IDEALISM, IDOLATRY AND IDEOLOGY Radical Bleeding Heart image


Idealism, idolatry, and ideology? You may think that they are very different things with similar sounding names. Not true. They are all ways of hiding from reality. The differences are primarily a matter of emphasis. Idealism and ideology are actually just forms of idolatry.

Positive and Negative. Idolatry has a positive and a negative side (in the sense of either drawing us to or repelling us from something). The positive side is an important but neglected human emotion, an attitude of worshipfulness, veneration, reverence or awe. That attitude forms a shield for the negative side of idolatry: a fearful denial of the self. Idolatry allows the individual to abandon his individuality and submerge himself in the idol, something imagined to be wonderful, glorious, and above all, perfect. It allows one to forsake the imperfections of the self, escape the terrifying need to actually think, and especially to avoid the horrible responsibility of making one's own ethical decisions.

For the majority of people, patriotism and religion are utterly incomprehensible as anything other than idolatry. The notion that one could love one's country and criticize it at the same time, for example, is literally unthinkable to them.

The Joy of Idolatry. Indeed, one of the great joys of idolatry is that it makes so much unthinkable; it destroys the horrible, painful, and terrifying burden of having to think for oneself. When you abandon yourself to the idol, you become part of something marvelous, something without flaw. Insecurity, uncertainty, and self-doubt are vaporized when you surrender yourself to the cleansing power of the idol. You are born again. You lose yourself into the perfection of the idol.

But Reality Intrudes. There is a tiny catch: the hard, cold, nasty world of reality does not ever really go away. In particular, idols are never actually perfect, and unquestioning faith in them is apt to make them far worse than they need be. For example, you can make the country you love better by criticism, but without criticism it is almost certain to get worse. Idolatry abdicates responsibility, it hands over the reins to someone else. Those who take up the reins and assume that responsibility are not, despite the illusions of the idolater, perfect.

It is certainly but barely possible that they are honorable, intelligent, well-meaning and creative. It is much, much, more likely that they are venal, self-interested and exploitive. The blind obedience that idolatry provides is a beckoning goldmine for such persons.