Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister

Experience and Conservatism

with 5 comments


1b3356592e5c24a63a66b6e9ab357fabI want to write some more about my journey to the right in the last two years.

In my last post I described one of my integration experiences to seminary where I was endowed with the identity of of a privileged conservative. I worry I may have implied that endowment is the only reason I have moved right. That’s not true.

I had every opportunity to respond to that endowment by over correcting, and presenting myself as that much more progressive to prove everyone wrong. Or perhaps to present myself as having grown as a result of my interactions here at seminary.

”Prejudice rarely survives experience” reads a prominent bumper sticker in the parking lot. It’s true (and quite clever) but it cuts both ways. Benefit of the doubt rarely survives experience either.

I fully expected, as I left a life in the church to the right of me theologically, that when I entered a community full of queer, feminist, and liberation theologians much of my unseen prejudice would be burned away. But the prejudices I carried turned out mostly to have been in their favor.

I expected to be challenged with better ways of thinking about the liberal specialties. Multiethnicity, Social Justice, radical welcome and love for everyone. I expected to see a world of Christianity on the other side of the line. I was excited to meet the church free of fundamentalism, literalism, fear, and totally willing to accept in compromise some ambivalence, relativism, ambiguity, and moral inattentiveness.

What I found was a cliquey group of people, many of whom are profoundly bitter. An Echo chamber of a community with unwritten and arbitrary rules, full of people who, as a whole, are every bit as dogmatic, fearful, and politically bought-and-sold as the far right.
It’s not that they are bad people. Many of them are my dear friends. And it’s not that liberals have worse problems than conservatives. It’s that they have the SAME problems.

In politics this is called horseshoe theory, if you go to far to any side one side you end up headed toward the other and it holds true theologically.

We still have taboos, unforgivable sins, shunning, name calling, cognitive dissonance, and fear. The boundary lines are every bit as sharp and unbending, the bounded territory is simply farther left.

And as for the scholarship? In my experience it is just as flimsy as on the right, there are known figures with legitimate doctorates on both sides, but few if any are able to produce anything of value outside their own group. Theologies are created to privilege and exalt the group that creates them on the left as the right. Some gold stars go left for being more transparent about that reality.

And it’s not that the middle is this golden mean with none of the problems of either extreme. I maintain the right to pick and choose and try to avoid problems, but I’m a sinner like anybody and probably end up choosing into several flaws of the left and some others of the right.

So I’m more conservative now than I was. I used to appreciate so much about the right, the faith, the confidence, the simplicity and sincerity, but want to distance myself from the snakes: the self-hating, the obsession, the anti-intellectualism. Now that I live in the left and there are snakes here too (the same snakes) I feel more comfortable embracing the things I love on the right and not seeing the snakes as representative.


Written by RyanGaffney

May 13, 2015 at 11:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses

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  1. I think my favorite part of this post is your acknowledgment that your experiences haven’t helped you to grow at all.


    May 14, 2015 at 9:53 am

    • I don’t understand. Are you referring to the end of the second paragraph where I could have pretended to change in order to fit in and let everybody believe that ti was just me “growing”


      May 16, 2015 at 4:28 pm

  2. I’m curious about why that is your favorite part. Is it because you recognize the irony of the fact that this is the same mechanism which kicks in in other fundamentalist environments on the conservative end where people feel compelled to “see the light” and repent from their previously “evil” ways because it is assumed that any life they had outside the community must have been as such?

    Is it because you are championing my integrity in representing myself as I am, not as better or worse than I am in order to win social points is an intolerant environment?

    Or do you think I showed my hand? Do you think that is what I should have done and that I somehow didn’t recognize that I wrote that down such that you think I should be embarrassed i had that option and haven’t taken it?


    May 22, 2015 at 11:00 am

    • It’s my favorite part because I experience it as the most honest thing you’ve ever expressed.


      May 22, 2015 at 2:19 pm

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