Conservative/Liberal Hatred is a Sign of Immaturity

Every week or so I read an article about the historic partisanship of the present day. Rancor between liberals and conservatives is at an all time high. Often the writer will claim partisanship is good: opposing views will be articulated by their strongest advocates. Is that really what happens? Liberals claim that conservatives hate the poor. Conservatives claim that liberals hate the rich. When, in truth, the true hatred isn’t hard to find: liberals and conservatives hate each other.

We’ve all heard the next line: Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton and Preston Brooks nearly killed Charles Sumner on the floor of the senate in a heated argument over slavery. It’s always been this bad. In an interview with the NYTimes Jonathan Haidt, psychologist and professor in the business school at NYU recently said, “The 1930s through the 1970s was the aberration, a time of extraordinarily low partisanship. In the ’80s, it began to shoot up. The good news is that it can’t get much worse. It’s about as bad as it can possibly get, mathematically, in the House of Representatives.”

What a terrible reason to rationalize hatred: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

I found one article that I actually kind of like. It’s written by Michael Laser in the Christian Science Monitor. Laser points (come on now… that’s the best pun I’ve ever come up with), to the most unhealthy and immature part of today’s hyper-partisanship, and through it makes a strong argument for the moderates of both parties:

“[The] list of polar disagreements leaves me with – fittingly – two opposite reactions. The first, more obvious conclusion is that there’s no hope, common ground, or room for compromise. And so nothing will get done in Congress over the next two years.

But these opposing viewpoints also suggest a different idea: Contradictory statements can both be true. Yes, America’s success lies partly in its dynamism and opportunity – and yes, progress requires that we provide for those who have lost their jobs or their health. In other words, if you set your dogma aside, you may find some truth in the ideals of people you’ve always disagreed with.

Which reminds me of something the extreme partisans would prefer we forget: governing in America has happened mainly in the middle zone, between the far left and far right. Yes, the differences are significant and worth negotiating over, but what we’re really talking about is a few percentage points in tax rates, not a choice between socialism and the abolition of all taxes.

In my early Christian life, I was taught to shun paradox and cling to certitude. What a huge mistake. Life only makes sense if we allow paradox, mystery, and wonder to mitigate our sense of certitude. Contradictory statements can both be true. Laser says:

THE CONSERVATIVE VIEW: “People are responsible for themselves – and, given the chance, they’re capable of supporting themselves and their families. If the government makes a practice of providing for people (with welfare, for example), they become dependent and lose their will to work. Nothing could be more destructive to the health of our society.”

THE LIBERAL VIEW: “There are people in this country who struggle to put food on the table or can’t afford medical care. A civilized society would try to help them, instead of leaving them to fend for themselves. (Someday, the one who needs a helping hand may be you, or someone you love.)”

The problem with our society is that most people have lost the ability to say that both statements are true. This is an issue of immaturity. The problem with the U.S. government is that its elected officials don’t really care if both sides are true at the same time, because they are blinded by their hatred for one another. This is horrible immaturity. Laser articulates both sides on a menagerie of issues – it’s well worth your time to read. Here’s hoping that Washington can learn to grow up.

About Tim Suttle

Find out more about Tim at TimSuttle.com

Tim Suttle is the senior pastor of RedemptionChurchkc.com. He is the author of several books including his most recent - Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), & An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals.

Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. The band's most recent album is "Straight Back to Kansas." He helped to plant three thriving churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

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  • Tim Suttle
  • friendly reader

    I agree with you that the level of rancor between both sides at this point is pretty abhorrent. The dismissive contempt that sides tend to demonstrate towards each other prevents any ability to even persuade the other side, much less come up with middle ground…

    …but you are absolutely incorrect that the lines are between the “far right” and the “far left.” There is no “far left” in America anymore – at least not one that has any power. I currently live in a country with active socialist and communist parties; Americans have no clue what the left even looks like anymore.

    We used to have two parties, one center-right and the other center-left. We don’t have that anymore. The current battle is between the far right and centrists, the latter now being passed off as the “far left” when it’s really, really not. This is why many traditional conservatives are fleeing from the GOP (though not ready yet to join Democrats). And that’s where people on the left or in the center are feeling frustrated with continued calls to “compromise” – compromise at this point means moving even further to the right than America already is.

    We’re letting one extreme of the political spectrum determine where the supposed center should be rather than realizing that our political parties have been spectrum-shifted over the last 30-40 years. Case in point: the ACA (“Obamacare”) was a compromise, utterly centrist, and yet it gets passed off as radically socialist. Unless we can realize how extreme one side has gotten, we’re never going to be able to restore a balance where getting things done is possible. Granted, the angry bickering isn’t going to help, but pretending both sides are equally extreme does nothing to help either.

  • scott stone

    THE LIBERAL VIEW: “There are people in this country who struggle to put food on the table or can’t afford medical care. A civilized society would try to help them, instead of leaving them to fend for themselves. (Someday, the one who needs a helping hand may be you, or someone you love.)”
    This shouldn’t be the liberal view, it should be part of the Christian view. As a “conservative” (labels just don’t seem to work for me anymore) I agree wholeheartedly with this portray.
    As a side note, is it any wonder that conservatives are touchy and feel the narrative set for them is so incorrect. Look at the title of your topic. The narrative has even permeated Roget’s thesaurus. I take offense (not really) to be considered prejudiced, biased, bigoted, etc.

  • http://dennisbarr.blogspot.com Den

    Our politics today is the politics of six-year-old boys slugging it out on the school playground. It’s past time for the teachers and playground supervisors to come out and separate these little ragamuffins. Recess is over, boys. Time to go back to the classroom.

  • Elizabeth Scalia

    I long ago decided that I could not rightly call myself “conservative” or “liberal” but it was only recently that I realized the reason I seem so conservative than I really am is b/c I have a kneejerk hatred of double-standards and the press is all about them. So, when I see the press treating (for instance) misspeaks by some politicians (usually Democrat) with a shrug while making a week’s headlines over misspeaks by another (usually Republican) I complain about the double standard, and then get told I’m “partisan.” Truth be told, though, if the press was making a big fuss over Obama saying “57 States” and ignoring Romney’s misspeaks, I’d be just as annoyed. I truly believe that a great deal of the shared animosity between Americans is rooted in the press’ abdication of their responsibilities to their public trust.

    • Joel Barret

      Well said!

  • http://sisu.typepad.com Sissy Willis

    I don’t recognize my own Tea Party point of view in your two alternatives. Small government, fiscal responsibility, free markets … Plus a safety net for those who fall through the cracks. Problem with perpetual welfare is twofold. 1. Reward bad behavior, and you get more of it. Think generations of fatherless welfare households with rudderless children. 2. Perpetual dependency robs our fellow citizens of the self-respect that comes from contributing to one’s own and the community’s welfare.

    • Tim Suttle

      Said the rich white person…

      • Elizabeth Scalia

        Is Sissy Willis rich?

        • http://sisu.typepad.com Sissy Willis

          Yes. Rich in knowledge of human nature. Money? Not so much.

          • Tim Suttle

            Betcha you are rich compared to my friends around 28th and Linwood in KCMO. You know the ones whose bad behavior we are rewarding by helping them buy groceries, and the ones whose perpetual dependency gives them no self respect.

  • scott stone

    Is someones ethnicity and financial status a disqualifier for certain topics? If so I’ll have to remember that in the future.

    • Tim Suttle

      Come on Scott… of course I’m not saying that. I’m simply saying the statement that welfare only rewards bad behavior is lame & is usually only made by: 1) those who have plenty and always have had. 2) those who do not struggle against generations of racism & discrimination. Many have not had the same opportunity as the rest of us.

      I’m also saying that the idea that welfare creates perpetual dependency is equally dubious to sustain. We can never escape our dependency on one another. The self-made person is a myth. No man is an island. It is not only the person receiving welfare who has the problem. The problem is also with the entire system that put them there & keeps them there. Until you address that – cut the checks & keep them from starving.

  • scott stone

    Sorry, I’m a bit of a smart aleck. I know that is not what you are saying. Although…you did refer to Paul Ryan as a rich white guy in a pejorative sense. Do I see a pattern here :)

    • Tim Suttle

      touche’ :-)

  • Scott Stone

    Regarding your friends at 28th and Limwood. Probably like mine at Broadway and School. What do you do when you feel closer to the guys at the Sardine Can ( a pub on skid row) than you do with the others at your church?

  • http://samizdatgroup.com caleb seeling

    I think this problem actually goes deeper than immaturity. I think it’s symptomatic of a deep sense of meaninglessness that cultural, political, and religious leaders are trying to fill with their own brand of meaning.

    I love this bit from Colonel Doner’s book “Christian Jihad: Neo-fundamentalists and the Polarization of America”. He writes, “Our unrelenting toxic rhetoric, incivility, lack of forgiveness, and refusal to recognize our opponents’ decency or good intentions–or even their right to exist–is threatening to irreparably divide America into a partisan wasteland. Both sides’ insistence on exploiting the fears and susceptibilities of the unaligned middle has alienated the average American from our political system…Even appeals to “bipartisanship” are now seen as nothing more than a ruse used by self-serving partisans to gain momentary advantage over their opponents.”

    It’s like Chris Hedges says in “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”, that we often seek meaning to life in some sort of cause or mission–especially war, either actual all-out war or any cause that adopts the language and position of war. In order to have a struggle of good vs. evil, you have to create an enemy, and to do that you have to dehumanize and demonize your opponent so that you can position yourself on the “right side” and fight and kill the other without feeling bad about it.

    It’s happening more and more–and it’s much scarier than simple immaturity.

    • Tim Suttle

      I think bringing meaningless into the conversation is helpful, as though immaturity is the result of meaninglessness. The way it hits me is that this lack of meaning has everything to do with the fact that so many have no sense of the nature of the story in which they are living. They have no story, or even worse, they think they have chosen their own story. All they can ever muster is an immature relationship with themselves and with others – and especially with God and the truth about God as it has been revealed. The search to make meaning of our lives – at least I think – comes as we stop believing that we are GENERATING our lives, but that we are RECEIVING our lives. We do not CHOOSE the story in which we live. We just wake up here in the world. The posture of receiving as opposed to generating or choosing puts us in the position of being stewards of our lives, our societies, the earth, etc. I think this is a key posture that we cannot assume if we don’t understand (or even see/recognize) the nature of the story in which we live.

  • Catherine

    Tim Suttle. Amazing that the one to make the first sarcastic remark about another poster, is the first one to bring God into the conversation. James says the mouth overflows with what the heart holds. Need to work on those initial overflows. Prayer helps.

  • Catherine
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