a round or two with anyone over anything.  

It may be that this last third of my life will find these two rivers finally join, creating an intellectual and spiritual and aesthetic place I do not yet know.  I hope so since this last third is all I have left.

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One Response to A Liberal and a Conservative Walk into This Bar

  1. Pingback: Classical Music » A Liberal and a Conservative Walk into This Bar

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