“Of course. What is it?” he said.
“Can you explain to me whether you’re a leftist or a conservative, and why?”
Looking back now, it appears I asked him more than one question. However, as a Baptist pastor of decades, he was accustomed to people’s questions. I never once knew my grandfather to be anything but an earnest man. What’s more, he was never one for small talk. When he spoke, discerning people knew to listen.
This conversation took place many decades ago, and my grandfather has long since died. However, I remember what he said. What he told me decades ago abides with me still—namely, the importance of discernment. In short, I was to prize wisdom. The converse, he said, was also true—namely, to distance yourself from folly. I realize now that he was echoing Solomon’s words in Proverbs. He did tell me, eventually, whether he was a leftist or a conservative, by the way.
With very few exceptions, I’ve unplugged a lot from contemporary culture. Disillusioned especially by the coarseness of politics and television/movie entertainment, I prefer to read, fish, and enjoy my family. In coming days, the word trump will have more definitions after its place in the dictionary. Perhaps it’ll mean “to engage in vitriolic ad hominem attacks, especially as an evasive strategy.” Who knows? It seems that we cannot escape the deluge of worldviews in conflict. What’s better—leftism (big government; higher taxation; fewer liberties; entitlements, etc.) or conservatism (smaller government; lower taxes; individual liberty; an ethos of hard work, etc.)?
In teaching some of my students last week, I was searching for an apt illustration when explaining postmodernism in literature. I could tell, by observing their faces, that some of the language I had been using was too technical. “Think of it like this,” I said. “All is up for grabs. There’s no metanarrative, no overarching story to unite your life, or to unite anything. It’s a random universe. God is rejected; Christ is rejected; the Bible is rejected; history is rejected; distinctions between male and female are rejected. Kardashian culture and MTV paganism are the religions of the land. What used to be deemed folly and coarseness doesn’t shock us as much as it used to, and that is tragic. Wisdom is vanquished and vileness is crowned.” Then, it seemed, my students began to understand. Their facial expressions changed. They began to connect the intellectual dots.
What does my question to my grandfather, many decades ago now, have to do with why I wanted to know if my grandfather was a leftist or a conservative? What does my question have to do with postmodernism and the differences between a leftist worldview vs. a conservative worldview? The ideas are related. Solomon’s wisdom, like my grandfather’s echo of it, gets to the heart of the matter: “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:7, ESV). What my grandfather was teaching me was that wisdom and folly are deeper issues of character than politics. “If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it” (Proverbs 9:12, ESV). We’re in a day when scoffing is cool; we’re in a day when mocking is hip; we’re in a day when wisdom is maligned and manners are largely in graveyards.
The contrast to wisdom is folly. Folly is characterized in Scripture as loud, ignorant, and in love with death (Proverbs 9:13-18). Postmodernism is just this: loud, ignorant, and in love with death. Postmodernism lacks heroes because it’s impossible to be a hero when you’re given over to solipsism and despair. When all is relative, nothing is worth fighting for. There are only power plays by victimized groups. All is up for grabs, but nothing is inherently valuable, since the author of life has been killed. “If God is dead, all is permitted,” wrote Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov, a warning to the discerning about the depths to which civilizations descend when they reject God as revealed in Scripture.
The New Testament echoes the same principle: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20, ESV). The contrast between a biblical worldview regarding wisdom vs. folly is crystal clear. Discernment is inextricable from wisdom and maturity; growing up involves growing deep. This means self-discipline. When shaped by the biblical worldview, people cultivate self-discipline, and big government is unnecessary, because the people’s morality is rooted in a biblical teaching regarding the preciousness of wisdom.
But what does leftism do? It teaches that man needs government to do what unrestrained pagans will not do—namely, be self-disciplined. Instead of working hard, leftists want to take wealth from producers and redistribute it to those who won’t work. Instead of admitting that all lives matter, leftists divide people by gender, skin color, and sexual preference. For some leftists, only some lives matter.
Granddaddy taught me through his words and through his life many truths. However, what he taught me about why he was politically conservative paled in comparison to what he taught me about wisdom. Wisdom or folly; big government leftism or small government conservatism; fluid “gender identification” or men and women created in the image of God.
Paul wrote that Israel had “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:2-3, ESV). “Not according to knowledge” could be the epithet for today’s culture. I, for one, would rather learn from my grandfather.