The True Political Divide: Original Sin
The real divide between left and right is not over any issue or set of policy prescriptions. Rather, it is primarily a question of theology.
This piece is meant to stir the pot. It might be an outright “hot take.” Do you think that most people are basically born good? If you answer in the affirmative, you are pretty much a “liberal” and likely some stripe of “progressive.” You might have a pro-business tax policy or believe in freedom and liberty. You might support the military and vote republican (substitute your own local version of “republican” here). You might be pro-gun and anti-abortion. You might be for strong borders. You might oppose the big bugaboo of the day: “critical race theory.” You might be against the sexual revolution. But, if you believe in the basic goodness of human beings, you are at heart a liberal, and likely a progressive.
Now that I have thrown a grenade into the room, let’s unpack this a little.
One of the guiding, fundamental, foundational stories of our society, of the modern west in general, is the “Myth of Progress.” Turn over almost any rock in the west and you will find some example of the Myth of Progress at work. To many, “progress” is as obvious as the air we breathe or the water in which a fish swims. Human progress is self-evident. Look around at our material prosperity, our science and technology, our modern medicine, our democratic political institutions. The computer upon which I am typing. The phone in my pocket. The vehicle I drive. The hospital I go to when sick. All of them are a testimony to the the power of human ingenuity, cleverness, intelligence and superiority. My goodness, we put a man on the moon! The difference between us and some dark ages barbarian are manifestly obvious. Only a fool would argue against the idea of progress.
This is how the idea of progress, the Myth of Progress, maintains its hold on us, our thinking and our culture. “Progress” has created a society so obviously better than any other era that has gone before us that it is almost inconceivable not to accept the idea of human progress.
I use the term “Myth of Progress” here in a technical way. A “myth” is a what is known as a “foundation” story. To a history of religions scholar, for example, the first 11 chapters of the biblical book of Genesis are considered a “foundation myth.” A foundation myth operates to answer the questions of how the world works. Why are we here? What are the basic problems? What is the answer to those problems? Foundation myths establish the basic narrative which guides a culture. In the west, that story is now the Myth of Progress.
Pretty much every aspect of our society, our culture, is built around this myth. And most, even most self-proclaimed conservatives, even most Christians today, operate with the Myth of Progress working in the background of their lives, directing their thoughts and actions in ways they are often not aware of. The Myth of Progress is the social air we breathe. To be frank, this is often why today’s self-proclaimed conservatives fail and their messaging fails. They don’t go after the root ideas of our culture. For many of us who use the label conservative, we are progressives, just more reticent progressives. This is why progressive messaging works so well. It is in harmony with the core myth of our culture. True conservatism is not in harmony with that same myth. That is why true conservatives always feel like they are swimming upstream against the flow.
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