May 312012

Christianity started out as a very liberal way of life. Take a look at the things Jesus personally did and said. A red-letter version of the New Testament will help. I won’t cite chapter and verse, but if you’re up for this discussion, you will already feel right at home.

Above all, Jesus lived and taught love. He even made the blunt assertion that “God is Love.” Jesus pointed out that the greatest law was Love – of God and neighbor – and he used the parable of a good Samaritan to point out that everyone is our neighbor.

In contrast to the popular idea that “you are on your own,” a core liberal belief is that “we are all in this together.” That is, we are all neighbors and need to care about our common good at every level, not just our own family or religion.

While teaching personal responsibility, Jesus also taught us to not focus overmuch on individual liberties. He washed his disciples’ feet to set an example of submitting in service to others.

Jesus really came down hard on the Pharisees. These were the nation’s  religious and political leaders. Often the wealthiest, they created, enforced, and defended a system of traditions and laws that supported and sustained their own positions of privilege and power.

The Pharisees claimed the high ground of faith and values, but Jesus condemned them and called them hypocrites. Notably, he drove money changers, members of the privileged financial elites, out of the temple.

Jesus was tolerant of those in other social classes; He ate with tax collectors and sinners and he cared about the health and welfare of all. He gave his gifts freely to the poor and downhearted and he encouraged others to do so as well.

Finally, stop a moment to contemplate the fact that Jesus, along with folks such as Martin Luther. were the radical liberals of their time. They took issue with the existing systems of unfair power, privilege, and oppression. Without extending the point too far, they were, in fact, progressive community organizers.

©2012, David Satterlee

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May 202012

Among the many opinions about the differences between Conservatives and Liberals, some point to the difference of blaming internal or external causes. “If you were to ask people about the cause of someone’s problems and sufferings (such as homelessness), you will hear two very different explanations.”

If you are a conservative, they point out, you will blame internal causes such as a lack of work ethic, family or religious values, sense of shame, or some other personal weakness.

If you are a liberal, your explanation will likely focus on external causes such as lack of education, oppression, social injustice, or some other influence outside of their control.

The essential conservative point is that interior causes can and MUST be addressed individually. Every person bears an inescapable personal responsibility to work continuously on their internal weaknesses and faults. It is not “success” if someone dragged you to the finish line.

You may seek guidance or it may come unsolicited, but you must walk the walk. A door may be opened to you, but you must enter. Your mother, teacher, minister, psychologist, or warden may point the way, but you have look where they point, set a destination, and keep on faithfully through every obstacle.

Liberals completely accept and internalize this core conservative value. They have individually embraced and fully assimilated the idea that you cause your own suffering and bear your own responsibility to master it. They believe in personal choice and responsibility so fervently that they take it for granted and assume that everybody understands it intuitively.

However, liberals do not believe that a personal failure is the end of the road. They are not comfortable going back to grazing while a predator munches on a weaker or slower neighbor’s carcass. If a member of the herd can be rescued from a hole, if sentries can give an alarm, or if circumstances can be improved, liberals believe that the community should work together to take these actions.

This leaves liberals to work with what remains – external factors. It is not that liberals believe that external factors are the EXCLUSIVE cause of problems and suffering. It is that liberals see external factors as something that they, as a community, have the collective ability and moral responsibility to address. This is called government.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Liberals would rather persuade and rehabilitate you than punish you or whip you into submission.

Liberals believe in people’s responsibility to raise themselves up. In fact, they have faith that most people can, and will, better themselves if their burdens are temporarily lightened. But, they would rather offer opportunities such as education, social equality, or a safety net than leave a suffering neighbor torn and bleeding by the roadside.

If we are to ever find a practical approach to building consistently robust, productive, and satisfying communities, we must come to terms with both internal and external problems.

If we blind ourselves to the stereotypical perspectives of either conservatives or liberals we will fall to the tyranny of incomplete solutions to our many problems; we will constantly engage in endless destructive battles of “either/or” when the reality is found in “and/both.”

©2012, David Satterlee

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Mar 022012

I found this posted on the information board at my US Post Office in Dayton, Iowa, 50530 on March 2, 2012. There were also three modified cartoons referring to President Obama, fried chicken, watermelon, and black salami. I thought that the cartoons were inappropriate and offensive to public decency; I removed them.

The threat letter seemed more personal, so I added my answer and left it there. I will transcribe the notes for your convenience.

The original message was: “What do you call 20,000 liberals in the bottom of the ocean? A good start. Liberalism is a mental disorder”

My answer reads: “Please, don’t just threaten me with drowning and post anonymous racist hate cartoons against our elected President in a US Post Office. Make your case, explain your issues, and give practical ideas for improvement… and please have the courage to sign your name. With sincere best wishes, Your neighbor, David Satterlee”

Frankly, I worry that the threat could get personal. It may already be personal: I’ve had an Obama 2012 poster in my front window for weeks.

Having lived in this small rural town for only two years, I’m still a bit of an outsider. I’ve improved the old 1880s workman’s Victorian that we bought and joined the Lion’s Club until my social anxieties got too severe. I smile and speak kindly at every opportunity, and wrote a series of positive local feature articles for the Dayton Review until I had a stroke last year.

The editor of the Dayton Review has encouraged me to begin submitting an opinion column, which I can write from home without running all over to take interview notes. I plan to feature liberal ideas explained in terms and values that conservatives claim as their exclusive own.

It occurs to me that my openness may fan the flames among those who are prone to reflexive hate. I could just hide in the shadows, cringing and hoping that no one will notice me or be mean to me. But, I am aware of the courage of those great souls who spoke out to end slavery, gain the vote for women, oppose the baron kings and their trusts, and march for civil rights.

As a child in school, I was raised in a particularly rigid, conservative, Christian faith. I remember how it was to be the object of hate, bullying, and abuse. I learned to run fast. No more. I’m going to stand fast. Bullies should be faced down. I’m tired of this shit and I’m not going to take it any more.

I’ve spent decades trying to figure out all the things I didn’t learn as a closed-minded conservative. I started with all the self-improvement and pop psychology books. I graduated to social psychology, Eastern religions, and theories of human development. These past four years, I’ve concentrated on figuring out the difference between Republicans and Democrats. I came out of the process as a generally-tolerant, love-thy-neighbor, but still-evangelical liberal. But, I still can’t feel good about hate, disrespect, and bullying.

‘nuf said.



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Feb 272011

Religion, Science, and Truth

by David Satterlee

Both religion and science build theoretical models to explain observations. Sometimes the models work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes sacrificing infants to Baal brings productive crops, sometimes bleeding a patient breaks a fever. Most cultures have rejected both of these discredited concepts (religious and scientific, respectively) while even science often fails to distinguish between correlation and cause.

Even having a thoroughly-consistent theory does not establish truth. Traditional Chinese Medicine successfully treats “spleen deficiency” for problems totally unrelated to our anatomical spleen’s function. Both religious and secular authorities have found themselves needing to adjust their accepted doctrine from time to time. Most religions hold a very tenuous claim to truth by faith when you consider that current beliefs (like language, culinary tastes, and DNA) can usually be traced to the intersecting influences of earlier cultures and societies. Continue reading »