The Prodigal Son’s Older Brother and the Conservative Mind

In a previous post I wrote about how Christ’s parable of the prodigal son gives insight into the dynamic of ego and shame. I recently re-heard this reading and was struck by how the older brother in this story provides valuable insight into the mind of the anti-liberals who write and contribute to the Orthosphere and other related blogs. I use the term “anti-liberal” rather than conservative because this group of people are far to the right of what would pass for an average Republican in the United States. For example, some of them advocate a return to Monarchy. Some reject the notion that freedom is a good that a society should strive for. What seems to bind them is their rejection of liberalism, leaving aside the fact that it is always unclear just what any one person on these blogs actually considers a liberal to be.

In the parable of the prodigal son, the younger son of a rich man asks his father for his inheritance. His father gives it to him and the younger son then goes away and squanders his money on riotous living. He subsequently falls upon hard times, sees the error of his ways and returns to his father begging for forgiveness. Surprisingly, the father welcomes him home with loving arms. He clothes his son and orders the slaughtering of the fatted calf in celebration. Meanwhile the older brother who had remained loyal all this time arrives home from working in the field to see this new state of affairs and becomes angry. When his father tries to convince him to join the feast he retorts:

‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

LK 15:29-30

We can all sympathize with the older brother. Surely there should be some reward for remaining loyal. At the very least there should not be a reward for disloyalty and sinful behavior. On the other hand, the older brother is using his loyalty to justify his lack of compassion and his judgment of his younger brother. In a very similar way the folks at the Orthosphere seem very justified in judging and blaming liberals for all the evils in the world.

Now the father in the parable represents God the Father. His attitude is love and compassion and does not seem to be concerned with matters of fairness, property or finances. To him, the important thing is that the prodigal son has returned. To the older son the father says:

‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’

LK 15:31-32

Jesus ends the parable here leaving it unclear as to whether the older son was convinced by the father’s argument. I suspect that he is not, primarily because the father’s argument does not provide any new knowledge that the older son does not already possess. The older son already knows that he shares in the father’s property. In fact, this is probably part of what is upsetting him because the return of the younger son presents a challenge to the remaining portion of the father’s estate that he will eventually come to own. The fact that the younger brother was ‘lost’ and is now found probably does not change the older brother’s attitude either because while the younger son was lost he was doing all the things the older brother had the discipline not to do.

The part of the parable that does not fit the analogy where the Orthospherians are the older brother, God is the father and liberals are the younger brother is that the prodigal son actually returns to the father. In the view of the Orthospherians the liberals left with their inheritance a long time ago and never came back. They are the ones who remained loyal and are out working in the fields. Perhaps the fact that the liberals have not yet returned justifies the Orthospherian lack of compassion and judgment of them. Perhaps they would in fact join God in a feast if the liberals ever returned. But I am not so sure about that.

I suspect most liberals would interpret this parable differently as it relates to them. I suspect at least some of them would argue that they never left with their inheritance in the first place and continue to work the fields with their older more conservative brother. Perhaps they would argue they work on opposite ends of the field but are still working in the field none the less.



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16 responses to “The Prodigal Son’s Older Brother and the Conservative Mind

  1. donnie

    Winston, I am starting to wonder if you are trolling here in the hopes of generating wounded ego responses from “anti-liberals.” After all, you are a smart enough man to know that the meat of your analogy (“In a very similar way the folks at the Orthosphere seem very justified in judging and blaming liberals for all the evils in the world”) is calumny. Anti-liberals such as myself and others judge liberalism to be a false and wicked doctrine responsible for the vast majority of the political evils in our modern world. We do not judge liberals to be wicked people. I hardly need to affirm to you that as Christians we are under divine command: “Judge not, that you may not be judged.”

    Hypothesizing as to whether Orthospherians would rejoice and be glad if the world at large repented and repudiated liberalism is, as you note, worthless speculation. But the fact that you are so quick to judge the Orthospherian crowd in this counter-factual scenario reveals far more about you than it does about anyone associated with the Orthosphere.

    • Come on Donnie. I am writing on my own blog about my own observations. It is not my intention to insult anyone and I do not believe I did that in this post.

      Frankly I am glad the Othosphere exists. I am all for an authentic diversity of opinion and an authentic debate. I also think a lot of good and thought provoking points are made there.

      But lets call a spade a spade. Judging liberalism (and by extension the people who espouse liberalism) is the primary function of the Orthosphere. I find it odd you would think this observation is insulting.

      • donnie

        and by extension the people who espouse liberalism

        False. This is calumnious and I find it shocking that this is somehow not obvious to you. The Orthosphere exists as a small ensemble of voices crying out in the internet wilderness, “Liberalism is false and wicked, it must be repented of and repudiated.” It does not exist to judge those who hold liberal commitments whatsoever and I cannot recall a time in which any article I’ve read in this corner of the internet has done so. Furthermore, I don’t know of a single Orthospherian / Traditionalist who isn’t also a former liberal himself, so if anyone were standing over his liberal brother in judgement over him it would be awfully hypocritical.

        Nevertheless, you have here tried to draw connections between the anti-liberal Orthospherians and the unmerciful brother in Our Lord’s parable of the prodigal son, going so far as to question whether the Orthospherian crowd would actually be happy if the world in which they passionately pray for, a world where polities have en masse repented of and repudiated liberalism, actually came to fruition. You say you do not intend your musings to be insulting toward us anti-liberals but I am hard-pressed to find how they could be taken any other way.

      • I’m sorry you feel that way Donnie. I can say that I have experienced judgment from certain people who comment on the Othosphere so I stand by what I said. And of course it was not intended to apply to everyone who writes or comments there but I think you know that.

        BTW I have no desire to get into another extended back and forth with you. If you have a different point to make please do. If you are just going to repeat the same point please don’t. And if my blog offends you please feel free not to read it.

      • donnie

        I can say that I have experienced judgment from certain people who comment on the Othosphere so I stand by what I said.

        I’m sorry about that Winston. Obviously I do not know the individual instances that you’re referring to, but we are both in agreement that it is wrong for individuals to judge others.

        I am reminded of the sad fact that there are those within the pro-life movement who judge their neighbors and countrymen for being pro-choice. Sadly, I know of more than one person who believes that because abortion is a vile and wicked crime and supporting it is grave matter, that anyone who supports the legality of abortion must be a vile, wicked, gravely sinful person. Casting judgement upon people like this is wrong. Beliefs we can judge as true or false. Actions we can judge as morally right or wrong. But judgement of individual persons is reserved for God alone.

        That said, I do not believe that two wrongs make a right. Which is why when I hear or read pro-choice people say things like, “I wonder if pro-lifers would really be happy if abortion was outlawed. Perhaps they would be happy that they achieved what they worked hard and prayed for, but I am not so sure about that” I find it insulting. I’m sure you can see why.

      • That is a fair point. In truth that was sort of a throw away line and a very minor point in my over all discussion. I can see how it would be insulting and for that I sincerely apologize for my poor choice of words.

      • donnie

        Appreciate the retraction, Winston. Apology accepted.

      • BTW if you want an example of the judgement I am referring to read Zippy’s recent post “Objective Freedom…” and the comment section.

      • donnie

        I don’t find his OP to be judgemental of liberals, it reads in my view as an explanation of his central thesis regarding what acts of authority are and why this reality means that liberalism (even in its broadest sense as per his own definition) is either self-contradictory or tautological. I do agree with the central point argued for in his post.

        But you are right about some of the comments and I cannot and will not defend Mike and Zippy’s callous agreement that being a modern leftist is indicative of having a psychiatric disorder.

        Personally I suspect that if people en masse repented of and repudiated liberalism it would do wonders to improve mental health. But I say this not because I believe that anyone committed to some form of liberalism is likely to be deranged, that is manifestly false. Rather, I say this because I believe that any action that brings a person closer to the Truth is bound to have positive effects on that person’s psyche.

      • If truth is what we’re really after then the truth of the judgment of liberals needs to be addressed. It needs to be addressed because it speaks to motive. It is disingenuous for some (not all) of these anti-liberals to say that they hold their beliefs out of a search for truth when in fact the real reason they hold these beliefs is because they quite literally “get off” on judging other people. It makes them feel good about themselves in other words. Again this applies to some and not all.

      • donnie

        This is true of course but it applies to all people who hold any sort of belief, not just anti-liberals. And I don’t think the motives you describe are mutually exclusive. Many people come to form their beliefs through a truth-seeking process, but find after the fact that their self-assurance of being in the right gives them a sense of righteous superiority.

        Again, I think Franklin’s insight is wise:

        In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.

      • When I catch that judgement vibe it makes me question the truth of the matter asserted. It may very well be true but judgment does call it into question because when a person becomes judgmental in that way their beliefs become rigid and blinded to arguments and evidence which might disprove their position.

      • donnie

        A person judgemental of those who disagree with him may indeed be impossible to argue with. But allowing their behavior to cloud your judgement of their arguments is simply an example of the ad hominem fallacy working within your own mind.

        Plenty of history’s greatest contributors to knowledge were intransigent, irritable, and vindictive. Galileo comes to mind – he was right, but when he wrote Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World he did so in a way that was deliberately intended to portray the Pope, his former friend, as a simpleton. Perhaps if he had been less of a jerk Pope Urban VIII would have been more interested in engaging with him, as he had been during his days as a Cardinal. Unfortunately, that was not how events played out. But every time an atheist friend brings up the Galileo incident as evidence that the Church is “wrong” because it is “anti-science”, I can’t help but wonder how things might have turned out if Pope Urban had only paused for a moment to realize that it is rare for a genius to also be a saint.

      • It is similar to the ad hominem fallacy except that in this case I am not attacking the person making the argument it is the person making the argument who is discrediting himself.

  2. thordaddy


    You can’t turn Orthosphereans into “haters” because that collective are not white Supremacists. But what you should recognize as a self-confessed “liberal” is that by imagining Orthosphereans as “white supremacists,” you can turn them into “haters.” And this is the basic ideological mechanism of the radical liberationist. Yet, ultimately, such a mechanism self-destructs for the simple fact that it is a false construction.

    “Liberalism” is a perpetuating self-annihilation.

    Granting freedom is higher than just plain freedom and so a government believing itself to grant freedom can be tyrannical in doing so. MRKA is exhibit A for those of us preferential to direct experience.

    • I don’t believe I turned the people of the Orthosphere into haters. Nor have I labeled myself to be a liberal except to say that I believe that the striving for the freedom and equality of its citizens is a worthy and coherent pursuit of a government. This agrees with Zippy’s definition but I don’t believe this is the definition of liberalism that most people use.

      Please note: I will allow your comments if they are written in coherent English. But if they are written in your secret language I will delete them going forward.

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