Herman Cain and Jesus the Conservative

Cain (like a lot of people) is confused about what the words "conservative" and "liberal" mean.

I sometimes think that two of the most abused words in American politics are “liberal” and “conservative.”  Two recent posts here at OTB have focused my attention on this fact.  For example, James Joyner’s post, Moving Goalposts of American Conservatism, underscores the way these terms can become political footballs (to extend James’ title metaphor).

Another post, Doug Mataconis’ Herman Cain: Jesus Christ Was “The Perfect Conservative” Convicted By A “Liberal Court” provided such a perfect example of how the terms are improperly deployed.  Cain’s exposition on Jesus of Nazareth is intriguing (to be kind) for a variety of reasons (and Doug has a lengthy excerpt at his post).  Let me provided just the following:

The liberal court found Him [Jesus] guilty of false offences and sentenced Him to death, all because He changed the hearts and minds of men with an army of 12.

His death reset the clock of time.

Never before and not since has there ever been such a perfect conservative

I don’t know that I have ever seen as egregious misuse of the terms “liberal” and “conservative.”

Really, this isn’t all that complicated, as the basic definitions of the terms in question are as follows:

A liberal perspective is founded in the proposition that positive change can be brought about by the application of reason to a specific situation.  Such actions can allow for steady, progressive change.  In short:  human beings can figure out how to make life better and as those things are figured out, they can be put into practice.

A conservative perspective assumes that there are serious limitations to the application of reason to solve large, social problems and therefore it is better to rely on tradition and the test of time.  The bottom line to all of this is that a conservative perspective assumes that applied reason cannot account for all of the implications of its proposed changes, and the more rapid and comprehensive proposed changes are, the more likely that unintended consequences will occur. It is best, therefore, to take it slow and respect the tried and true.  After all, if a given practice, policy, or institution has persisted for as long as it has, this proves its viability and properness, yes?

Change may come, but only slowly and only if it happens in the context of these established institutions evolving on their own within the confines of actual human interaction rather than attempts by individuals to force change.  In short, experimentation is dangerous because we really don’t know how it will turn out.

This is why, in the mission statement of National Review, William F. Buckley famously proclaimed that the “It [NR] stands athwart history, yelling Stop…”

Another definition, while we are at it:  a radical seeks deep and rapid change to an existing order.

Having provided some basic definitions, let’s go back to Cain’s usage of the terms.

Was Jesus of Nazareth seeking to maintain existing traditions and institutions within Judaism?  Clearly not.  Indeed, his claims and teachings were not only not conservative, they were not liberal.  Rather, they were clearly radical.  Regardless of one’s theological predilections, this ought to be crystal clear.

What about Cain’s “liberal court”?  Well, that was the Sanhedrin, which was made up of members of the clerical class whose power, by definition, was traditional in nature and whose goals where profoundly conservative:  they wanted to combat the assertions of the radical, Jesus, and to preserve their understanding of the teachings of Judaism (not to mention their own power).  If, by the way, Cain was referring to Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate, the “liberal” claim fails as well.

Now, I understand that the terms liberal and conservative are often used loosely and amorphously in the vernacular of American politics, but some applications are sloppy and unclear and others are blatantly incorrect.  Cain’s application in this case fall rather definitively into the latter category.

Beyond just correcting Cain, however, I do think that we, as a population need to think about what these terms actually mean (both in a conceptual sense, but also in a practical political one).  Rather than representing coherent worldviews or philosophical bases, it seems to me that most people who deploy the terms use them like names of a football team (“let’s go liberals!”).  This is ultimately not helpful.

FILED UNDER: Politics 101, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    A good summary and contrast. I don’t think Cain’s revival tent delivery and biblical reference really diverge from the new definition of conservatism however. It is a charismatic movement, with faith-based politics.

    (The current claim that jobs and recovery will come from further deregulation and government downsizing have no real rational underpinnings. They have no study or example of practical success. They are just the faith, or failing that, even worse. They are faith or empty slogan .)

  2. ponce says:

    Cain is the leader of the CINOs, Christians In Name Only, now.

    In their world, Jesus was actually Gordon Gecko.

  3. john personna says:

    Related:

    The Evangelical Rejection of Reason

    THE Republican presidential field has become a showcase of evangelical anti-intellectualism. Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann deny that climate change is real and caused by humans. Mr. Perry and Mrs. Bachmann dismiss evolution as an unproven theory. The two candidates who espouse the greatest support for science, Mitt Romney and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., happen to be Mormons, a faith regarded with mistrust by many Christians.

    But everyone has to pick a team, and be true to their school, right James?

  4. Rick DeMent says:

    We really need better terms. There needs to be a term that identifies certain baskets of issues that people coalesce around that seem to define political movements. Conservative / Liberal breaks down because it’s relative over time. Also the two major parties used to have Conservative and Liberal elements among their number. Those elements have migrated to Democrats and Republican parties and this frankly is the problem. Polarization between the parties is at an all time high.

  5. LaurenceB says:

    This post brings to mind another Biblical passage. Something about throwing pearls to swine.

    I doubt Cain, or those who support him, have any interest at all in knowing or discussing the difference between “liberal” and “conservative”. You might as well try to explain Uz-beki-beki-stan-stan, or tax policy.

  6. john personna says:

    @LaurenceB:

    Uz-beki-beki-stan-stan

    I high moment in anti-intellectualism.

  7. DMan says:

    I do think that we, as a population need to think about what these terms actually mean (both in a conceptual sense, but also in a practical political one). Rather than representing coherent worldviews or philosophical bases, it seems to me that most people who deploy the terms use them like names of a football team (“let’s go liberals!”). This is ultimately not helpful.

    I agree. Common usage of these terms actually advocates radicalism. It would be much better if people looked at the current system in real time. If you see some policies as overreaching government that needs to be drawn back, support conservative solutions to counter or remove them. If you believe greater regulation is needed in an area, then support liberal interventions to better control them. And then as policies adapt, adjust your preferences in real time as well.

    The country would be better off if people adjusted their support of policies in regards to the situation in real time. Instead we have the majority of this country identifying with a philosophy (which is actually inconsistent and unevenly applied*) and throwing support behind anyone who shares this manufactured identity. By identifying this way, you choose to ignore reality. Policy changes are then at the mercy of random chance in areas where each team is able to win or hold ground on their respective battles, instead of where policy changes are actually needed.

    *This is not a minor point. Many self identifying conservatives advocate liberal policies in the real sense of the word, and just the same, many liberals advocate conservative policies. When these individuals criticize the other side for either wanting government do everything or nothing the real problems of policy or lack-thereof is ignored.

  8. @DMan:

    *This is not a minor point. Many self identifying conservatives advocate liberal policies in the real sense of the word, and just the same, many liberals advocate conservative policies. When these individuals criticize the other side for either wanting government do everything or nothing the real problems of policy or lack-thereof is ignored.

    Agreed.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    I rather think people’s discomfort with expressions of religion in politics is getting the better of a rather simple, if not simplistic, assertion. Cain is saying that liberals, or more precisely progressives, constitute the statist party of government, against individual conscience.

  10. @PD Shaw: This strikes me as a rather generous interpretation.

  11. Janis Gore says:

    Lordy, lordy. If the putative son of God can’t escape labels, who can?

  12. PD Shaw says:

    BTW/ Question to the floor: Does Prof. Taylor’s definition of “liberal” mean that progressives are not liberal?

    For example, Sen Durbin wants to ban chewing tobacco in televised sports because it encourages people to take up a dangerous habit. Belief that the individual can reason through life or a belief in government?

    I would say for the most part progressives do not believe “human beings can figure out how to make life better,” but that government intervention is necessary, preferably through elite thinkers, to make sure that human beings don’t make the wrong choices.

  13. @PD Shaw:

    BTW/ Question to the floor: Does Prof. Taylor’s definition of “liberal” mean that progressives are not liberal?<./blockquote>

    Typically, “progressive” means a more proactive version of “liberal.”

    I would say for the most part progressives do not believe “human beings can figure out how to make life better,” but that government intervention is necessary

    Granted, you are raising a potentially broader question, but I will say this: we are talking here, typically, about collective action problems which, in turn, does require government action.

    e.g., public education and the interstate highway system.

  14. @PD Shaw:

    Interesting question. I think its also the case that conservatives aren’t necessarily conservative under these definition.

    Then again, I think we all waste way too much time trying to put people into one of two categories. Things are more complicated than that.

  15. A voice from another precinct says:

    ” Intriguing,” yes, that was the word I was looking for when I read Doug’s post. The closest that I could come was “whacked.”

    More to the point, one of the fundamental (and fundamentalist) points of the Evangelical Conservative view over the years of my upbringing within the fundy community was the faith (and it really was faith) that laissez-faire capitalism was the only “Biblical” and “Godly” economic system. The idea that if self-seeking usurious, dare I say it–greedy, people would use capitalism as a method of enriching themselves at the expense of others was foreign to us (even though there is a strong history for such thought from earlier times in America). The people who believed such things were “not really Christians” and didn’t understand “sound Biblical doctrine.” Such people still exist and Herman Cain’s speech reaches out to them with language that resonates fiercely for them. The fact that none of the terms mean what they believe them to mean simply reflects their own post-modern turn.

    We are all, ultimately, post-modernists, sad to say.

  16. john personna says:

    This relates to PD’s question and the “third box”:

    Libertarianism presents itself as a simple, clear, and principled view. It appears to provide a moral basis, in the value of individual liberty, for a specific political program of limited government and low taxes. The moral significance of liberty seems obvious even to those who believe it is not the only thing that matters. But the claim of the libertarian political program to be founded on this value is illusory. Three lines of thought lead to conclusions that might be seen as libertarian. But none of these shows that respect for the value of individual liberty should lead one to support the political program of low taxes and limited government that libertarians are supposed to favor.

    See “motorcycle-helmet libertarianism” in section 2.

    As with helmets its a question of whether each and every individual choice must be defended, or whether really stupid choices can be given up.

  17. DMan says:

    @PD Shaw:

    I think you’re helping make his point by believing that anyone who identifies as progressive must think a certain way across the board. This is both a problem for the people who identify themselves by a philosophy and the people who identify others by a philosophy. In one instance people may radicalize their beliefs to fit their philosophy more consistently, and in the other you may misrepresent or be misrepresented on a host of issues because you believe in a specific approach towards many issues rather than all issues.

  18. john personna says:

    @DMan:

    Isn’t Durbin’s position consistent with a progressive outlook? If chewing is destructive and a vice people fall to through failure of reason, then the state should intervene.

    This is just about where to draw the line. I’m sure that neither Doug nor PD feel put-upon because they can’t go down to the mall to buy heroin and a flame thrower. They probably do want the choice to pick up a six-pack. The question is whether chewing tobacco is more heroin-like or beer-like. That’s all.

  19. gVOR08 says:

    In the real world, conservatism always comes down to preserving and enhancing the wealth and power of the currently wealthy and powerful. The rest is just PR and BS.

  20. DMan says:

    @john personna:

    Sorry if I was unclear, I didn’t mean to say that Durbin, in this instance, wasn’t advocating progressive policy. He clearly is. But I was arguing against this assumption:

    I would say for the most part progressives do not believe “human beings can figure out how to make life better,” but that government intervention is necessary, preferably through elite thinkers, to make sure that human beings don’t make the wrong choices.

    Thinking about it more though, I would suggest this isn’t just what progressives believe, but in fact most people apart from a few in the extremes think this way. You make this example well yourself with the flamethrower and heroin analogy. Clearly most people do think some government intervention is necessary in society. The argument is about to what degree and on what issues. I would imagine many self-identified progressives are opposed to the war on drugs, executions, and anti-abortion laws. These are actually conservative positions on these issues. Thus, many self-described progressives believe in only a degree of government intervention that is limited in many scopes. As a philosophy that isn’t much different from anyone else, so focusing on the philosophy as opposed to the issues is where the argument turns sour.

  21. mattb says:

    @DMan:

    If you see some policies as overreaching government that needs to be drawn back, support conservative solutions to counter or remove them.

    If you believe greater regulation is needed in an area, then support liberal interventions to better control them. And then as policies adapt, adjust your preferences in real time as well.

    A key problem that I see with this intervention is the casting of “intervention/regulation” as the key difference. It is helpful, but ultimately problematic as “tradition/law” is itself a form of intervention. Likewise the destruction/overturning of law is not inherently conservative (especially in cases where a long held social norm is overturned).

    Really it seems to me that what is described above is the difference between intervention and naive libertarianism/anarchism.

  22. john personna says:

    @DMan:

    Right, PD was confusing liberalism and libertarianism.

    (I think the progressive position might be that pot is like wine at this point.)

  23. DMan says:

    @mattb:

    Good points. But doesn’t it still stand that arguing philosophy is ignoring reality? Call me liberal or progressive or whatever you like, but the world is changing, and rapidly. The idea that we should maintain traditional laws and social norms that aren’t applicable to today’s reality while ignoring regulation or interventions of new realities is less conservative and more radical in my mind.

  24. george says:

    In practice I don’t think I know a single person who is uniformly “conservative” or uniformly “progressive” – all the real people I know (as opposed to people I only know via their Internet posts )have a mixed bag of opinions, some conservative, some progressive.

    People are actually a lot more intelligent and nuanced than they’re given credit for, trying to paint them into one of two camps (as if issues were binary) makes for good conversation, but has almost nothing to do with reality.

    I guess the political compass is slightly better than the linear scale, but only marginally so; the best I’ve seen is a friend who, when asked if he’s a progressive or conservative, replies “depends, which issue are you talking about”. Letting others think for you by following a political program is never a good idea – and the people pushing the philosophies are almost always trying to sell you something.

  25. Davebo says:

    For example, Sen Durbin wants to ban chewing tobacco in televised sports because it encourages people to take up a dangerous habit. Belief that the individual can reason through life or a belief in government?

    Well, if you operate under an anti trust exemption that you requested you’re always free to give it up.

  26. anjin-san says:

    Belief that the individual can reason through life or a belief in government?

    Tobacco companies target children, and they do it with very sophisticated tools. Do we now expect a 12 year old to “reason his way” and make good choices?

  27. Rob in CT says:

    the best I’ve seen is a friend who, when asked if he’s a progressive or conservative, replies “depends, which issue are you talking about”

    I’ve said that many times, though I have over time become more consistently progressive. I once got into a ridiculous internet argument with a philosophy grad about Conservatism. His charge – which he saw as terribly damning – was that Conservatism is not a coherent ideology. I didn’t see this as a huge problem. Ideology is overrated, IMO. Not every problem has the same solution. An ideological framework – principles – is good, but rigidity is bad (ah, what’s too rigid and what’s too flip-floppy? Good question!).

    I think one of the big differences between liberal and conservative outlooks is the question of power. Example: a libertarian tends to see an employer-employee relationship as just two individuals making a deal. A liberal looks at it and sees a significant power disparity in favor of the employer, and decides that such warrants counter-balancing. Clearly I lean toward the liberal view on this, and I think History backs this up rather well.

    Similarly, the question of privilege. Conservatives tend to either not see it, think it’s justified, or failing both of those, that it’s inevitable and any attempt to remedy it is counterproductive (cure < disease). Liberals think it can be addressed, however imperfectly. Affirmative Action is the most obvious example of this, but so are education subsidies, inheritance taxes, and really anything else aimed at promoting equality of opportunity.

    As for the chewing tobacco thing… I don't know about banning this or that. I'm more into having the government do public health campaigns designed to convince people not to use something. I smoked for 15 years, despite knowing full well that it was dumb. I did not start because I saw ads or because I saw a famous person smoking. I started because a bunch of my idiot friends smoked and I eventually (after months of resistance) gave in and tried it, and decided I liked it. YMMV, but I rather doubt Durbin's plan will be particularly effective (here I made a relatively conservative argument. Is that allowed? I'm in the "liberal" box, right?). That said, I’m not exactly going to be upset if Durbin gets his way. As noted above, Baseball has a (BS) anti-trust exemption they could always drop (but won’t).

  28. grumpy realist says:

    I’m old enough to think that the real split is between “young idealists who haven’t gotten hit with reality enough” vs. “grumpy cynical bastards who have read enough history”. The reason that Libertarianism is so attractive to (single) 20-year old males is because they are about the only ones who could actually go off into the wilderness with a mule, a pick-axe, and a handful of seeds and have a decent chance of carving a sustainable life out of the wilderness. Doesn’t work very well if you are a) disabled b) pregnant, or c) old. Or if you want to live at any level higher than subsistence farming…..

    Don’t forget, a lynch mob satisfies all the requirements of the self-assembled/self-governing small organization Libertarians think is so fantastic.

  29. Gulliver says:

    Taylor –

    Cain (like a lot of people) is confused about what the words “conservative” and “liberal” mean.

    And then the author goes on to provide definitions of each without anything other than his own perspective to back it up. So, the “official” Taylor definitions of liberal and conservative are the difinitive versions that we should all filter comments and observatons through? Just a wee bit egocentric, aren’t we?

    Anyone with half a brain and is smart enough to tune out the talking heads knows that the language has been co-opted by the left to the point where the words “liberal” and “conservative” today are used to describe behaviors that are almost the exact opposite of what they have meant traditionally. But, hey… the left is all about destroying tradition and replacing it with ambiguity in order to subvert anything that actually provides a firm foundation for principles and values. Why stop now…

    The problem is that lberals think everyone is still stuck feeding only off of what their liberal professors and the babblers on the major news networks throw into the trough every day and night. Americans are rapidly waking up to the fact that they continue to be fed a bill of goods in the guise of “news” and “expert opinion”, and there are now far too many sources of information out there for them to not notice the paucity of actual unbiased news reports.

    This is just another attack on Christianity and conservative values disguised as analysis. Go back to bed. The only ones who will sign on for it are the liberals here who chime in already everytime there’s a chance to trash-talk a conservative candidate in an attempt to polish the turd sandwich that the left is taking bigger and bigger bites from.

  30. Janis Gore says:

    An attack on Christianity?

    Tell me how you reconcile Matthew 25:15-28 with Luke 12:27.

    That’s an attack on Christianity.

  31. @Gulliver:

    And then the author goes on to provide definitions of each without anything other than his own perspective to back it up. So, the “official” Taylor definitions of liberal and conservative are the difinitive versions that we should all filter comments and observatons through? Just a wee bit egocentric, aren’t we?

    The definitions provided are pretty standard. I can provide a reading list, if you like.

    This is just another attack on Christianity

    That one you are going to have to explain.

  32. An Interested Party says:

    This is just another attack on Christianity and conservative values disguised as analysis. Go back to bed. The only ones who will sign on for it are the liberals here who chime in already everytime there’s a chance to trash-talk a conservative candidate in an attempt to polish the turd sandwich that the left is taking bigger and bigger bites from.

    There’s nothing quite like the victimization that certain “conservatives” whine about endlessly…the only real attack going on here is the assault on logic and common sense, with Cain’s ridiculous descriptions of “conservative” Jesus and his “liberal” persecutors…

  33. Gulliver says:

    @ Gore

    An attack on Christianity?

    Tell me how you reconcile Matthew 25:15-28 with Luke 12:27.

    Easily. The reconciliation comes from context for each passage, and from the recognized and acceptable use of allegory implemented throughout the Bible to teach principles.

    Matthew 25:15-28 is discussing an allegorical description which contrasts the way that we use our natural talents and gifts to serve God and increase the yield of hat has been provided to us through no effort of our own – those gifts of or talents of, teaching, music, creativity, generosity, or…. whatever, that are part of what makes us unique, that we were born with and are a gift, rather than earned by us through effort. The idea of money is simply a way of showing that these have value and were freely provided by the only one who is capable of giving anything which is not earned through effort or our own machinations.

    Luke 12:27 actually complements Matthew 25:15-28 by pointing out that all of our worries and anxieties can’t do a thing to impact t our circumstances so our focus should not be on goods or money, but rather to trust that needs are known and that even the smallest event does not pass notice.

    Reconciliation is not necessary because- in context- complement the principle that a focus on the material is not a focus on the spiritual. If gifts given are used for only self-advancement, then they will be considered as gifts which are hoarded. This is entirely consistent with biblical Christian teaching.

  34. Gulliver says:

    Taylor and AIP, in order:

    Taylor: It is an attack on Christianity because it attempts to revise the dynamics and realities of what motivated the Sanhedrin. Jesus was no more like the modern liberal than he was like the Pharisees. Jesus was the antithesis of the modern liberal in that he taught grace and the inevitability of human failure, whereas the modern liberal teaches extreme adherence to rigid standards of behavior from anyone that strays from the liberal doctrine. Modern liberalism takes the position that even your thoughts should be judged and your punishment should be different according to your perceived motivations (as if your thoughts can be magically discerned by a mortal man). The Sanhedrim was modern liberalism exemplified; rigid in its insistence that Jesus conform to what they thought acceptable, merciless in trying to force Him to accept their view of truth, and furious that He refused to abandon his position.

    Just as the Pharisees of Jesus’ time went far beyond the requirements of the religious law – creating their own traditions which they considered equally as enforceable as the law of Moses – modern liberals go far beyond anything codified in our laws, enforcing the nebulous social laws related to “hate speech” , “political correctness”, and “social justice.” Of course, only the Sanhedrin is capable of judging when one of these “laws” has been violated ( and strangely enough, if its a member of the Sanhedrin that is accused, the standards change). The behavior of the Sanhedrin is not exemplified in modern conservatism, it is exemplified in liberalism.

    AIP – I felt I would pay you the respect of responding to your comment, but upon further reflection and re-reading your post, you have nothing of substance to actually reply to. Thanks, for making my prediction of gratuitous Christian -bashing by liberals here an immediate reality, rather than a simple guess.

  35. An Interested Party says:

    Thanks, for making my prediction of gratuitous Christian -bashing by liberals here an immediate reality, rather than a simple guess.

    Yet another distortion on your part…no one is bashing Christians, but rather, certain conservatives with faulty thinking, like you and Cain…

  36. sam says:

    Anybody else think that Gulliver’s last, especially the bit about ” extreme adherence to rigid standards of behavior” perfectly describes the mind of the fundamentalist Christian?

  37. @Gulliver: It would appear that you are arguing that this is an attack on Christianity because it does not accept the misapplication of the term “liberal” to the Sanhedrin. Without even getting into how you are you using the words, I still fail to see how any of this constitutes an attack on Christianity.

  38. Kit says:

    Today’s American conservative would surely have cast his lot either with the Romans (the greatest empire in the history of the world!) or with the Jews, depending on his circumstances. And two thousand years later not much has changed. The average conservative evangelical carries in his heart a copy of the Old Testament wrapped in a book cover proclaiming “I *heart* Jesus!” and simply will not hear that maybe God is not always on the side of the biggest battalion.

    The ancient liberal might not have been an ally to the Gospels, but the ancient conservative was an implacable foe.

  39. @Gulliver: One last attempt at dealing with the definitional issue. Note that the word “conservative” is based on the word “conserve”–by definition, a conservative mentality is one that focuses on conservation of existing norms, institutions, power structures, etc.

    So, who was seeking conservation of an existing order? Jesus or the Sanhedrin?

  40. mattb says:

    @Gulliver:
    For someone who is so concerned about the “liberal” ownership of language, let me begin by noting that you use constructions like “modern liberal.” By the way I note that you offer no “proof” of the validity of your definition of “modern liberal” — the very same thing you accused Stephen of doing if you first post.

    But let’s step away from you definition of liberal/conservative and get to the heart of the falicy…

    The Sanhedrim was modern liberalism exemplified; rigid in its insistence that Jesus conform to what they thought acceptable, merciless in trying to force Him to accept their view of truth, and furious that He refused to abandon his position.

    Bull. The issue was that Christ, if we read the bible, identified himself as the direct Son of God. Which meant that those who followed and worshiped the father through him were in direct violation of the FIRST friggin’ commandment. This had absolutely nothing to do with any other Talmudic law.

    I don’t see how this could be a more conservative action than this. And I think you’d have a hard time reaching a different conclusion if you talked to most Jews.

    The position that they were attempting to get him to abandon was that he was the son of God/messiah. The issue was one of false prophet-hood.

    BTW, from your attack on the Pharasee’s expansion of Talmudic law, I’m guessing that you suggesting that the only two sets of “conservative” law is in that case the Law of Moses and whatever Christ said? In that case should we throw out Paul’s many revisions/expansions of both as being fundamentally liberal (in that Paul vastly relaxed the effects of Levitican law on Christians)?

  41. Gulliver says:

    @ mattb –

    Bull. The issue was that Christ, if we read the bible, identified himself as the direct Son of God. Which meant that those who followed and worshiped the father through him were in direct violation of the FIRST friggin’ commandment. This had absolutely nothing to do with any other Talmudic law.

    OTB is hardly the place to explore this in freedom, but I’ll respond to you on this to show you how you are incorrect. Matthew 12:14 and the preceding 13 verses shows that the Pharisees began plotting to kill Jesus because he healed a man on the Sabbath, and they claimed his disciples were violating the Sabbath by eating grain from the fields as they passed through them. This was not a violation of Talmudic law, it was a perceived violation of the extra-legal precepts added to the Commandment as passed down by Moses.

    In other words, they were offended to the point of planning lethal violence to Jesus because he didn’t follow and accept their extra-legal interpretation of the letter of the Talmudic law regarding reverence of the Sabbath. This self-righteous attitude based upon ego-centric interpretation of the “spirit” of the law – and sporadically and arbitrarily enforced as they see fit – is exactly how liberals and progressives act today to enforce their extra-legal interpretations of black letter law related to everything from Civil Rights to Environmentalism.

    Just as the Pharisees were tremendous hypocrites in their time, modern liberals are tremendous hypocrites in our time. Al Gore owns a mansion and uses enormous amount of energy, yet lectures on the evils of carbon emissions and wants to control the energy use of other, Obama lectures conservatives on legal rights and got elected by condemning Bush’s actions, yet he has done nothing but continue (and in many case increase) those policies in relation to Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, etc. Those that claim to be race warriors in the defense of “every man judged according to his character” spout racial bigotry in the name of “civil rights.” The list goes on and on.

    Pharisees of old = liberals of today. Sorry.

  42. @Gulliver:

    So, you really don’t care about the definitions at all. What you want to do is say that two groups of people with whom you disagree both acted in ways that can be considered hypocritical you can then consider all the these people to belong to the same group.

    The logic goes something like this (and using your assessment for the sake of discussion):

    Gore = Hypocrite

    Gore=Liberal

    Sandherin=hyporcrites

    So, since Gore was a hypocrite and the Sandhedrin was hypocritical we say that Gore=Sanhedrin. Now, since Gore=liberal and Sandherdrin=Gore, Sanhedrin=liberal.

    This is a rather tortured road to take. Further, I am not sure why you are getting upset about my attempts at defining terms, as you really don’t appear to care all that about definitions.

    And, btw, yes, the clerical class objected to a number of things Jesus did, including those you mentioned. However, at the trial, the charge was concerning his claims to godhood/messiahship. As such, Matt is quite correct.

    See, for example Mark, Chapter 14:

    60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 61 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.

    Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

    62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

    63 The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. 64 “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”

  43. mattb says:

    @Gulliver:
    I agree that the healing on the sabbath was the precipitating event. However this account fails to account for the fact that Jesus was being ultimately prosecuted for the political/revolutionary threat that he posed and that was based upon his claim of being the son/incarnation of God.

    It is clear that the New Testament presents the Pharisees as hypocrites. However, the idea that hypocrisy is somehow limited to Liberals in today’s political climate, is also strange to me. Consider the many conservatives who have demonstrated significant amounts of hypocritical behavior and have managed to keep their jobs and their relative standing in the community including David Vitter, “Newt” Gingrich and John Ensign.

    Of course, I expect that you’re response will be that they don’t resemble “good” conservatives. Which leads to the question of what to you constitutes a “good” modern conservative or liberal? I’m also a bit curious if you think its possible to be a liberal and be a Christian (or if its possible to be a conservative and not be a Christian)?

  44. Gulliver says:

    @ Taylor

    So, who was seeking conservation of an existing order? Jesus or the Sanhedrin?

    First, thanks for your thoughtful questions and open tone.

    From your perspective I can see why my statement seems counter-intuitive. Again the issue here is the changing of language, but also probably that you are coming from a purely secular view and trying to apply my statements to what you probably see as a simple logical extrapolation of the current definitions of conservative and liberal.

    To answer your question, Jesus was making the claim that he was restoring things to the correct order and priority in regards to how humanity is to interact with God. Jesus was making the claim that he came to restore – or “conserve” – the proper understanding of what God required of man in order for reconciliation and relationship to take place between God and man. He condemned the religious leaders numerous times for the impossible burdens they were placing on the people – not because they were commanded by the law of Moses – but because the Pharisees had regulated in excruciating detail the actions that needed to be taken in order to not offend the religious “law” ( But of course they institutionalized it so that if you offended their version, by default you were offending God as well, which was naturally very serious stuff. This justified the strict enforcement of their private interpretations and add-ons)

    I can see how from your point of view the Pharisees were the “Conservatives” because they were trying to maintain the status quo, and Jesus was the “Liberal” because he as trying to free people from the burdens imposed by the traditions of the time. But trying to translate this concept into the modern practical definitions of the two opposing ideologies is where it breaks down.

    The pharisees tried to push people across the “holiness” goal line by imposing onerous requirements about most everything that involved simply living out each day; who you could talk to (don’t associate with tax collectors, sinners, or Samaritans), what you could do and when (don’t carry your bedroll on the Sabbath, don’t help your neighbor even if they’re in need, etc). Jesus pretty much said – “You’ll never get there on your own no matter how hard you try, and you need to come to grips with that. By the way, that’s why I’m here.”

    From my belief and understanding of my (and my friends) conservative ideology, Jesus was “conserving” the idea of personal freedom to try, fail on occasion, be imperfect because I’m human, but still be “correct” in my efforts. In other words be free as an individual to not have to conform to someone else’s notions of what (extra-legal) behaviors I have to have in order to be “correct.” I would contend that although modern liberalism claims to defend the freedom of people so that everyone is properly respected, they – like the pharisees – are attempting to push society across the “correctness” goal line by putting onerous burdens upon what can be said (Because we know what you meant), and even down to “We know what you were thinking. This is accomplished by incessant social pressure and “awareness” training in schools, corporations, and the media.

    This – my point of view – is why I believe that to equate modern liberals with Jesus is actually a (backdoor) attack on Christianity because Jesus was about free will with a full and tacit understanding that – given free will – not all will make the right choices.. The modern liberal is about control – control of words, control of perceptions, and – most significantly – control of who can use this or that word with impunity, or do this or that thing without being judged, as opposed to who, if they do the exact same thing, is guilty of coming short of the “correct” behavior standard.

    Apologies for the length. Thanks again for asking.

  45. mattb says:

    @Gulliver: Couple points here…

    Again the issue here is the changing of language…

    You’ve mentioned this before, can you explain what you mean by “changing of language.”

    Next, you argue that Stephen is coming from a secular viewpoint (I’m guessing you mean the same of me). I hope that you acknowledge that your entire line of argumentation is built upon a fundamentalist Christian viewpoint. To anyone who ISN’T a Christian — i.e. does not accept that Jesus was the son of God and therefore privy to the “correct” order — what you are suggesting doesn’t make sense.

    The pharisees tried to push people across the “holiness” goal line by imposing onerous requirements about most everything that involved simply living out each day; who you could talk to (don’t associate with tax collectors, sinners, or Samaritans), what you could do and when (don’t carry your bedroll on the Sabbath, don’t help your neighbor even if they’re in need, etc).

    Here’s where your argument goes off the rails.

    You keep referring to the Law of Moses, I assume by that you mean what is laid down in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Can you explain to me how that, in itself, didn’t already lay down onerous laws on people? Or if you don’t feel that those are onerous, can you explain Christianity’s rejection of most of that law post-Christ?

    Christ himself does not specifically say anything that overturns Kosher (though Paul will take steps to eliminate most Kosher rulings in order to make it easier to convert Gentiles) or most of the other Law of Moses (something that Christian Conservatives are quick to remember when justifying attacks on Homosexuality).

    I would contend that although modern liberalism claims to defend the freedom of people so that everyone is properly respected, they – like the pharisees – are attempting to push society across the “correctness” goal line by putting onerous burdens upon what can be said (Because we know what you meant), and even down to “We know what you were thinking. This is accomplished by incessant social pressure and “awareness” training in schools, corporations, and the media.

    So, I am curious to wonder how you feel about Obscenity laws or acts that in the past have made Homosexuality illegal or any form of regluation of speech or behavior? It seems like any of these would be anathema to the type of Conservatism that you seem to b advocating for as they are each intended to “push society towards correct behavior” via the regulation of thought/action.

  46. mattb says:

    @Gulliver:

    In other words be free as an individual to not have to conform to someone else’s notions of what (extra-legal) behaviors I have to have in order to be “correct.”

    Can you explain how modern liberalism requires this? Or why, at least in the US, conservative (self described) have been very much concerned with this very sort of regulation (again – see obscenity and indecency laws for numerous examples of the very sort of regulation you seem to be suggesting is inherently liberal in this post)?

  47. @Gulliver:

    From your perspective

    And from what perspective wold that be?

    I suppose if one argues that Jesus was restoring man’s pre-fall relationship between man and God, the Jesus was the ultimate reactionary, but in the temporal realm of men, he brought change.

    And by the way, if one is a Calvinist, the following is hardly the case:

    This – my point of view – is why I believe that to equate modern liberals with Jesus is actually a (backdoor) attack on Christianity because Jesus was about free will with a full and tacit understanding that – given free will – not all will make the right choices..

  48. @mattb: BTW, Cain himself describes Christ as a change agent, even in the snippet quoted in my post:

    He changed the hearts and minds of men with an army of 12.
    His death reset the clock of time.

  49. Oops, that last comment was supposed to be directed to @Gulliver.

    Let me also note that you should go peruse Hebrews and the discussion of the new covenant. For example 8:13 “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.”

  50. Gulliver says:

    @ mattb

    By the way I note that you offer no “proof” of the validity of your definition of “modern liberal” — the very same thing you accused Stephen of doing if you first post.

    From Wikipedia – after about 10 seconds of searching:

    Without a qualifier, the term “liberalism” since the 1930s in the United States usually refers to “modern liberalism”, a political philosophy….

    Is this OK with you, or do you need – like – multiple sources for my concept to be “correct?”

  51. Gulliver says:

    @mattb

    Or why, at least in the US, conservative (self described) have been very much concerned with this very sort of regulation (again – see obscenity and indecency laws for numerous examples of the very sort of regulation you seem to be suggesting is inherently liberal in this post)?

    You’re confusing black letter law – duly passed by representatives of the people and codified – with the notion of enforcing an individual interpretation of what extra-legal behavior norms must be adhered to based upon the perceptions of a sub-class of the overall society. My point is liberalism is about enforcing their particular idea of nuances based upon private extra-legal interpretation of the black letter law. The only way their ideas can be enforced is through pressure (control) . There is no official authority behind enforcing the nuances – just their conviction that they have the right t define “correct” behavior.

    Appels and Oranges

  52. Gulliver says:

    @ Taylor

    Forgive me, but what does the modern interpretation of how a “reactionary” or “revolutionary” individual acts have to do with what Jesus was trying to accomplish 2,000 years ago. This not directed at you, but the arrogance of the age of “Enlightenment” – which seems to think itself worthy of redefining everything historical according to perspective and definitions only recently arrived at – strikes me as being primarily an exercise in intellectual navel-gazing..

  53. Gulliver says:

    @ Taylor

    Let me also note that you should go peruse Hebrews and the discussion of the new covenant. For example 8:13 “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.”

    But you’re still lacking full context. Jesus also said that he did not come to “abolish” the law , he came to “fulfill the law and the Prophets.”

    The law demanded justice and holiness. Jesus fulfilled that through sacrifice and grace. The one does not negate the other, the former is satisfied by the latter.

  54. @Gulliver:

    But you’re still lacking full context. Jesus also said that he did not come to “abolish” the law , he came to “fulfill the law and the Prophets.”

    First, I am no lacking context. The entire book of Hebrews is about how Christ is a new high priest, superior to the Levitical priesthood that came before him and has established a new covenant with world. He did not simply restore the Old Testament order, he transformed it.

    Second, that fulfillment came about via change. (There is only pesky issue. noted by Matt, as to how Christians do not, and never did, follow the law as spelled out in the OT).

    You are avoiding the Hebrews issue, btw, with your response.

    You also have not answered the question as to what you think my “perspective” is that allegedly makes it difficult for me to understand where you are coming.

  55. @Gulliver:

    Forgive me, but what does the modern interpretation of how a “reactionary” or “revolutionary” individual acts have to do with what Jesus was trying to accomplish 2,000 years ago. This not directed at you, but the arrogance of the age of “Enlightenment” – which seems to think itself worthy of redefining everything historical according to perspective and definitions only recently arrived at – strikes me as being primarily an exercise in intellectual navel-gazing..

    No, this is ultimately a simply issue of whether specific actors want change or not and what kind of change is desired. I am being pretty straightforward, in fact. You are the one obfuscating the discussion by introducing things like “hypocrisy” into the definitions.

  56. Gulliver says:

    @ Taylor

    You are avoiding the Hebrews issue, btw, with your response.

    I’m not avoiding it at all – I just didn’t want to get that deeply into it in that response.
    Your own statement has the answer included in it except you used an adjective that was inadequate:

    He did not simply restore the Old Testament order, he transformed it.

    He did not restore the Old Testament order – he emphatically reinforced its authority when he stated that “if one jot or tittle” is removed from the Law then it would be an offense. But the adjective you use by saying he transformed the law is inadequate. He actually transcended the law by fulfilling its requirements in himself while at the same time offering a new covenant for complete reconciliation through grace.

    This accomplished two things – he tore own the “veil” between God and man so that the individual could now come “boldly” before the throne (also in Hebrews) in a personal approach to God, with the covering provided by faith through acknowledgment of the atonement . And he became an advocate (high priest of the new covenant) for the people before God by nature of his actions. This is why he is described by Paul as a high priest superior to the old covenant.

  57. @Gulliver:

    All of which was, by the way, pretty darn revolutionary.

    BTW, I think you think that I am not versed (no pun intended) in the theology. I assure that I am.

    You really never do address the change question directly.

  58. Gulliver says:

    @ Taylor

    I don’t think anything like that. Didn’t intend for this to get that in depth, but it did. As far as the change question, I think that the idea I’m trying to relate is that you can have change by supplementation. The original is still in effect, it is just qualified by the supplemental changes. I can have an exception to every law that essentially says “Such and such is strictly prohibited, but if the prohibited actions are conducted in the following circumstances then allowances (grace) will be made in spite of the fact it is normally illegal.

    Breaking bad is always illegal (sinful) but the law of grace supercedes the law of commandment when it is acknowledged that grace is needed and sincerity is present. That’s pretty much the essence of how the “old” is still in effect, but it is (can be) negated by the “new.”

    I didn’t join this thread to have a religious discussion here per se, honestly…. that wasns’t the intent.

    Cheers.

  59. mattb says:

    @Gulliver:

    He did not restore the Old Testament order – he emphatically reinforced its authority when he stated that “if one jot or tittle” is removed from the Law then it would be an offense. But the adjective you use by saying he transformed the law is inadequate. He actually transcended the law by fulfilling its requirements in himself while at the same time offering a new covenant for complete reconciliation through grace.

    If you take this as your position, the I would like you to explicitly comment as to whether the tendency of many Christians to place a prohibition on homosexuality is in fact a liberal (by your definition) interpretation of the bible. For it is established within Moses’ Law. The only other mention of it is by Paul (which I am curious as to where you net out on in this analysis). If Koser and other aspect of the Law of Moses is transcended via Christ (hence why Kosher is not kept by Christians and Circumscion is not required) then why do those particular aspects of Leviticus still stand.

    Based on your definition, shouldn’t they be transcended by a true conservative? And beyond that I’m quite curious to understand if Cain and other self-dubbed conservatives actually fit your model.

    BTW, you realize that the wikipedia page for liberalism that you linked to does not in anyway reinforce your strawman definition of liberalism…

  60. mattb says:

    Gosh… I completely #kosherfailed the last posting…

  61. mattb says:

    @gulliver:

    You’re confusing black letter law – duly passed by representatives of the people and codified – with the notion of enforcing an individual interpretation of what extra-legal behavior norms must be adhered to based upon the perceptions of a sub-class of the overall society. My point is liberalism is about enforcing their particular idea of nuances based upon private extra-legal interpretation of the black letter law.

    Wait… back the train up…

    So you are suggesting that the law that is approve by the people at a particular time is what should be followed and that individual interpretation is liberal? Side stepping the question of if the Sanhedrin meet the interpretation of the prior — as arguably they were enforcing the will of the people and acting as their duly appointed representatives — I hope you would see the irony that Christ — the individual — was attempting to spreak his own ideosyncratic interpretation of the Law. Now if you’re a Christian, you understand that he was backed by the highest of authorities. But if you are outside the faith, again he matches exactly the sort of individual you describe as a text-book liberal (even if he is acting to “conserve”).

    Again you seem to want to have your cake and eat it to. Only liberals are hypocrites. Only liberals act to control speech and thought. And of course Jesus restores, transcends, and succeeds the Law — except where he doesn’t.

    So… again I ask, is the move to strike down obscenity laws a conservative or a liberal one? Or what about bans on homosexuality? And what happens when this occurs via the people’s duly elected representatives?

  62. Gulliver says:

    @ mattb

    You are not taking into account that Jesus was speaking and dealing with Hebrews. The gentiles (anyone not a Hebrew) were not addressed by Jesus before his crucifixion. It was Paul who introduced the gentiles to the concept of a new covenant, one which allowed them to be included for the first time under the umbrella of the “Children of Abraham.” This is what was meant in the old testament when God told Abraham that his descendants would be numerous like the grains of sand on a beach; this description included the “grafting in” of any non-jewish people who elected to join under the new covenant.

    The reason why I go into that is because the gentiles were never under the requirements of the law. In fact, Paul describes this condition when he says that while the law does not apply to the gentiles, the conscience of the gentiles is its own law. In other words, doing “the right thing” is built into all of us. The difference being that God allowed for doing “the wrong thing” in ignorance without condemnation. So your question really relates to the fact that – despite not being under the requirements of the law – gentiles still refer to old testament law when discussing morals and values that they deem “correct.”

    My answer would be that gentiles, (Christians in general, although there are numerous “Messianic Jews” who believe in the reality, divinity and effectiveness of Jesus of Nazareth) knowing that they began under the law of grace, nonetheless still believe that God’s wishes as recorded in both old and new testament writings should be adhered to and pursued because they believe that effort to do what God has called good (or conversely, not do what God has called bad) is worthwhile. But they know that they will, at some point, fail to live up to any “law” based standard. More importantly to your question, they also know there were purposes for the Mosaic laws which were practical as well as spiritual.

    The prohibition against eating pork and the regulations about not touching a woman for 7 days after her period for example, were given to the Hebrews while they were in the wilderness – no doctors, no medicine, no comforts. Pork tends to foster diseases more readily than other meats and blood transfers sickness. God knew this long before modern science figured it out. There were even “laws” about how far away the latrine had to be from the tents. So all Mosaic laws were not by any means equal.

    The reasons above are why for example most all Christians believe that the ten commandments should be followed but they know that they have freedom to not be perfect in implementing them (they have no real issue with some doctrine that says the Sabbath is on Saturday, for example rather than being observed on a Sunday) . And this, by the way, is why most Christians believe that lying, stealing, being “mean” or spiteful or backbiting is not something that please God.

    So to answer your question, the transcendence of Jesus over the Old Testament law does not directly come into play with gentile Christians. They instead are supposed to conduct themselves in accordance to the law “written on their hearts” based upon a sincere desire to enjoy fellowship with God and please him by honoring His wishes as expressed in their ‘washed” conscience and their understanding of His personal guidance of their unique situations (such as dealing with a spouse, family member, dealing with the baggage and neurosis that we all have as a result of our experiences in life). This law is actually more demanding than the Mosaic law in that it addresses not just the ritual and writ of how we deal with falling short, it deals with the state of our hearts and motivations in all interpersonal relationships.

    There is no model, there is only effort out of a sincere heart with grace available for the time we – inevitably – fail in some way. But unlike the old covenant which dictated a pass -or-fail grade based upon performance, the new covenant allows for the idea of a process of “growing” , so that failure does not automatically equate to broken fellowship and isolation. This is why grace is superior to works but can’t be achieved without works as growth takes place.

    I guess I don’t know how to give you a short answer, because all of the concepts need expounding in order to cover the basics.

  63. Gulliver says:

    I have to leave now, but will address you later mattb, I am not trying to ignore the points and questions being asked..,

  64. @Gulliver: you remind me of something I meant to mention above: the inclusion of the Gentiles was a radical change.

  65. An Interested Party says:

    Forgive me, but what does the modern interpretation of how a “reactionary” or “revolutionary” individual acts have to do with what Jesus was trying to accomplish 2,000 years ago. This not directed at you, but the arrogance of the age of “Enlightenment” – which seems to think itself worthy of redefining everything historical according to perspective and definitions only recently arrived at…

    And yet some are trying to pigeonhole Jesus and his persecutors into the modern interpretations of “conservative” and “liberal”…a tad arrogant (not to mention quite silly) as well…

  66. PT says:

    Tortured road indeed. My view is that the term “liberal” is a pejoritive to some (Gulliver I’m looking at you), and therefore to attribute the word to Jesus or his actions is an attack on Christianity. Relax dude.

  67. mattb says:

    @Gulliver:
    First of all, I’d like to make clear that I fundamentally object to the application of either “liberal” or “conservative” to a figure like Christ. And that if a liberal was doing what Cain was doing, I’d be equally concerned.

    The expansion of Jesus’ revised Judism (before it became “Christianity”) to Gentiles was in fact a radical move. I think that your description of that transition and the logic behind how Paul and others applied the Law of Moses to the converted is a solid gloss of what occurred. To Stephen’s point, however, I have to think that this radical expansion of who might be considered of the extended tribe was a fundamentally liberal expansion.

    Of course, this also required a significant amount of biblical exegesis/hermeneutics to justify. And in that act — as you did above — you manage to take a liberal, radical expansion and find a conservative justification for it. This ultimately demonstrates how fluid these terms can be when applied to a religious situation.