We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Kingdom We Work For

In a posting entitled, "What the Ruling Class Does Not Comprehend," conservative columnist Eric Cox engages in a postmortem of the recent government shutdown.  Reflecting what seems to be the growing sentiment on the Right and taking the long view of things, he is heartened rather than discouraged by the apparent defeat of conservatism this time around.  True conservatives, he argues, stand on the side of liberty and they will prevail.  He concludes, "Although a minor loss we did suffer, we will not have to endure many more, for liberty and the human spirit will not allow it."

There is another sentence in his posting, however, that is especially revealing of the fundamental tension that lies at the heart of the great debate taking place in America today over nature of our society.  Cox states, "Conservative values revolve around the concept of individual liberty."  On the face of it, that sounds benign enough, but as is true of every principle and value the devil is in the details.  For tens of millions of individuals one man's liberty is another woman's chains.  That is to say that individual liberty is fine so long as everyone shares in it, so long as everyone is free.  In fact, there is not a nation on the Earth in which everyone enjoys the same liberties as everyone else.  Only in the Kingdom will we all be free.

It is for these reasons that liberals have a different take on liberty.  Liberal values revolve around the concept of social justice.  Where there is no justice, there is no liberty.  Where there is only individual liberty without the constraints of social justice, some will always be deprived of liberty, which means ultimately we all are so deprived.

Now, of course, our conservative friends will respond, "Yes, but..." and make the point that social justice has ways of morphing into imposing unwarranted, oppressive constraints on individuals.  That is at least part of the reason why they fear Big Government so intensely, and they are not entirely wrong or unjustified in their concerns.  The point is that whether our values are centrally concerned with the individual or with society more largely the devil is still in the details.

What would be best is if we all could understand that individual liberty and social justice are two sides of the same coin.  The Big Government that the "individualists" fear and the "socialists" rely on is the one that has made it possible for an increasing number of people of color to find a better, safer, and more just in American society.  It has expanded the scope of individual liberty because it has (however imperfectly) been an agent for a more just American society.  The Affordable Care Act that is so deeply hated by the Right has as its ultimate aim the goal of expanding access to health care, that is expand the scope of individual and social well-being.  You can't have individual liberty without social justice just as society is only truly just when its individuals are truly free.

That is the Kingdom of God that we work for: a world that is free and fair.  Such a simple thing, such a seemingly impossible thing!