Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ambidextrous, or undextrous, issues

Quiz: Is the following a right-wing or a left-wing statement?
"Raising children shouldn't have to be a counter-cultural exercise"
Alternately, was that a liberal or a conservative statement?
  1. Right-wing/conservative
  2. Left-wing/liberal.
  3. Neither.
  4. You have heard that it was said, "there are no dumb questions." But I say to you, this one is dumb; it's got nothing to do with left or right.
I first heard this (the question, not the answers) from Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics—a terrific speaker by the way. His point: many things we care about aren't a matter of left or right. Here's another one:

The younger teen heard about the "post secrets" website. I'm not sure about the spelling, but the premise is that people write their "secrets" (loosely defined) on postcards and send them, anonymously, to this guy. He posts some on his site, and I believe he has a book or two. One postcard had small images of magazine covers -- Cosmopolitan and the like. Scrawled next to them was this message:
I will subscribe if your magazine ever says I don't have to have sex with whoever comes along.
Another right-wing nutcase? I don't think so. Donna Freitas, BU professor and author of Sex and the Soul, was interviewed recently in Christianity Today; (the Winston-Salem Journal also interviewed her; article here). She comments that almost everyone (whether male or female) is dissatisfied with the "hook-up" culture of commitment-free sex. A self-identified liberal feminist, Professor Freitas is no right-wing anything, though she teaches from Shallit's Return to Modesty and its ilk. The CT interview quotes her saying collegiate sexual behavior really isn't a left/right issue.

As a father of teen-age daughters, I'm somewhat terrified about the atmosphere at non-evangelical colleges (according to Freitas's interviews of an admittedly small sample of colleges, sexual attitudes and behavior are bi-modal: evangelical schools are extremely restrained, and the others -- including Catholic schools -- are sexually very indulgent). Yeah, I know, I'm a right-wing nutcase. By the way, it was a mistake to invade Iraq; the government should get involved in lowering health care costs; and we should raise taxes in California right now to relieve the squeeze on essential services! (Uh, make that a left-wing nutcase.)

Seriously, though, we have a real problem in this country with dialogue on substantive issues. Sex, health care, child-rearing, poverty -- even the abortion rate -- are not really left/right issues, but we've let the politicians make them so. And by the way, as Wallis says, both left- and right-leaning politicians "get it wrong" when it comes to God. More important than left or right is -- well, let me take a line from E. Stanley Jones:
Whose you are, not who you are, is the most important question in anyone's life.
As indeed it is. The problems we face are largely not left/right issues. "Ambidextrous" isn't quite correct either (my brother-in-law points out that the "dextrous" there means "right"). Un-handed?

As Wallis says, they're human issues, not left- or right-wing issues. So what can we do? One thing is to treat each other as beings made in the image of God, not economic units or as means to self-fulfillment. To try to be awake rather than sleepwalking through life. To be mindful...

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