Something that interests me whenever I reconnect with old friends and acquaintances is their current religious or political views. Some of the people who were gun-ho conservative Christians back when I knew them are now atheists, agnostics, liberal Christians, gay activists, or indifferent to religion altogether. Some of the people who were politically apathetic when I knew them now like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.
There are some people who have not changed a whole lot ideologically. They may have developed their positions a bit, but they still believe essentially the same things that they did back when I knew them. Or they may still hold on to most of what they used to believe, while diverging from it in a few areas. One person I know was a Christian right-winger back when I knew her, and she is a Christian right-winger today. Yet, she is also a public school teacher, and so she disagrees with certain right-wing proposals on education. She actually urged people to vote Democrat rather than Republican in a state superintendent race!
Could I have anticipated back then where my friends and acquaintances would be today in terms of ideology? Am I surprised at where they are now? In some cases, yes. But, in many cases, I can somewhat understand how they arrived at where they are now. I was in a Bible study group with one person, and he left the group to study the Bible and Christianity on his own. He had doubts and questions. He wanted to look at the Bible from a critical perspective. He told me that he wants to find out if Christianity is true, or if Christians are deluded. Today, he is an agnostic, and he likes Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I may not agree with him entirely, but I can sympathize with how he arrived at where he is today. When prominent versions of Christianity say that the Bible must be inerrant or Christianity is not true—-and middle grounds between these two extremes appear mushy, muddled, or just plain unconvincing—-then I can see why some become atheists or agnostics.
Then there is my change. I used to lean more to the right. Now, I am more politically progressive. In terms of religion, I am definitely not a fundamentalist, but I do try to be open to evangelical ideas, especially when they acknowledge what critical scholarship has to say. I want the Bible to mean something spiritual to me, and I am open to considering how evangelical scholars have interacted with the Bible’s difficulties. Moreover, I want to live a healthy, spiritual life, and so I consult evangelical sources on that. Maybe I should read secular self-help books, too!
Believe it or not, some people have reacted to my changes. I was known as a big-time right-winger in high school and college. I would write articles and letters to the editor. I would challenge teachers in class if they said something even remotely liberal. Many found me annoying; some actually admired me. Now, those people who used to admire me see I am more of a liberal now. One person I know said that broke his heart! He may not have meant that too seriously, but my point is that some are surprised by where I am now.
The thing is, I do get a bit tired of telling the same old “I used to be a conservative, now I’m a liberal” story, like I used to be blind and now I see. Even now, I don’t thoroughly dismiss conservatism. I read conservative stuff each day. Actually, to be honest, I find reading about conservatives to be much more interesting than reading about liberals. Plus, I don’t think progressives and progressivism are perfect. I was not blind when I was a conservative. I had some legitimate insights. But what I learned was that the world is not black and white—-there are shades of grey. Plus, it is hard to make one’s way in the world, and so I have little sympathy for the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality that is rampant within conservatism.
But, to be honest, I cannot be a liberal in the same way that I used to be a conservative. Back when I was a conservative, I felt that I had to show that the Republicans are perfect whereas the Democrats are flawed. And, given enough research, I could back that up. It is not hard in this age of the Internet to challenge the outrageous attacks from the “other side”—-whatever that “other side” may be in relation to you—-for any side may have a legitimate reason for what it is doing, or some explanation, or some ability to point to positive things that were done on its watch. I am open to that. But I also realize that no side is perfect. Thus, while as a conservative I felt a need to defend George W. Bush from every criticism, to uphold him as perfect, I feel no compulsion to do that with President Barack Obama now that I am a progressive. Sure, I’ll respond when I feel a need to respond, but I am under no illusions that President Obama or the Democrats are perfect. They’re not. They’re human. Humans are flawed and make mistakes. This is true of all sides.
You may think in reading this that I consider myself an open-minded, level-headed fellow. Well, not everyone who knows me will affirm this self-description! I can get pretty combative in online and group discussions about political and religious issues. But I think that I tend to be more open-minded when I am alone—-by myself, reading and considering issues—-without some need to prove myself to others, or to combat those who are shoving their beliefs down my throat or acting as if their way of seeing things is the only legitimate perspective.
Anyway, those are my ramblings. I went from how people I knew changed to….well, wherever I ended up!