Friday, 4 October 2013

Testing Ideologies

Ain't No Fig Tree

The terms "ideology" and "ideological" are  used as an insult these days, more often than not.  To accuse your opponent of being ideological implies that they are out of touch with reality, closed minded, impractical, dangerous, even absolutist.  The term, "idealist" less so.  In common parlance, an idealist is someone close to sainthood--a person who puts their ideals and beliefs ahead of themselves and who is willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of a higher, nobler cause.  Usually, however, their devotion it is said that their devotion has put them out of touch with reality.  Which is to say they are slightly mad. 

Whether being ideological or an idealist is good or bad depends upon the ideology in question.  Stalin and Hitler and Mao were ideological.  They could even be said to be idealists, in the sense that they were controlled by a set of ideas bigger than themselves, to which they were committed and devoted servants.  So was Mother Theresa.  But in the case of the former, the ideology was evil; consequently the idealists devoted to it were given over to evil.  Not so with the celebrated Christian in Calcutta. 

Whether we like it or not, or are aware of it or not, every human being is controlled by ideologies of one shape or form.
  This is not a profound observation: the inescapable reality is that human beings are self-conscious, thinking creatures.  They reason (often very badly); they have ideas, principles, and standards which they accept as governing lights of their lives.  Even the person who declaims any principles or morals is acting ideologically.  But we don't usually describe such as "ideological".  It is only when a person self-consciously chooses a set of idea or principles by which he will live his life and when he articulates them and when they evidently guide his conduct that he is likely to get called "ideological".  However,  people who "go with the flow" are just as ideologically aligned: it's just that their self-awareness has languished.  Such are those called "foolish" in the Proverbs. 

To be "ideological" is not the point.  We all are.  The issue turns around the truth or falsity of one's ideology.  There is always danger, however.  The danger lies in coming to believe that one's ideology is so grand, so glorious, so important, and so ultimate, it justifies the use of any means to see it realised.  An allegedly good end justifies pursuing it by wicked means.   But here is the rub: any ideal which is used to justify wicked means immediately collapses into the wickedness and evil of the means used to achieve it. Whilst it may sound more fair, it smells foul.

We commented recently upon the ideology of Greenpeace, which believes its ideology of saving the planet from environmental degradation justifies degrading and destroying the property of others.  Elsewhere this is called theft.  But Greenpeace sees it as mere collateral damage in pursuit of a higher good.  At this point, the greenist ideology as a whole collapses into sinfulness.  An ideology which justifies evil in pursuit of its ends becomes itself evil. 

Thus a good rule of thumb in assessing the merits or otherwise of any ideology is to look carefully at the means used to advance it.  The more scrupulous care taken over the means employed, the more worthy the ideology.  (We use the adjective "scrupulous" to refer to scruples based upon biblical injunctions, such as to love one's neighbour as oneself [Luke 10:27), and to do as you would likewise have done unto you [Matthew 7:12], and to focus upon one's own faults before trying to correct others [Matthew 7:1-5], and so forth.) 

One commandment in particular ought to be focused upon.  It is truth telling versus lying.  Ideologies which deploy lies (deliberately) to attract followers or advance particular causes immediately expose the ideology to be wicked.  For example, many, if not most, politicians are past masters of this kind of behaviour--betraying both themselves and their causes as depraved.  To achieve ideological success--that is,to get power--lying to the voting public to curry their support is unfortunately de rigueur.  A political ideology which permits, even encourages such evil, is itself evil.  

The Scriptures warn that "by their fruits you shall know them" (Matthew 7:15-17).  When the means deployed to advance or serve an ideology are rotten, so is the ideology.  Good trees do not produce bad fruit. Figs do not produce thorns. 

As the sage once said, "If there are thorns growing on that there tree, it ain't no fig tree".   

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