- File Size: 5243 KB
- Print Length: 212 pages
- Publisher: Greg Kofford Books (September 24, 2014)
- Publication Date: September 24, 2014
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00NMS3GL2
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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The Liberal Soul: Applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Politics Kindle Edition
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Davis takes up several specific topics: the use of wealth, care and concern for the poor and vulnerable, environmental stewardship, war, abortion, unity, the role of government, and what role (if any) religion should play in government and public life. He sees a role for action at three levels--individual, group, and government (which should be the agent of society's will)--in tackling the most important problems of the day. He does not excuse the individual from responsibility for his or her choices (quite the opposite, in fact), nor does he argue that governmental policy is a substitute for individual responsibility. He is at particular pains, however, to develop an argument for a robust role for government, against contentions that government is either the problem, or that its role should be minimal and limited to protecting property rights. I don't find all of his reasoning flawless. For example, I think he errs in his attempted analogy between affirmative action and Joseph Smith's search for redress for the victims of early anti-LDS persecution. I also think he is naïve and unrealistic in his assessment of the proper response of the average person to the armed home invader or mugger, and therefore the analogy he is attempting to draw between this situation and national self-defense is weak. On the whole, though, I applaud his straightforwardness in asking readers to think about what it really means to be a disciple of Christ, and how discipleship should inform one's view of, and behavior in, politics.
Many will disagree with Davis (though those who would take the strongest exception to his views are not likely to finish the book). It's a quick read, though, and worth the small investment of time. An equally short, clear presentation of the view he is countering would be equally welcome.
Davis, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University, takes his title from Proverbs 11:25: "The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself." As one who is 1) liberal, 2) Mormon, and 3) fat, this verse gives me great hope. Davis defines the "liberal soul" broadly--not merely as an adherent of a set of 21st century positions trademarked as "liberal," but as an open-minded, generous, fair, and thoughtful individual who adopts Jesus Christ as a model for treating other people. Liberal souls do not have to be political liberals, but they certainly can be. And, Davis argues, there are a number of areas in which the current "liberal" (tm) position fits more closely with the tenets of Christian morality than the corresponding conservative (tm) position. Liberal souls can indeed be political liberals, and Mormons had better figure that out soon or they risk becoming a ridiculously exclusive American club instead of an International Church and a force for good in the world.
The first chapter of The Liberal Soul is downright magnificent. In it, Davis dismantles the most important objection that conservative Christians make to liberal government policies, which is that (according to some imaginary reading of the New Testament) Jesus wanted individuals to take care of the poor, not the government. Davis argues, clearly and forcefully, that this line of reasoning badly mischaracterizes the role of the government in a democratic society (a thing which nobody in the Old or the New Testaments ever experienced). The government, Davis insists, is an "us," not a "them." It is not an oppressive force of evil. Rather, it is the mechanism through which a free people create the society that they want to live in. Those of us who believe that a society should care for the less fortunate, protect the environment, promote education, or otherwise try to make people's lives better should and must work, to some extent, through the government. This is what governments are for.
In each chapter, Davis moves from the responsibilities of the individual, the responsibilities of groups, and the responsibility of society, which are best performed through the agency of the government. He banishes (hopefully forever, but I am a realist) the notion of government as a bumbling, incompetent, Colonel Klink character who can't do anything right. And he replaces it with the government of Hamilton and Madison--the imperfect, but not incompetent vehicle that people in a democracy use to create their society. He points to a number of things--roads, schools, public universities, etc.--that government has done reasonably well--and that would not have been accomplished if left in private hands. The rhetoric of "the government as enemy," he believes, has been, at best, irresponsible, and, at worst, delusional. And though many LDS public figures have engaged in this rhetoric, including some general authorities, it has never been the policy of a Church whose scriptural canon contains such statement as "we believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man" (D&C 134:1).
After this first chapter, Davis moves through most of the hot button political issues of the current age. Subsequent chapters deal with racial and gender equality, homophobia, welfare, separation of church and state, environmentalism, and war. In each chapter, he builds the case that the politically liberal positions on these issues are at least defensible according to LDS Doctrine and Christian morality--and that, in many cases, the liberal positions better in line with the expectations of Christian discipleship than the conservative ones.
But Davis is not merely countering strident conservatism with strident liberalism. He is not saying that one must be a political liberal to be a good Mormon. But he is saying that the corollary argument--that one cannot be a good Mormon and a good political liberal--is flat out wrong. Not only is it wrong, it is morally indefensible, as it creates unnecessary and hurtful divisions within the Body of Christ. Latter-day Saints in the global Church come from a staggering variety of political positions. The constant insistence of some in our community that one cannot be a good Mormon and a good liberal is as dangerous as it is ridiculous. It drives people away for no good reason. Richard Davis's new book is a spectacularly important reminder that the Body of Christ has a left hand side as well.
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