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  • Tom C

The Morality of Liberalism vs. Conservatism

I read an article yesterday about a study that was done not so long ago concerning how liberals and conservatives differ in their views of morality. The research team for the study was lead by a liberal who, as a result of the study, became a moderate. I hope he continues down the path he has begun! But I am getting ahead of myself. I will summarize the study, but please go to the article that inspired this post. I think that the results of the study really do explain the differences between liberals and conservatives, not only regarding politics, but Christianity! The article: Why Liberals Can't Listen.

In brief, the researchers broke morality into five components (six, actually, but "liberty" was not considered in the linked article). Those five components are: Caring, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority/Respect and Purity. What the researchers found was that that conservatives tend to have these five components in balance in their lives. Liberals, on the other hand, focus almost exclusively on caring and fairness, to the exclusion of the others. Although I will naturally elaborate on this, those results, by themselves, explain a lot.

Another interesting result of the research was that conservatives are able to put themselves "in the shoes" of liberals and explain the way liberals think. Liberals were unable to do the same regarding conservatives. Someone (Charles Krauthammer, I believe) said that conservatives think liberals are stupid and liberals think conservatives are evil. I came to a similar conclusion long ago. But I really did not understand why it should be so. This research provides the explanation.

These research results are quite applicable to the political realm and explain a lot about the difference in thinking between liberals and conservatives. A minor example: liberals tend to focus more on the intentions behind a program than the actual results. Because it is the intentions that show "I care."

But I am more interested in how this research explains the difference between liberals and conservatives when it comes to Christian theology. And really, it is quite obvious from the research results.

Liberals don't consider authority/respect to be very important, and that presumably includes the authority of God and Scripture. When such authority conflicts with what they perceive to be caring and fair, guess what? Authority - that is, Scripture - loses.

What about sin? As conservatives, we would say that sin is bad for us, both regarding our earthly lives and in our relationship with God, and that pointing out such sin (gently, mind you) is doing a favor. But to a liberal, pointing out the sin is not caring. You've seen it over and over - liberals think that pointing out the sin of certain lifestyles is the equivalent of hating. And hating is the exact opposite of caring. Can a liberal even understand the concept of hate the sin, love the sinner? I always thought they should. But if their full emphasis is on caring and fairness to the exclusion of everything else, then perhaps not.

I am an former agnostic liberal who made the journey to conservative Christian, so I know it is possible The results of this research are very enlightening. Converting someone from liberalism to conservatism, whether in the political or theological realm, requires more than persuasion, it involves a complete change of mindset. Which is why we need to rely on God's assistance rather than exclusively on our own efforts. And that is a good thing.

Update (10/25/2018): Check out the following article - The Psychology of Progressive Hostility. It refers to the aforementioned study among a number of other references. A comment about this over at Instapundit mentions Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions. That is an excellent book. In a nutshell, conservatives have a "constrained" vision of mankind - this happens to be a biblical view - there is no "perfection," life is a series of trade-offs and trying to strike a balance that addresses various pros and cons. Liberals have an "unconstrained" vision, which means the believe that mankind is in some sense perfectible. If we (people) just did the right things everything would be perfect. You might say that liberals believe in the possibility of utopia. This causes the Left to take very strong positions, declaring their position to the right. No consideration is to be given to unintended consequences - hence the need to consider trade-offs and compromise - no matter how obvious. As an example, just consider the issue of gun control.

Update (10/26/2018): The question is: why should liberals and conservatives think so differently? The prime culprit is our education system. We have a system that is oriented more towards indoctrination rather than education. I would argue that liberals are the product of successful indoctrination and conservatives are those that rebelled against indoctrination. Yes, I am engaging in some hyperbole, but setting that aside, prove me wrong.

Update (11/18/2018): Having re-read this post, I realized that I never really emphasized one of the most obvious conclusions of the study. Because liberals cannot understand how conservatives think, they assume that the only reason that conservatives do not agree with their (liberal) views is because conservatives are bad people - greedy, selfish, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, etc. While some on the Left may toss those pejoratives out knowing full well they are simply not true, most actually believe them to be true (especially regarding evangelicals).


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