Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Matthew Sitman on leaving conservatism and Jake Meador on cultivating indifference

For your consideration, two exceptional essays from young writers worth reading.

First, Matthew Sitman tells the story of leaving the conservatism of his youth. It's a respectful and beautifully written essay. Many elements of his spiritual and intellectual journey mirror my own, and help to explain how someone who was a subscriber to National Review in his twenties could vote for Bernie Sanders in my forties. An excerpt...

Leaving conservatism behind, then, was like leaving behind my youthful fundamentalism. Both conservatism and fundamentalism assume freedom to be the foundation of our lives, not something limited by environment or resources. Both assume that virtue can conquer the brute force of circumstances. And both condemn us to a world where grace must be earned rather than freely given—a view of life that comforts and flatters the successful but can only prove cruel to everyone else.

A class-based politics acknowledges that we are bound in ways we do not choose; that we are constrained in ways that the exertion of our wills may never overcome. This is not to concede too much to defeatism or despair, but to resist making heroism a requirement for a decent life. Class politics is, finally, a form of solidarity, a way of joining together in our shared fallibility and weakness, and shaping our life together accordingly.

The tired platitude that the young, if they have a heart, should be liberal, and the old, if they have a sound mind, should be conservative, turns out to be wrong. Experience has taught me just how much contingency and chance are responsible for what good has come to me in my life. Growing up has meant an awareness that the struggles of so many are not because they lack virtue or ambition, but because we live in a country stacked against their material well-being and interests. And I know, when I think about what the people I love and so many others have endured, that it does not have to be this way.

Second, Jake Meador writes about what Protestant evangelicals might learn from the monastic tradition. In particular, the virtue of indifference. Here's how he describes it...

To be indifferent is, in the sense we are speaking of today, to be confident in the goodness of a certain way of life. It is to be immune to the appeals of popularity and relevance, committed instead to the work we have been given to do. It is to be convinced enough of your vocation that you don’t need to be bothered by many of the things that consume the attention of your peers. It is to say that you are not concerned with finding your next promotion, accumulating life experiences (which you use to build your brand on social media as well as your CV), looking for your next big house, or seeking out the right school to advance your child’s career prospects. It is to be content with the life you have been given and to work in one’s home place for its improvement rather than seeking a better place somewhere else. It is, to borrow a phrase from Berry, to acquire the joy of sales resistance.

Of course, this kind of indifference is not indifference to the world in all ways, nor is it an excuse to ignore or neglect the Christian duties we owe to our neighbors. Rather, it is in fact a necessary condition for caring for the world and our neighbors in the right way. We cannot love the world if we are preoccupied with ingratiating ourselves to it or with meeting its own standards of success. In our particular moment, it is also worth noting that integrating ourselves too much into a culture as materialistic and individualistic as ours will also have the effect of shaping us in ways that are, at best, unhelpful toward maturing in Christian love and, more probably, are actually harmful to that work. The indifference we must learn is thus not an absolute indifference, but a wise indifference that is able to see the world as it is, love it, and yet also recognize where it is not possible to be like it.

Both of these pieces moved and inspired me. I hope you'll check them out. Peace.

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