America's Bad Bardo
Both liberals and conservatives in the West have a similar problem. The problem has to do with the Christian concept of time.
It's responsible for both the bullying by gay marriage advocates and the tragedy of the Duggar family, the conservative Christian clan with nineteen kids, one of whom is now facing charges of sexual abuse.
In Christianity, time moves in a straight line. There was the time before Christ (BC), when the pagan world struggled to find its way out of darkness. Christ changed the world and even altered the calendar; we now live in the world after Christ (AD), when Christians, as the Catholics say in Mass, "wait in joyful anticipation" for the return of Jesus.
This concept of time is responsible for the political and religious impasse, or culture war, that the West has been engaged in for five decades. It also reveals why those who have doubts about Christianity may be the only ones to offer an accurate assessment of how the culture war will end.
On the political and Christian left, the arrow of time means that there is a certain inexorable march of progress. Time moves from the Dark Ages of sexism, racism, and homophobia to the sunny fields of gay marriage and multiculturalism. But this Marxist concept of "being on the right side of history," tends to ultimately result in destruction. Ideas about treating workers more fairly than they did in the 19th century translates into mandated wage hikes, which wind up killing jobs and businesses. The desire to treat women as equals, the idea behind feminism, translates into Sex in the City depredations of having women behave like thoughtless, promiscuous men. The progressive love of multiculturalism becomes quotas. And gay "marriage" heralds not a bright new age, but a return of the debased eros of the Greek and Roman empires.
On the other side are the conservatives. Conservatives have been under assault by secular liberals in the past few decades. As the left has piled victory upon victory -- resulting in what will likely be the national recognition of gay "marriage" as a right -- conservatives have been unable to offer anything in return. This failure of imagination might be because conservatives abandoned those things which form the consciousness of a culture and a nation: music, film, art, novels, pop culture in general. This is largely do the religious conservatives' concept of time -- before the 1960s was America's golden age, and the only way to fix society is to return to the norms of that era.
Whereas the left sees time as bending inexorably towards justice, even if that justice conflicts with biology and human reason, to the political right the linear nature of Christian time means that we are entering a period of decadence and tribulation before the return of Christ. To the left, stamping out opposition is simply helping along the inevitable. To the right, there's no need to create art or engage the popular culture, as civilization is collapsing and who knows how long we have before the Second Coming. While the left has an entire infrastructure to deliver professionally crafted movies, TV shows, novels and music to the willing masses, the right offers Mike Huckabee filling in on bass.
But what if both sides are wrong? What if the punitive tone of many gay "marriage" supporters curdles into actual fascism? And what if the reaction to that, the conservative right, continues to respond by waiting on Jesus and offering us tragedies like the Duggar family?
If that's the case, then it might be time to reconsider the Christian concept of time.
In Buddhism there is the concept of the bardo, a period of transition between a death and rebirth. Buddhists believe that people experience many deaths and rebirths in their lives, and the bardo is both filled with suffering, stress, and confusion -- but also a chance to gain greater wisdom and freedom. An example might be when a relative dies or a relationship ends. A person is cast into a period of turmoil, but also has an opportunity for an increase in knowledge and understanding.
A bardo can also be a place of danger as hallucinations caused by bad karma can trigger a disadvantageous rebirth. It seems that in the last few decades of the culture war, and culminating in the conflict over gay "marriage," the Western world has been undergoing a bardo. Considering the increasing intolerance of the left, particularly with regard to violating the conscience of those who oppose same-sex "marriage," it seems like the conservatives may ultimately be proven correct.
However, if Jesus is not coming back to save the day even as civilization crumbles, America and the West may be left with a more mundane and depressing outcome. We may be birthed into a new life that is less free than the one it replaced.
And we'll just have to wait for the next bardo to try and correct the karmic damage.