When Cozy Trumps Courage

fireplaceAt the risk of entering into a Wonderland of vocabulary twisting, a few thoughts on what I find constitutes conservatives, liberals, and progressives.

Liam described his current pastor in this comment.

My observation was, “Hmm. Your pastor actually sounds very conservative to me.”

Liam replied:

I can assure you, he’s not. I know what you mean, but I don’t agree that this behavior (and clericalism generally) is automatically “conservative”; that’s too convenient. I’ve seen it before on our progressive side of things, (too) many times over.

I think our culture finds it easier to categorize people into a single camp. And leave them there. Since politics is the driving force behind so much of what takes place (and I mean not just government, but celebrity, sports, labor/management, extended families, and even theological aspects of religion) it is way too convenient–not to mention comfortable–to put a tag on someone, and leave them there.

Speaking for myself, I am conservative in some aspects of my life outlook. I believe in conserving the natural environment. I believe in conserving virtues, and conducting myself in a realm of personal ethics and morals, and not just when they are personally convenient.

Sometimes, a progressive outlook accompanies this. As a young boy scout, for example, fire prevention was drilled into us. But I know that conservation thinking has evolved as we come to understand the importance of fire as part of the meta-cycle of a thriving forest or grassland. Being open to discovery is important.

In the realm of ethics and morals, I might consider the plight of two people, same-sex attracted. If God made them that way–in other words, if their sexual identity is part of their biological make-up as human beings, and if they seek a life defined by the virtue of commitment–then I don’t feel a compulsion to deny them a legal status that reinforces that. That doesn’t strike me as 100% liberal. Just a personal openness to change.

If I worked in forestry, I would have a problem, to be sure, to drop a lit match onto the ground where an environment was long overdue for a burn. Nor do I have a personal understanding of what it means to be gay, and certainly not the sexual orientation for it, so the idea of sex with another man is not at all appealing to me.

I’m not sure that stance of “personally opposed” makes me a flaming liberal in terms of how our culture defines its politics. But I’m not quite conservative either, despite my indulgence for shirts and ties on weekends.

Liam described a priest in his comment.

He’s the kind of priest who meanders and repeats his homiletic material (and uses way way too much first person, and is trigger-happy about trying to explain away any Gospel miracle apparently in order to seem down with, as it were, what he assumes is skepticism among his listeners) and his response to be called out on it is to joke about it almost weekly rather than do something about it.

I’ve worked with guys like this a lot. We haven’t always worked well together in the long run. Once I’ve gotten to know them, I might offer a gentle suggestion or nudge in a certain new direction. When I was younger, I was rebuffed for being one, ignorant, and/or two, conservative. After a long and frustrating conversation about a related issue I once told a pastor in a moment of mutual honesty that I thought he was still pre-Vatican II in some ways, he responded by declining to give me a cost-of-living raise. Thanks for proving my point, Father Hardly-A-Liberal.

Like Liam, I’ve known lots of people who could be tagged with the label “uber-progressive.” But as you get to know them, some are rather willing to explore new territory. And others have their claim staked, and they are not moving off that patch of land. Mind you, I have no problem with the monastic virtue of stability, even for someone not professing to be a monk.

But please: if you are so set in your ways, there is nothing gravely wrong about that. Just admit it. Concede you have a strong strain in yourself that is most decidedly non-progressive. Hang a hat on issues green, forward-thinking, or even liberal. But just confess that you have a comfort zone and sometimes cozy trumps courage.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to When Cozy Trumps Courage

  1. Liam says:

    Good stuff. The problem might be analogized to the doing Vatican II or III or IV in a Vatican I way – and refusing to cop to it but deflecting away any engagement on it. In the context I raised this, the reasons/rationalizations given are invariably progressive-sounding ones.

    I would distinguish this from the Roger Mahony case: Mahony was described at the time of his advent in LA in the mid-80s as a conservative, and by most accounts he remained someone very attached to employing his power. It’s just that on matters liturgical, he became (unfairly) associated with less traditional/conservative praxis. The context that I raised is nothing like Roger Mahony. (Were it, I would heartily embraced your terminology; I’ve known some Roger Mahony types at the parish level. I’ve known conservative/traditionalist authoritarians. But I’ve also dealt with more than my share of ham-fistedness among lay and clerical Catholic progressives.

    It’s something of a sore point for me because I believe that it’s a particularly vulnerable Achilles’ heel for progressives (conservatives/traditionalists are less punished for being ham-fisted because there are lower expectations for them in that regard) that we have to be mindful of.

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