Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"Post-Liberal"

Without fanfare, I recently added this descriptor to my blogger profile. I figured that I should write an entry to explain it and discover for myself what it means as well.

The term (which I won't claim as original) came to me while I read a recent iMonk post where he declares himself "post-evangelical." He explains that the kind of evangelical that he's talking about is the doctrinal mindset, the subculture. He wishes to remain evangelical in the sense that it means sharing the good news, but discard any sort of towing the line, any sort of approach to an issue that begins, "Well, since I'm an evangelical, that means I have to believe/say/do X." He's over that. He's post that. The most concise sentence that he includes that speaks to what I'm trying to establish is this:




In this sense, “post-evangelical” means that I have not identified completely with any of the attempts to “close” the evangelical conversation around a particular denomination, clique, team or tribe.


So in some ways, I've come to a similar place with regard to liberalism. First, let's define what I mean by "liberal." When I think of the term, I think of a regard for multiple viewpoints and a recognition of the need for dialogue particularly when it comes to more complicated issues that affect our religious, political, and/or social lives as a community or as individuals. I also think of a willingness to explore ideas "outside the box," as it were, thus making the term "progressive" a somewhat viable alternative term.

When many critics define liberalism nowadays, they are really defining and criticizing other things. True, there's plenty to critique about my definition above, but in many cases when critics go after liberals, they tend to mean other things such as:

Libertarianism - A radical emphasis on personal choice and freedom, so long as it doesn't infringe on someone else's choice and freedom, and

Liberationism - A radical deferrment to constructed categories of "the poor." I want to tread lightly with this one especially. Some, but not all, of these categories are in legitimate need of serious aid: oppressed Latin American populations, victims of genocide in Darfur, and our own homeless and working poor are examples. I say "constructed" because these categories are bestowed with an idealized, noble, moral image without context and without acknowledging the sins that those populations have possibly committed in their own right. Even in the groups I've listed there is a lot of grey (much less in Darfur). The best example I can think of is how some groups support the Palestinians without fully addressing the suicide bombings committed by some of their fringe elements. Liberationism, I have found, is sometimes willing to ignore or downplay these types of actions. That is what I mean by "constructed."

Granted, some self-identifying liberals may better fit into these other categories. Note again, this is the doctrinal mindset and subculture, the attempt to relegate what being a liberal means to a particular denomination, clique, team, or tribe, that I'm talking about. It is difficult to wholly define what being a liberal is (as with any group), so it is understandable that critics will use some combination of the above categories as something to argue against.

It is the very use of these other concepts of liberalism by liberals, however, that begins to create cliques, teams, and tribes. The consequence, if one disagrees with a particular stance deemed "liberal," is accusations of "not being liberal enough" and terms like "fundy" or "neo-con" are thrown around if disagreement and dissention arises around any number of issues.

For my part, what "post-liberal" doesn't mean is:

"Liberal-in-recovery." This term suggests that things liberals believe are simply wrong and boy am I glad I finally stopped drinking that Kool-Aid. Post-liberal can still agree with liberal stands on issues and doesn't see it as the new ideology to oppose after escaping.

Moving back to "conservatism." In a society where red and blue is the new black and white, this is really rigid and takes no account of the grey (or purple) that many situations truly exhibit.


To be post-liberal is not to be anti-liberal. Instead, it is resisting Liberalism. It is attempting to see each issue in its own light rather than wait for a few soundbites from recognized and celebrated "liberal" icons. In the case of post-liberal Christianianity, it is evaluating such issues in light of the kingdom of God preached and lived by Jesus Christ--even while recognizing how one's own bias and experience contributes to such a reading--rather than out of a presupposed groupthink. I still happen to come down on the "liberal" side on a lot of things...no reason to pretend that I don't. But I like to think that it comes from a wrestling with the Biblical narrative more than waiting for the latest press release from "The UCC," the DNC, or any other group.

One can easily substitute "liberal" with any other label and think about what it would mean to be post-[label]. It is our societal nature not only to label, but to try living into that label's accepted identity. This is just my attempt to move past one such label.

Of course, "post-liberal" is another label...but let's ignore that for now.

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