Tuesday, June 19, 2012


In my previous post I reviewed the book, The Republican Brain by Chris Mooney.  I attempted to give a reasonable honest evaluation, but I confessed that I have shared the author’s expressed frustrations.  I also stated that “this book has helped me in unexpected and unintended way in dealing with these frustrations.”  I said of this a number of times, “more later.”

Well, this is the “later”!

There were times in reading the book that I almost came to tears.  I kept telling Uni, “I feel like this guy has got inside my brain” and “now I understand why I think the way I do!”

No, I don’t have a “Republican Brain.”  Mooney spends much time analyzing more than that.  Mainly he attempts to show the differences between the liberal and the conservative brains.  He gives characteristics of both kinds of brain, which I tried to list on the previous post.  Sherry gave some good definitions in her comment:  “it was always my understanding that the original meanings of liberal & conservative, before the religious or political connotations, had to do with how we accept new ideas which seems to be the bulk of what he's saying.
liberal: broad-minded; especially not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms
conservative: traditional; tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions; marked by moderation or caution.”

Yes, it’s that clear.  All the studies reinforce these definitions.

And I am a liberal.  I can’t help it!  According to the studies, my brain is wired that way.  I apparently was born with these characteristics and they were there long before I made any political commitments.  God made me this way!  Yes, it’s true that external circumstances have and have had much to do with my thinking, my political, religious and other views, but it is the mind I was born with that interacted with my circumstances and formed these views.

As far back as I can remember I have thought differently and never knew why I did so.  I questioned my teachers and was suspicious of authority.  All through elementary school, high school, college and seminary (grad school) I frequently found myself out of step.  And what bothered me most was that most of my contemporaries hadn’t any problems with the questions that troubled me.

It seems that the teachers and professors that I clashed with were those that other students loved, while the ones I loved were often thought of as second rate.  I even discovered this of my students when I taught in college.

I have often found myself in conflict with persons with whom I thought I shared many basic views and opinions.  I have been called a contrarian, a non-conformist, a radical, a liberal or just plain ignorant.  I’ve had my faith called into question.  I can’t count the times I’ve been told that I “have trouble with authority.”  And Mooney’s book has helped me understand both myself and those with whom I clash.  I am a liberal.  And apparently most of those I associate with are conservatives.

When I read a book (see:  BOOKS) or an article (or am given any new information), I absorb it, I take it in.  In a sense, I “suspend disbelief.”  I want to know the writer’s thinking.  I question his or her assertions.  I compare them with my existing beliefs and opinions.  Some of the assertions I accept, some I integrate, some I reject, some I allow to correct me and some I “suspend” without accepting or rejecting.  And much of this happens without my necessarily being conscious of it.  According to the definitions and characteristics mentioned in my previous post, this is the way a liberal thinks!

I am “open to experience”; I “hold my views tentatively”; I am “tolerant of uncertainty”’ I am “nuanced in my thinking.”  It’s not that I make any effort to think this way – I just do!  [And it’s taken me a lifetime to learn to accept that I am this way and be comfortable with who I am.]

But many of those with whom I dialogue (or attempt to) seem to have an automatic reject button.  New information is examined as to whether it comports with their currently held beliefs.  If not, it is not only rejected, there is an immediate attempt to refute it.  These people are “less open to experience”; they are “authoritarian”; the “need to defend their beliefs strongly.”  Again, they just think this way – they are conservatives.  They exercise “motivated reasoning.”

I recognize that most of us do not fit cleanly and clearly into these categories.  In fact, most of us could be considered conservatives at some times and liberals at others.  We employ the characteristics of the other group at times.  I believe that liberals are especially prone to become conservatives when they are absolutely convinced of their position.   After all, as some wise person warned in the past, we mustn’t keep our minds so open that everything falls out.

I would even go so far as to say that there are many in the liberal “camp,” especially politically – those who hold positions usually attributed to liberals – who are actually psychologically conservatives and demonstrate all the characteristics usually attributed to conservatives.  Their motivated reasoning outdoes that of those who disagree with them.  Then, too, there are those in the conservative camp who demonstrate liberal thinking.

So, while according to the psychological studies, I have a liberal brain, when it comes to my faith in Christ and my acceptance of the Scriptures, I am a conservative.  Psychological studies have no way of accounting for the work of the Spirit of God (WHY DO I BELIEVE?).

Yet, at the same time I find myself questioning many of the cherished beliefs of my conservative Christian friends.  In fact, my certainty of the truthfulness of Scripture works with my liberal brain when I apply Scriptural truth to those beliefs.  And many of my beliefs are changing.  My conservative friends may feel revulsion when I say that my thoughts are evolving, but they are.  I hope they keep evolving.   And I pray that they are in the direction of conformity to Christ.


KenMullins said...

I would like to respond, but as a conservative, I have rejected Chris Mooney ideas without any serious consideration. (smile)

However, it seems that I have some liberal areas and some more conservative areas and even within these I see a continuum from very liberal to very conservative.

I sense significant truth in what he is saying, but I want to approach this with caution and moderation until all the facts are in…and while I am at it question Chris’ authority.

Bill Ball said...

Ken: A few things:
First, "all the facts" will never be in.
Second, I don't take Chris's authority for the data in these two posts. He cites numerous scientific studies. We may disagree with some of his conclusions, but he does present massive amounts of evidence.
Third, what struck me was how much his claims explained and confirmed my own personal experiences.
Interestingly Mart DeHaan of RBC Ministries cites an article by him in his "Been Thinking About" (www.beenthinkingabout.org). I cited the same article in a previous post (Don't Confuse Me With The Facts 6/6/11).

Sherry said...

well, I always figured I somehow got my life quote from you:
conform and be dull
I just figured it was nurturing, not nature