I realise from some of the comments I have received on my previous post that the word “ideology” has many different connotations — some good, some bad. As I said in my previous post, I started out with a positive story about ideology myself. After my conversation with the woman who was a social activist I began to see the dark side of ideology. That’s why I wrote the post, to encourage Christians to think more like Jesus and not become “ideological.”
The need to make distinctions
Idealism, ideology and self-righteousness all have the same root cause, as my brother John pointed out — “I am right and I know I’m right, which makes you wrong if you disagree.” We Christians must distinguish between having a strong faith and belief and acting out of one of these three “sinful attitudes.” [Sinful as I am using it here means “missing the target.”] Idealism, like any “ism” goes to the extreme. According to the OED, idealism bases a system of thought on ideas not actual real life. Ideology does the same thing, justifying our actions regardless of events. Self-righteousness goes even further, placing us at the center of the universe, assuming we have god-like power to decide which ideas and actions are right. I hope you can see why I believe Christians need to be on guard against ideology, idealism and self-righteousness.
The virtue of prudence
St Thomas Aquinas described the antidote for these sinful attitudes — the virtue of prudence. “Prudence applies universal principles to particular situations . . .Prudence is needed for acting in the right way. It especially demands the mean (middle way) in acting for we can fall short of or exceed reason.” From this brief summary of his thought we can see how by applying this virtue Christians can avoid the sins of ideology, idealism and self-righteousness:
- We should suspect impulsive decisions or actions, especially in serious situations, which we do without thinking. Prudence requires we take the time to apply reason.
- We need to be aware of making generalizations, without also taking into account specific situations. Prudence requires that we both apply general principles and be aware of the effects in specific situations.
- We need to choose the mean not the extreme, in how we act in specific situations. We can be too lenient or too strict in responding.
- There are principles, which ought to guide our right way of acting. Prudence says we need to always bring the ultimate principle of love into our thinking and actions.