Most people don’t realize the extent to which a person’s worldview affects the different parts of their lives. The tendency is to relegate this topic to the “religious” arena. But the truth is, it impacts EVERY area of life. It speaks to science, morality, law, politics, economics and, literally, every other area of life you can think of.
When we consider American politics, there are, actually, a number of different points of view that get expressed in the public square. That being said, there are two that are head and shoulders above all the others – liberalism and conservatism. And, you guessed it, these two perspectives are based on worldview foundations that can be identified and analyzed.
What is Liberal and Conservative?
But before we get into the details of these two viewpoints, we need to say something about the words themselves. Liberalism and conservatism do not have a point of view all their own. Something is always liberal or conservative in relation to something else. What may be liberal in one context may be conservative in another. As such, we have to identify the context before this makes complete sense.
Conservatism is a point of view which, basically, wants to preserve (conserve) the status quo. So, once we identify the initial foundation, conservatives are those who want to maintain it.
Liberalism, on the other hand, is a point of view which wants to change (liberate) the status quo. Again, once we identify the initial foundation, liberals will be the ones who want to change it.
What is Liberal and Conservative in America?
America was founded by people who believed in God and who established the institutions of the society on principles from Christian Theism. This includes such concepts as an absolutely authoritative foundational document, the rule of law, equal justice under the law, separation of powers, due process, equal opportunity for all, ownership of private property, individual responsibility, and the like. Conservatives, then are those who believe in these founding principles and work to see that they continue.
Liberals, then, would be those who seek to change that. In American society, liberalism is built, specifically, on a naturalistic worldview foundation. The basic principles which emerge out of this is relativism and collectivism. It is understood that, since there is no such thing as the supernatural, human beings are the ones who have to establish the principles of society and that these principles are based on naturalistic presuppositions. Survival of the society and personal satisfaction are the bottom line.
While the terms liberalism and conservatism tend to mostly have political connotations, the truth is, the beliefs which inform these two positions play out in virtually every area of life. Let’s take a brief look at the main ones.
Conservative theology is most closely associated with Theism – belief in God. This was the default position of the founders and informs the approach they used for establishing the various cultural institutions of American society. Conservative beliefs are most closely associated with the Christian faith (or what is often referred to as the Judeo-Christian ethic), and finds its guiding principles from the teachings of the Bible. It is based on the belief that God is the creator and sustainer of the material universe.
Liberal theology is most closely associated with Naturalism. In its most natural form, liberal theology follows naturalistic belief – that is, it does not acknowledge the existence of any kind of supernatural reality. It’s theology is expressed as some form of Atheism – the assertion that God does not exist.
That being said, there are those who self-identify as liberals who are adamant that they do believe in God, and many are even active in Christian churches. What we generally find in these situations, however, is a Christian form which overlays a naturalistic core. This kind of theology uses religious, even Christian, vocabulary, but basically redefines the words in ways which express naturalistic concepts. The most prominent forms of theology in this category include liberation theology, neo-orthodoxy, existential theology, and postmodern theology. The doctrines associated with these forms of theology typically do not believe God to be a personal being who can be known in a personal relationship, nor does it acknowledge the Bible to be an inerrant revelation from God.
Conservative philosophy, in America, is based on the tenets of Christian Theism. This involves a type of dualism where both body and mind are acknowledged. As such, it is possible to combine both faith and reason into the consideration of the basic topics of philosophy – reality, knowledge and values.
Liberal philosophy is based on the tenets of Naturalism. As such, it is expressed as a type of monism where all of reality exists within the confines of the physical universe (all of reality is physical). The operation of the mind is built on the belief that what we perceive as the mind is actually nothing more than the operation of the physical brain. An understanding of the basic topics of philosophy (reality, knowledge and values), then, must be based only on what exists in the material world.
The conservative approach to understanding biology is based on a theistic belief about the structure of reality. Using this worldview approach, the most fundamental concept of biological understanding sits upon the belief that the origin of life and the existence of the variety of life forms on earth is all accounted for by the supernatural creative activity of God. Conservative biology sees no problem in believing both that God created life AND that the material manifestations of life can be studied by science.
Liberal biology is founded on Naturalism and is based on the belief that natural biological evolution can account for the existence of life and for the variety of life forms that exist on earth. Naturalism assumes that there is no such thing as a supernatural reality, so the only means by which life could possibly have come into existence and emerged into current forms is by natural means. All of life is understood to be purely an expression of the material universe.
For conservatives, psychology relates to both an objectively real spiritual element as well as a physiological one. Human beings are acknowledged to be spiritual as well as physical creatures. That being the case, conservative psychology is based on concepts which are best explained based on a dualism of mind and body. It operates off of the belief that God has made human beings to be self-conscious spiritual beings housed in a physical body.
The soul relates specifically to the spiritual side of an individual. It is that part of a human being which is not physical. So, when individuals have issues which trouble the soul, it relates specifically to a person’s sin against God, not merely to things which cause internal conflict. That being the case, the solution to these soul issues requires making things right with him. At the same time, the soul exists in a physical body and cannot be separated from it. The soul must be understood and expressed through a physical body. As such, the soul is expressed and can be partially understood physiologically, as well.
Psychology in liberalism is based on the naturalistic belief that human beings are purely physical animals with no spiritual part. This leads to methods of dealing with the human mind and human behavior which are purely physiological. Using the common naturalistic approaches to psychology, curing human psychological problems is a matter of fixing wrong thinking by using behavioral techniques. The soul, in liberal psychology, is nothing more than the physical self.
While conservative sociology is interested, to a degree, in all of the institutions found in society, there are three which are especially emphasized because they are seen to be the most foundational based on a biblical perspective. The three are: traditional family, church and state.
Conservative sociology begins with the Theistic assumption that God created the world and gave instructions regarding the proper order of human groupings based on his purposes. It is understood that there is a way society ought to be ordered and it is up to the members of society to try and order it that way.
Liberal sociology is founded on the naturalistic worldview assumption that there is no such thing as a supernatural reality. As such, humans do not exist for any transcendent purpose but are merely animal creatures which have evolved from mindless matter. It is believed that this evolutionary process developed in a way which caused human beings to be social animals as a means of survival. Since there exists no transcendent purpose for mankind, there is also, by extension, no purpose for society other than survival. Additionally, without a transcendent being to provide direction, there is also no prescription as to how society ought to be ordered. It can become whatever the people in the society decide is appropriate.
Ethics and Morality
Conservative ethics, established on a Theistic worldview foundation, is based on the concept of moral absolutes. Theism asserts the existence of a transcendent God who has revealed to mankind what is right and wrong. God is understood to have a particular way that he wants human beings to act, and has revealed that desire to humanity. In the case of Western conservatism, that relates specifically to the values revealed in the Bible.
Liberal ethics emerges out of Naturalism and is based on the concept of moral relativism. Liberals acknowledge no form of transcendent existence. As such, there is no one outside of the material universe capable of creating or sharing moral information. As such, all morality and ethics must be created by human beings – either by using societal consensus or the imposition of the moral preferences of those in power. Since no absolutes are acknowledged, the standards of morality may change as the societal situation or the individuals in power change.
Conservative law begins with the assumption that God exists and has revealed his will concerning what is right and wrong. The belief is that human law, then, should reflect these instructions from God – at least on the basis of principle, if not in the specific laws themselves.
It is the contention of conservative law that God has established material reality based on his conception of order. His system is based on an absolute standard which does not change. This order is, first of all, reflected in the laws of nature. Secondly, it is reflected in the revealed laws which God has given to mankind through his revelation. This revealed law casts light on the true nature of humanity and on God’s purpose for the advancement of society.
Liberal law is based on a naturalistic worldview foundation and is expressed in the principle of positive law. Law from a naturalistic worldview perspective has no objective or transcendent basis. Rather, it is based on the perceived needs of society and/or the personal inclinations of those in power. There is no other possibility. And, since there is no objective foundation for law, the laws themselves, and even the foundational principles for interpreting law, can be changed at any time based on contemporary circumstances.
The topic of politics is important for conservatives because government is one of the institutions which is understood to have been established by God in order to facilitate the accomplishment of his purposes for mankind. Conservative politics is specifically based on theistic concepts which recognize that God has revealed moral principles by which man should govern society. Since the work of government is understood to have been ordained by God, human beings are charged with understanding his purpose, and carrying out the work of government based on that purpose. God has revealed two primary roles that a government is supposed to play – to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. In doing this, it keeps order in society. It is the duty of politicians to manage government based on these principles.
Liberal politics is based on the concept of a purely secular government. Since it is based on a naturalistic worldview foundation which does not recognize the existence of a transcendent power or purpose, politics is necessarily focused completely on a temporal outcome which promotes the ultimate goal of the natural order – the survival of the species. As such, the aim of politics is to organize society in ways which are seen to promote this end. The focus, then, is on the interests of the collective rather than on the individual. Since a communal mentality is the governing principle of society, politics is best expressed through some type of collectivist political form. The most popular collectivist approaches in our current time includes, progressivism, socialism and communism. Dictatorships are also possible expressions of this political approach.
The principal concept, in conservative thinking, for understanding the significance of history is found in the word purpose. Specifically, a conservative understanding of history is grounded in the purpose of God. Conservatives understand history as a purposeful, non-repetitive sequence of events which began in God’s creative activity and is moving toward the accomplishment of the purpose for which he created it.
Based on liberal concepts, history has no transcendent meaning because there is no transcendent existence. History becomes simply a record of the natural operation of the material universe. Mankind is seen to be progressing to higher levels through history, but this is strictly the result of evolutionary progression as a natural animal.
Conservative economics is based in the concept of the stewardship of property. It begins with the understanding that God is the owner of his entire creation. Based on biblical teaching, the property individuals own is not really theirs. Rather, it is understood to be a sacred trust from God, who is the ultimate owner. Individuals are responsible for managing the property in their care based on the desires and purposes of God.
Liberal economics is based in Naturalism and operates on the principles of interventionism. A naturalistic understanding of economics begins with the belief that there is no supernatural existence. As a result, the only principles which exist to guide economics are those which society’s leaders consider to be helpful in advancing the goals of human society. Based on naturalistic thought, the species (society) rather than the individual takes precedent. The tendency that emerges from that is an approach to doing economics which promotes the welfare of society above that of the individual. This generally involves some kind of central guidance by those who control the purse strings of society.
What is Most Important to Know?
When people hear the terms “liberal” and “conservative,” the immediate reaction tends to be related to politics. And while politics are certainly expressed through these terms, the belief foundations that they feed off of are so much broader. Life simply can’t be separated out piece by piece that way. The same beliefs which are expressed in the political arena are also expressed in one’s understanding of biology, theology, economics, sociology and on down the line.
The war that is being fought in the political arena between liberals and conservatives is not simply political. It is a spiritual war that engages every part of life. As such, the only way to win is by spiritual victories, not merely political ones. People who don’t know Christ need a change of heart, not simply a change of politics. Until Christians get this larger perspective and begin becoming more diligent in sharing Christ with the lost world, we will continue to see liberal beliefs dominate the culture.
© 2013 Freddy Davis