I think it was David Brooks who coined, years ago, the term "beyondist." A beyondist is someone who urges us to get beyond left/right distinctions, beyond partisan politics, beyond the stymied options of the day. Jim Wallis is a good example, as the title of his book God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It plainly shows.
Who can’t feel the call of beyondism? When Wallis writes, "Don’t be a liberal, don’t be a conservative, be a man or woman of faith. Don’t turn right, don’t turn left, go deeper," the response has to be: Amen, brother¯but stop preaching to the choir. Your heart gives that weird, despairing thunk of hopelessness the umpteenth time you hear a set of Democratic party talking points, Republican party rejoinders, liberal reposts, conservative retorts, leftist agitations, and righty fulminations. To be bound entirely by the political options of the day is to be lost in the perpetual quotidian¯swept down the narrowest of channels, banging from side to side and scraping off your skin as you go.
And yet it’s one thing for people to get beyond left/right distinctions, and something different to demand that people get beyond left/right distinctions. That demand to get beyond politics itself exists in a political context¯and its proposals always end up breaking for one camp or the other: The way to get beyond the liberal/conservative divide is for all of you on the other side to agree with me. It seems to be a rule that every beyondist is actually doing a little bait and switch¯like the tire store that advertises discounted radials they just happen to be out of, though they’re happy to sell you these more expensive whitewalls instead.
Here, for example, ( via the blogger Diogenes ) is an interview in U.S. Catholic with Ron Rolheiser¯Catholic priest, published author, and fulltime beyondist. "There’s a lot of polarity in the Church," the editors note, and "whether as president of a seminary where the younger, more conservative students clash with older, more liberal faculty, or as a speaker, columnist, and author, Rolheiser is often seen as a bridge who can see both sides fairly and bring them together."
So, says Rolheiser:
Today there are two schools of thought in the church. One of them is that the church needs to be trimmer and purer. If you don’t want to make the commitment, you’re out. The other school of thought says Jesus’ mercy is universal. It says the church is a family, and a family keeps embracing even when members don’t come home. A lot of conservatives want a leaner, trimmer, purer, committed church. Liberals are more likely to say Christ’s mercy and compassion is infinite and the church is a big enough family that we don’t have to be exclusivistic.
In the voice of balance¯there are two schools of thought, neither is exactly right, both see a partial view¯we get a fundamental imbalance: Conservatives want a leaner, meaner machine; liberals want an infinite and merciful family. The right errs in its pharisaic legalism; the left errs in the just-too-great generosity of its heart.
Well, maybe. But scroll down to the end of the U.S. Catholic interview , and you’ll find Fr. Rolheiser’s perfect beyondism of "Three Things for Liberals to Ponder" and "Three Things for Conservatives to Ponder."
He starts with a very interesting line from Chicago’s Cardinal George: "Liberal Catholicism is an exhausted project. Essentially a critique, even a necessary critique at one point in our history, it is now parasitical on a substance that no longer exists. It has shown itself unable to pass on the faith in its integrity and is inadequate, therefore, in fostering the joyful self-surrender called for in Christian marriage, in consecrated life, in ordained priesthood."
But Rolheiser can’t seem to trace this out to much effect¯and he ends up urging liberals to ponder the failures of their techniques, while urging conservatives to ponder the failures of their conclusions. Liberals have failed "in not appreciating or even condemning certain religious movements and practices because these offend our liberal sensitivities." Conservatives have failed because they are "focused so exclusively" on mostly sexual issues that they "no longer see the larger moral picture."
There’s beyondism’s invariable bait and switch. In religious circles, Fr. Rolheiser is by no means the most egregious (that would be Tony Campolo or Jim Wallis), but he ends where all beyondists end: selling one side in the name of overcoming sides. The left needs to see that the right has all the best techniques for extending and maintaining a position, while the right needs to see that the left has all the best positions. Now can’t we all get beyond our pesky divisions?
( Note to RJN: See, I can write a whole post for our website¯even during tournament time¯without once mentioning Georgetown’s Princeton offense . But as long as you’ve brought the subject up, I have to say that Vanderbilt is doomed on Friday. I mean, man-to-man defense against the Princeton-style backdoor cuts and 7'2" center? Not likely. Hoya Saxa.)