Liberals and Conservatives

9 04 2009


Easter was the old North
Goddess of the dawn.
She rises daily in the East
And yearly in spring for the great

Paschal candle of the sun.
Her name lingers like a spot
Of gravy in the figured vestment
Of the language of the Britains.

Her totem the randy bunny.
Our very Thursdays and Wednesdays
Are stained by syllables of thunder
And Woden’s frenzy.

O my fellow-patriots loyal to this
Our modern world of high heels,
Vaccination, brain surgery—
May they pass over us, the old

Jovial raptors, Apollonian flayers,
Embodiments. Egg-hunt,
Crucifixion. Supper of encrypted
Dishes: bitter, unrisen, a platter

Compass of martyrdom,
Ground-up apples and walnuts
In sweet wine to embody mortar
Of affliction, babies for bricks.

Legible traces of the species
That devises the angel of death
Sailing over our doorpost
Smeared with sacrifice.

— Robert Pinsky
‘, ‘

Spirit of life, we come together this Easter season to rejoice in your ongoing creation around us and within us.
We come to rejoice, but we come with burdens of sorrow and pain, of shame and fear, of false obligation and false pride.
On this Easter may we discover a joyous and courageous faith enabling us to set these burdens down.

We would remember the teachings of Jesus, whose words and example embodied your outreaching and unconditional love.
And we acknowledge that we yearn to be touched by such love, but that we are not always ready to receive it or to give it.
Our fears get in the way, we have hardened our hearts, and busied our lives with cares.
This Easter, we pray that the heavy stones which burden us and separate us from you may be rolled away,
releasing our spirits to love and to new life.

Spirit of life, we confess that too often we have not taken time to search for the beauty of
your creation hidden around us.
As we allow such beauty to go unnoticed we have deprived ourselves of occasions for joy and delight.
This Easter we pray that our senses may come alive, ready to respond to all the beauty, the harmony,
the fragrance, taste and texture of life around us.

It is the season of renewal and all around us everything is bursting into bloom or song.
The hidden beauty of nature is preparing to unfold.
This Easter we would be assured that we too have a hidden inner beauty ready to unfold,
reflecting the image of your creative power.

Spirit of life, we pray for the courage to open ourselves to your touch,
knowing that as we do, we will be changed.
We will grow, but in so doing we must leave behind the outgrown coverings which have hidden our true and
most beautiful selves.

Spirit of life, as we feel you flowing and pulsing within, we pray for a courageous and joyous faith,
empowering us to become our finest and truest selves, empowering us to see your image in our brothers and sisters,
empowering us to participate with you in the creation of a new time of life,
in which love, justice, beauty and peace are abundantly available to all.

For this we pray. Amen.

–Ruth Gibson
>>  Homily

I follow the “TED” talks available online–TED for “Technology, Entertainment, and Design.”
TED is an annual meeting in Monterey, California where a lot of folks get together and see up-to-20-minute
presentations about a whole gamut of current topics, and other things that smart people are thinking about.
There are also musical performances and other things;
Thomas Dolby has been the musical director for the past several years.
All the TED talks, and a smattering of other short, interesting presentations is on their website.
You can even see this guy Phil Rosedale talk about his current big project, something called Second Life.

A few weeks ago, I saw again a talk that was given last year about the difference between liberals and conservatives.
If you have about 20 minutes, you should see the talk; the URL is in the Order of Service:

In this talk, Jonathan Haidt talks about a theory that he and Craig Joseph have developed,
following on work that other sociologists have done.
They postulate that we build our basis of what we consider “moral” on five foundations:

Basic mammalian nature (and we’re all mammals) is that we care for others and usually
try to avoid harm.
He notes that about 70% of moral statements he hears deal with this.
I’ll refer to this as “care.”

We try to be equitable in out interactions with others, and when something good or bad happens,
we try to respond to action with similar action.
There are some examples in the animal world, but this seems to be a primarily human trait.
This is “fairness” and is also important to how we decide we live a moral life.

We create groups and tribes, and we cooperate, and we are loyal to the group.
There are some animal examples with small groups–such as hunting in a pack; but only humans create large groups.
Haidt even talks about how we’ll form groups where otherwise none exist, like with fans of sports teams.
I’ll call this “loyalty.”

We recognize that there is a hierarchy in our society, whether is be something natural like
parent/child, or artificial like manager/employee or officer/enlisted-man.
Because of this hierarchy, certain aspects of respect is automatically recognized.
This is “respect.”

We expect to not act on all our urges, we control them.
Not only should we not act on them, but some think in our core being we shouldn’t even think about them.
I’ll call this “purity.”

So the five foundations are briefly: care, fairness, loyaly, respect, and purity.
I’m not going to try to say how we should think about them right now, but I just want you to realize
that these five concepts exist.
And if you thing about them, these five make up a pretty good list that many people can agree
have bearing on a discussion of morality.
We might disagree on some of the specifics, but you can understand where someone who thinks that
unwavering obedience to the Queen of England can be part of another’s core being.

So what did Jonathan Haidt and Craig Joseph discover?

In thousands of interviews and surveys conducted around the world, they discovered most people can discuss
these five foundation concepts and how they relate to their part of their culture.
They could craft questions asking how individuals thought about these five foundations,
and how important these foundations influenced what they though was a proper moral life.
The researchers then determined how the respondents fit into a spectrum of
“liberal” or “conservative”, and discovered an interesting correlation.

All people think that “care” and “fairness” are strong foundations of a moral life.
In every culture, all respondents agree that these two pillars are very important for one to live a moral life.
And in isolation of other factors, almost everyone agrees that is it better to care and not harm, and to be fair.

But the other three foundations, “loyalty” “respect” and “purity,” were generally equally important only to conservatives.
Not that liberals didn’t think that that these were good things to aspire to, but they were not as important to
consider when one leads a moral life.
These results are roughly the same in the USA, or Latin America, or Europe–Eastern and Western; even China, India, and Africa.
In more religiously traditional areas the difference in imporantance is large,
but in places like the USA and Western Europe the difference is staggering; to liberals, at times zero importance.
And for those who are in the middle of the spectrum, the importance is about halfway between the two extremes.

For example, to liberals “loyalty” is good as a guideline in the nature of “all things being equal, favor your group.”
But liberals also feel that those in a traditionally discriminated group merit affirmative action, and being too
favorable to your group is felt to be a form of xenophobia.
Similarly the nature of purity is felt to limit the experiences that one may have, and liberals tend to be
more experiential than theoretical or didactic.
If a liberal person is more open to experience fine art, the exposed naked breast isn’t really a big deal.

Now that I have discovered the differing treatment of loyalty, respect, and purity, I can see how the
conservative worldview uses this, intentionally or not, to wedge “conservative morals” verses “liberal morals.”
If you are familiar with the Ten Commandments (and I’ll use the Catholic definition I grew up with),
four are about respecting authority, and two deal with purity of thought.
Maybe one deals with care, and maybe one about fairness.

If you comapare this to the Seven Principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association,
you see that our first principle deals with care, and the second with fairness.
If one stretches, loyalty does appear in the third principle that ends “in our congregations.”
The seventh principle calls for respect for all existence, not any individual.
From what I see, purity doesn’t make the list.

Having become aware of this different worldview, I can more easily talk with those whom I disagree.
Conservatives really do look at the world a lot differently than I do, and that’s OK.
And though I disagree with some of their values, I know that I can usually find common ground
when I talk about caring and fairness.

One other little thing that gets under my skin is when my conservative family and friends claim that
“political correctness” is a liberal trait.
Although the recent popular origin of the term did come from the radical left, where it was treated as
a codeword for a joke, one can see where it really is a form of thought-purity. 
This properly becomes a characteristic of political conservatives.
I’m old enough to recall that one never really heard about “political correctness” until Reagan was president.