But don't fret, I'm an equal opportunity critic. I'll likely piss everyone off equally before this post is over.
My journey has been an interesting one. Raised in a pretty typical downstate Illinois conservative family, I cut my teeth in an Assemblies of God church, and I was fairly certain that Jesus was a Republican. I went to the same school for 13 years (it was the private school attached to the church), where if your parents were known to be Democrats, you could forget about getting a date to the prom (which, by any objective standard, shouldn't have been called a prom, since there was no dancing aloud). I then spent two years in a bible-college-y insular bubble that further solidified my confidence in Jesus' conservative credentials.
I was certain that Jesus "helps those who help themselves."
I was certain that wars the US started were just, and were God's will.
I was certain that the terms "Pro-life" and "anti-abortion" were functionally equivalent
I was certain that the accumulation of wealth was a sign of God's blessing
I was certain.
Then I entered the real world.
My first eye-opener was joining the Army. This was the penultimate manifestation of my Christian Conservatism. I had arrived. I basked in the praise and adoration I received from friends, family, and complete strangers for my "brave decision" to join during war time. As you can imagine, with all the positive feedback loops, my certitude about my political worldview was only reinforced.
Now, as you can imagine, free thought is not something that is encouraged in the US Army, and the churches that exist in military towns are these weird amalgamations of faith and political propaganda that serve simply to reinforce a single notion: Yes, killing people in the name of God and Country is the right thing to do, and in fact, we were heroes for doing so. The fact that I was amenable to such a notion was a testament to the depth of my indoctrination, but doubt still began to creep in.
I was exposed to evil in ways most people are lucky enough to avoid, and I'm not just talking about the overt evil, and I'm not just talking about the "bad" guys. In many cases, it was much more subtle and much closer to home. It was the glee with which we watched other human beings being killed, the callousness with which we dismissed the deaths of women, children, and the elderly, and the general disregard for humanity that we displayed on a daily basis.
I remember one critical moment. It was the fourth of July, and I was in southeastern Afghanistan. The base commander wanted some "fireworks" to commemorate independence day, so he decided to have the 155mm howitzers fire off some illumination rounds. When illumination rounds are fired, their bases are ejected at the pinnacle of their flight path, allowing the luminous portion to ignite. One of the bases fell through the roof of a house just outside of the base and landed on the face of a little girl who was sleeping peacefully in her bed, killing her instantly. When news reached the commander the next day, he simply told the public affairs officer to give the family a solatia payment and moved on to the next agenda item. Such a callousness toward the loss of human life was troubling to me. As I watched people around me being summarily dispatched (both "good" guys and "bad" guys), I began to wonder if there was a better way.
There had to be.
My questioning of just-war theory began a complete deconstruction of my worldview that was, to say the least, completely devastating. My first gut-level reaction was to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
God was either a myth, or he was a jerk.
Conservatism was morally bankrupt.
After a few years of study and asking questions, I've realized I went too far on the first point, and not far enough on the second. God is not a myth or a jerk, He's just represented by humans, who are generally jerks and prone to lying. That one was easier for me to recognize. On the second point though, I had a much harder time coming to any conclusions, but here's where I ended up:
It's not just conservatism that is morally bankrupt, but the entire institution of politics - from right to left and all things in between. Politics is a zero-sum game where the goal is power and there are no good compromises. It is in the nature of the powerful to attempt to hold on to power. The benevolent philosopher kings that Plato called for don't exist, only those seeking to hold on to power, so our pursuit of justice at the hands of men and women in government is both misguided and futile, and it gives us, as followers of Christ, an excuse to avoid living out the commandment to love our neighbors by delegating that obligation to the state. I came to this conclusion fairly recently, and not without quite a bit of conflict (both internal and external). Some argue that it is too fatalistic, but I disagree. I think such a view is an acknowledgement of the power of the gospel to change hearts, minds and actions. This series of tweets (try as I might, I couldn't get it under 140 characters) from a couple of months ago sums it up nicely:
The Christian right would have us believe justice lies in the law and order state, while the Christian left finds justice in the welfare state, while both rob individuals of their dignity, using violence, intimidation and alienation as the primary motivators. Seeking justice from the state is akin to seeking true love from a prostitue. Violence, not reconciliation, is all the state has to offer. True justice will never be achieved through any kind of political means, but rather through a radical awakening of men and women's hearts to our shared humanity, and the outpouring of the grace, love and compassion that flows naturally from it, embodied in the person and encapsulated in the message of Christ.
I try to love God.
I try to love people.
I don't delegate my love through a representative.
I try to be the Kingdom of Heaven here.
I try to let Love live through me.
In such a realization, there is real freedom.
I try to live in it.