Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones, But Words We Don’t Know Can Also Hurt Us, or, Jesus Was a Liberalist
The Long List of names I have been called and of labels directed at me for attempted attachment keeps growing.
Beginning as far back as high school, I have been called or labeled a progressive, a liberal, a pinko, a communist, a socialist, a fascist, a Nazi, a Democrat, a secular humanist, a scientific revolution freak, a political revolution freak, an agnostic, an atheist, a Christian, a Texas-phile, a Texas Aggie, a Marxist, a liberation theologian, a Southern Baptist, an anti-cleric, a nuclear physicist, an arrogant high school teacher, a great teacher of math and physics, an unqualified math teacher, a painter of Texas flags on barns and sheds, a history freak, an American Civil War buff, an unintentional expert on Cretaceous fossil fish teeth, a barbed wire artist, a country redneck, a designer and builder of porches and decks out of composite materials, a male chauvinist pig, a land owner, a student of comparative religion, a gadfly, a Teutonic freak, a Napoleonic freak, a lover of ’66 red Mustangs, a coon hunter, a rock mason using only unaltered, natural-shaped rocks, an optimist with rose-colored glasses, a member of a sneaky group of pranksters, an amateur dinosaur track hunter, a militaristic war-hawk, an Obama-phile, a dinosaur freak, a rock-and-roll freak, a painter of the Lake Cisco dam, a heavy metal music freak, a cancer survivor, an anti-creationist, an evolutionist, an anti-intelligent designer, a hippie, a PhD, an absent-minded professsor, an empiricist, a philososphy-phile, an epistemology freak, an incurable screamer of rock songs in karaoke bars, a beer connoisseur, a protester of stupid rules, a feminist, an insatiable reader of non-fiction books, a war gamer, a lover of all things Cisco, Waxahachie, or College Station, an astronomy teacher, a fanatical football and baseball fan, a driver of tractors and trucks, and a writer of “improbable histories.”
To this, since the latest of my Facebook postings and the formation of my website, have been added 1) an intellectual, and 2) an idiot (This last one brings me full circle, so to speak; this is exactly what I was called as a freshman in high school!). I must be doing something right!
Let’s see, today is Wednesday, so if I were to call myself something for the day (for it would change each day, you see), I would say I am a dealer of ideas. (Some of you are old enough to remember the old black-and-white movie and TV series “Dr. Fu Man Chu” — “They say the Devil deals in men’s souls; so does Dr. Fu Man Chu!” They say the Devil deals in ideas; so does Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings!
Let me take one of the ideas suggested by the list above, say, “liberal.” Problems occur right off the bat, because what Americans mean as liberal and what Europeans mean as liberal are slightly different things, and the difference, I think, is crucial. The word “liberal” was first used in reference to the Whig political agenda in Britain in the early 1800’s. It was not incorporated into American politics through the American Whig party, necessarily, but, rather, through American suffrage, grassroot, and populist movements of the 19th centrury.
The original political definition of “liberal” grew, in my opinion, out of the successes of the American Revoluton and the French Revolution, both in the 18th century. There was nothing conservative about these two revolutions! What I would suggest as “liberalism” was actually born out of these two pivotal events, embodied by the words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the case of America, and “liberte, egalite, and fraternite” in the case of France (liberty, equality, and brotherhood). The Reformation ,the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment had combined to spark the minds of America’s founding fathers (Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and Paine) and to set up the political landscape of revolutionary France just prior to 1789, defining the terms “liberal” — those who sat on the “left” side of the chambers in France — and “conservative” (aristocratic) — those who sat on the “right” side of the French chambers. Liberalism, as I will call it, is the equal balance of all three (liberty, equality, and brotherhood [humanity-oriented]) and is the political ideal to which I think history is showing us to aspire. Liberalism has existed in this ideal form in America only in the short interval from Washington’s first term to Jefferson’s first; it existed in France only from the moment the Revolutionary government was formed to the institution of the Terror.
I am not sure we’ve witnessed any equal balance since, at least not in the USA. We have not truly reaped the benefits of liberalism. All systems of government seem to have the three words out-of-balance in some way. Some easy-to-see examples will suffice: the French Terror exalted equality at the expense of freedom and brotherhood; Marxist-Leninist communism exalts an inequality at the expense of freedom and brotherhood, ironically the same as monarchies, fascist-regimes, and “Christian” regimes such as the Papal States and Cromwellian England. Modern-day socialism makes a similar mistake as did the Terror: pushing equality at the expense of individual freedom and of genuine brotherhood – only without the beheading; unfortunately, in my opinion, that is what most Americans today call “liberal.” It is essentially a misnomer. So, to be clear, I am pushing “liberalism,” not whatever is labeled “liberal,” like socialism. Perhaps, to avoid being mired in the prevailing view of “liberal” today, those who are of the persuasion of “liberalism” should be called “liberalists” instead of “liberals.”
The original definition of conservatism was to work for no change, to keep and defend the status-quo. Those already with power and wealth, the aristocrats, and later, the capitalist rich, had no need for change, for they deemphasized equality and brotherhood; they paid attention only to the “liberty” part. Today American conservatives interpret “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as “my freedom, my entitlement, and who-gives-a-shit about my neighbors.” American conservatives whitewash over this “official” OK for selfishness, greed, and inhumane treatment by appealing to the myth that we are a Christian nation, which, in their myopic minds, means the poor, needy, and working have-nots will be taken care of by Christian charity (remember the solicitors of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, and his response to them?) (Incidentally, Christian charity through the organized churches cannot begin to meet the growing need of social services in our country.) Conservatives, as a result, are champions of some form of elitism: the smarter, the richer, the powerful, etc. etc. are better than the others. I know the book was about communism, but the conservatives of today remind me of the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm, remember? — “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Conservatives, in my opinion, give only lip service to liberte, egalite, and fraternite, covering up their treason to the liberalist ideals that our forefathers ingeniously envisioned with feigned Christian piety, which is another treason — the treason betraying separation of church and state and the freedom to worship and the freedom from worship.
The progressive march of history is clear: conservative political philosophy cannot be sustained. With the price of the blood of millions since the 18th century, the imbalance of monarchies has failed and been dismantled, the imbalance of fascism has failed and been dismantled, the imbalance of communism has failed and been (almost everywhere) dismantled, and the imbalance of Latin American regimes of tyranny against personal liberty has failed and been dismantled. Guess what is going to happen in future to the imbalance of dictatorships, kingdoms, and sectarian states that still survive!
Look at this progressive march in the United States: universal suffrage finally became a reality, but it took into the 20th century to achieve it (Now, white males are joined by females and descendents of slaves at the voting polls.). The privileges of US citizenship are given without the shackles of discriminatory qualifications. (It doesn’t matter if you are blue, covered with green polka dots, and worship an anthill in your back yard, you have the same rights, privileges, and opportunities as the rich, powerful, and influential in this country.) For all this, you must pay a price, but a price well worth it, I believe: US citizenship means you have to work, you have to pay taxes, and you have to be a patriot in your new country — and, conservatives tend to overlook this, your freedom is qualified — you cannot climb the ladder of success at the expense of others! Your gain should not be someone else’s loss.
The three-pronged revolution of the 60’s (anti-war movement, Civil Rights movement, women’s movement) is all liberalist in spirit: perpetrated to extend (instead of restrict, as the conservatives want to do) all of the following — 1) power over your personal affairs, 2) influence in the leadership of your country, 3) your rights as a working, tax-paying citizen, 4) your rights not to be victimized by any form of discrimination, 5) your rights to educate yourself as far as your mind will take you, and 6) your grasp upon the promise of the liberalist, revolutionary agenda of our Constitution and Declaration.
So, when I go to the polls to vote for President, I vote for the candidate closer to the ideals of a liberalist, closer to the ideas upon which our country was founded. To vote for a political conservative is to me tantamount to voting against the ideals of the American Revolution; it would be literally un-American!
And, incidentally, to me it would be anti-Christian. Note that all the unflattering references I had above to Christians and Christianity had to do with church and those who attend church. They had nothing to do, in my opinion, with the teachings of Jesus. All those years I sat in Sunday School and in the church pews revealed to me how little emphasis, in the long scheme of things, was placed upon the teachings of the one supposed to have founded the church in the first place! Turns out, when you read the “red letters” of the four Gospels, or, better, the Jefferson Bible, what Jesus is supposed to have said doesn’t have much to do with the church, with organized religion. Jesus spoke in liberalist terms. The Sermon on the Mount translates almost verbatum into liberalist philosophy. Laws were made for people, not people for the laws. What is best for your fellow man trumps all other needs. The Golden Rule — so universal! Principles that can only be called humanistic are our guides, not some theology propping up some social class of clergy and a string of fancy buildings. He was a revolutionary in the truest sense of the word. Jesus’ adversaries were the representatives of the established religion of his day. Any Son of Man can become a Son of God. I have discussed all this with minister friends of mine (names withheld here for obvious reasons), and in private they cannot disagree with me on most of these points.
Jesus was a forerunner of the liberalist principles of our founding fathers. He was a liberalist way before the liberalist “time” in the 18th century. The American Revolution was fought for purely secular, not sectarian reasons; when the French aristocracy fell under the blade of the guillotine, so did the Church and its clergy. One of my favorite quotes from a French film was “There can be no church in a true republic.” I don’t think we should burn down all the churches — I think we should stop giving Jesus credit for them; such credit insults Him.
If all or part of this moves you to do so, get back with me. All I ask is that you try to do a little more than just add to the Long List of names and labels.