Liberalism’s Blind Spot

Last week when we wrote about Lady Gaga’s concert in Jakarta being cancelled, we mentioned that item in the context of the tension between liberalism-modernity, and religious conservatism-tradition. One of the most important features of this time we live in, is whether this tension can be a creative tension, or whether it will inevitably devolve into violence, both small- and large-scale.

A helpful humility recognizes that both liberalism and conservatism need the correctives that the other offers. The innovation of liberalism needs the stability of conservatism; the emphasis on the individual in liberalism needs conservatism’s emphasis on community; the personal freedom espoused by liberalism needs the responsibility to others espoused by conservatism– and so on.

In our earlier post on Lady Gaga (https://religioninthebalance.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/lady-gaga-in-indonesia-fear-v-freedom/), we identified how religious literalism/fundamentalism needs the corrective of openness, and for theological reasons: God cannot be captured by human schemes, customs, or traditions– no matter how important such schemes, customs, and traditions are for the preservation of social order. No matter how absolute are God’s decrees (and they are absolutely absolute!), they are always enacted and interpreted within a context. Religious fundamentalism forgets that God is God, and we are not. At its best, liberalism is a reminder that the world is many and various, not reducible to One Grand Scheme Which We Own and You Do Not.

Liberalism, however, is not a cure-all either. Liberalism, left to its own devices, likewise suffers without the corrective of community and tradition– or, to put it more generally, without the corrective of some kind of unity that transcends the individual. Without the check of some kind of transcendent authority (a moral code, for example), liberalism becomes a splintering force in society, promoting selfishness and aimlessness. Each self becomes its own center, the source of its own meaning, and the arbiter of its own truth. Literalist/fundamentalist religion recognizes this danger but over-reacts; balanced religion holds the creative tension that exists between two aspects even within the one divine being: the freshness of God’s creative spirit rising in every moment, AND the stability of the One who is beyond change.

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