Have you ever wondered why devout evangelicals get up in arms about stuff like getting up in arms? Or raising their children the way they want to? Or not letting the government handle their money? I mean, we tend to be pretty darn touchy about our individual liberties. Hence the Tea Party movement. Have you ever wondered why that is?
Well, I’ve got a theory.* it could be personal salvation. We derive our ultimate meaning in life from our relationship to God. And that relationship is, ultimately, individual. Sure, you can read the Bible or listen to the way we talk and know we do actually believe that groups of people get blessed or cursed and whatnot. But at the end of the day, you die as an individual, you go before God’s throne as an individual, and you are saved solely based on your individual relationship with him.
Now think about that for a minute. Ultimate meaning is derived from an individual’s relationship to God. This means you are primarily responsible for your actions as an individual. You–individually–have been given commands, and you–individually–must obey them. Corporate obedience, while important, is secondary.
Translate that to political terms. You have individual responsibilities, therefore you have the rights to whatever you are responsible for as an individual. Individual liberties take precedence over participation in society. Now, I’m not saying every devout evangelical has worked this out and uses it to justify their political views. What I am saying is that since we believe we are personally responsible for most of our choices, seeing people take away our power to choose regarding those things really rankles us.
Flip this around. A lot of non-Christians in America today, especially those who simply don’t identify with any religion, derive meaning from the human experience. What is important in life is how we interact with others. If there is a way of transcending ourselves and achieving greater meaning, it is in being to good to humanity in general.
Put that in a political context. If greater meaning comes through our participation in the greater collective, you are going to have less of a problem trusting society, or its hired hands, with things like self defense, raising children, or helping the poor. Rather than taking away our God-given rights/responsibilities, that sort of thing is a way of transcending ourselves and participating in something larger and more important.
Often these issues get dealt with by both sides throwing insults around and calling each other names. Liberals might not have any sense of personal responsibility, or conservatives must just be greedy and antisocial. Because if someone disagrees with you, they must be either evil or stupid. Can’t you feel the love? The empathy? The human kindness? The neighborliness? Me neither.
So I’m suggesting that while we continue having these discussions, we keep in mind the fact that our political differences may be powered mostly by differing views of the world. That is a major underlying issue, and realizing that can help us come to more reasonable compromises, if such a compromise is possible. At the very least, it will help us understand one another.
*No, it couldn’t be bunnies.
I do want to qualify this real quick. We Christians, even us hardcore evangelicals, do think in terms of loving one’s neighbor and in being part of a community. But because that is not the ultimate thing from which we derive meaning, the way in which we do is going to be a bit different than the way a secular humanist would. And keep in mind that we will have the same misunderstanding when you place those things above individual responsibilities, since that would be counter-intuitive to us.