I hear the far-off rumblings of the conservative passive aggressive victim machine cranking up to say that I "demonized" conservatives in my sermon in Baltimore. It's not that they are against someone demonizing their opponents; they don't deny that they do it. I mean, how could they? Their hero, Rush Limbaugh, is the most popular conservative commentator, and his schtick is 100% demonization. One name to prove my point: Sandra Fluke. Female law student who testified in favor of a contraception mandate in health insurance. Rush called her a slut.

No, the conservatives don't deny that they demonize. They just want to demonize me as a hypocrite because I called them out. Liberals are supposed to be nicer than they are.
Demonization is an essential piece of the conservative worldview. It's deeper than political; it's theological. And it is a part of a set of theological concepts that liberal religion has rejected. Please follow along, as we explore the conservative mind.

Where does evil come from? If God made the world and it was good, but humanity fell because Satan tempted Adam and Eve into sin, then evil enters the world through human beings who succumbed to the temptations of evil. One can secularize the myth and say that evil enters the world through the actions of human beings who give themselves over to baser motives, like greed, anger, lust, sloth, pride, gluttony and envy.

Conservatives, in general, believe that the world is OK, but people fail it. If everyone behaved properly, everything would work out fine. The invisible hand of the market would balance our needs and our contributions such that the common good would be met by each person pursuing their private good. The virtuous, the industrious, the prudent would rise in a meritocracy. Logic and reason tell us that this is how it could be, if everybody exercised personal responsibility.

But even conservatives recognize that world is not like that. The problem is that some people have evil intentions. Mythologically, they are agents of Satan, or you could just say that they have weak moral characters. They want to eat without working, they want sexual pleasure without the responsibility of raising children, they want what others have worked for.

Chief among these are the liberal reformers, who out of pride, greed, envy and sloth, seek to gain the social power to redistribute the goods of the world to themselves and to those who are unsuccessful and resentful.

Such is the conservative mind. If one has been successful, then it is a very satisfying worldview. Your success affirms your virtue.

Liberal Religion operates on a different set of understandings.

Systems of social domination and subordination have existed as far back into human history as we can see. Humanity is not fallen, but rising, developing new ways of being together that are more fair and just. Liberal thinking, then, is systemic, not personal. We will rise together as we fashion new ways of being together. Everyone is embedded in a network of mutuality; everything, and everyone, is being shaped and conditioned by everything and everyone else. We know that we cannot isolate evil into one person or group. Our view of persons are that each has dignity and is worthy of respect, and that are all interconnected, such that their actions and attitudes are mutually dependent.

The conservative tendency to demonize is part of their denial of the realities of the world we live in. Their worldview is inaccurate, and doesn't work.  But to maintain it, they have to blame individuals for all of injustice and failings around them.  Why are some people poor? Because they are lazy, they say.  So, why did the economy shed 800,000 jobs a month in the end of 2008? Because there was a sudden explosion of laziness among the working class?

Liberals try to understand the actions of individuals by understanding their social context. Conservatives try to understand social conditions by generalizing from individual morality. As a result, when confronted with unjust or cruel social situations, they have to find someone to blame: they are driven to demonize.

As a political and religious liberal, I do not blame conservatives for the problems of immigration, homophobia, poverty, racism and exploitation of the working poor. These are, in some sense, inexorable workings of an advanced capitalism built on white supremacy. I do fault conservatives for being in denial about them, and for obstructing efforts to change them, and for being unwilling to risk their own moral self-satisfaction to look at the broader realities.

I will also resist all their efforts to blame the victims.


  1. Anonymous6:45 AM

    PREACH, Brother Tom!

  2. Anonymous7:13 AM

    Aren't we liberals often guilty of the same "demonization" though. We choose the most controversial, vitriolic examples (Rush Limbaugh) and hold them up as proof that conservatives are greedy and hateful. I have some very conservative friends who I can safely say just simply see the world - and how best to solve its problems - differently.

  3. [sarcasm] Oh, but, Tom, aren't we supposed to prove our tolerance through our absolute acceptance of everything, and thus it's hypocritical for us to bring any critique to the right? How can we prove we're tolerant liberals if we're intolerant of intolerance? Don't you see, it's important that we *not* call them out!!


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