"Liberal" and "Conservative" Labels
It looks like The Biblioblog Top-50 might reinstate the practice of labeling us by our liberal/conservative leanings. I can't say I'm upset by this idea in the way Jason Staples is, and wonder if strenuous objections owe to a certain insecurity about the way one is perceived. We shouldn't take this stuff too seriously. I'm amazed at how I've been pegged over the past five years: flaming liberal, moderate liberal, secular liberal, Christian liberal, moderate conservative -- one reader even thought I was an evangelical if you can believe it -- but it's been more curious than troubling.
For the sake of fun experimenting, however, I do like Jason's proposal (in the second of his six reasons for objecting) about expanding our platform for assessing what it means to be liberal/conservative. It puts me in mind of The Political Compass which rates one's politics on two scales -- a social axis and an economical one. For example, I'm a strong social liberal (way down on the vertical axis) but a fiscal moderate (only slightly to the left of center on the horizontal one).
In like manner, Jason proposes three axes to assess liberal/conservative leanings in biblical studies: a theological axis (one's reputation based on personal beliefs), a scholarly axis (one's openness or resistance to new scholarly ideas), and a critical axis (one's willingness or not to engage and interact with those outside one's camp). This isn't a bad start, and based on the way Jason describes them I suppose I'd be liberal across the board. I'm obviously a secular liberal in terms of personal religious beliefs (or lack thereof); I continually endorse thinking outside the box; and I've always warmed to the philosophy of John Meier which is mirrored on the biblioblogosphere -- interacting with and taking the best from all camps of scholarship, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, evangelical, agnostic, and atheist alike.
Why is it, then, that I've been pegged as conservative on some occasions? The only thing I can think is that certain conclusions I reach are rather traditional -- and perhaps boringly so. But as Mark Goodacre often says in his podcast, being scholarly sometimes requires being a spoilsport. (I.e. Biblical scholarship can't always do for us what we want it to do, and sometimes the traditional, trite and mundane is exactly what was originally meant.) So maybe we need a fourth axis for Jason's model, based on conclusions one reaches after testing ideas however wild and radical. On this axis I suppose I could be properly construed as a "moderate" or even "moderate conservative", which would account for the way I've been pegged in certain quarters.
So here's a homework assignment for someone: come up with a test analogous to the Political Compass, but with four axes instead of two, and we'll have a decent way of assessing ourselves. But smile and have fun about it, if we really must. Getting down to it, I don't care too much how I'm labeled -- whether by the Biblioblog Top-50 or others -- even if it's interesting to see the variety of perception.
UPDATE: Stephen Carlson makes crystal clear how he feels about the issue.
UPDATE (II): Rick Sumner weighs in, and it's been nice to see him blogging again.
UPDATE (III): The Biblioblog Top-50 has decided not to proceed with the idea. They will introduce "periodic surveys of bibliobloggers on various topics" instead.