In recent weeks, it’s been hard to miss the many headlines about our hate for one another. On the global stage, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un continues to provoke the world with nuclear tests and missile launches. He threatens South Korea, Japan, the U.S., and broader human civilization, really. In Myanmar, thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been crossing the border into Bangladesh to escape a brutal religious persecution against them in their own country. They now face unjust, unspeakable traumas, deprivations, and grim futures. Much closer to home in our own country, recent protests by the KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, and others in the Alt Right grew deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia. Many who opposed these groups were injured. One person was killed in the ‘spirit’ of protecting Confederate statues, racial and religious bigotry, and a ‘white is right’ mentality. Meanwhile, Antifa, a loosely affiliated group formed to combat racism and unjust economic privilege, continues to use violence and force to prevent giving ‘voice’ to these radicals on the right. In other words, the ends justify the means, whatever that means. And even as all this has unfolded, the Trump Administration stays on-message with calls for his border wall to keep all the ‘undesirable illegals’ out from Mexico and other Latin American countries.
What do all these acts of hate have in common? They’re coming from people, organizations, groups, and even countries that feel gravely threatened (however real or not) from within or without. These entities perceive dangers to their coveted political, social, economic, ethnic, cultural, and religious ideologies. Sometimes these ideologues fight back. With words, ideas, social media outlets, threats, intimidation, and violence. At other times, they flee and hide. Live to fight another day in a way of speaking. In even other instances, they confuse, stonewall, cover-up, or skirmish from behind the protection of ‘walls’ as constituted in many forms. But, perhaps, their weapon of choice is to circle-in more tightly. To gather the true believers closer to their ideological centers. And, in the process, to create isolated, misinformed communities of followers. To grow like a malignant cancer, exploiting the very life source of their organizations. To build the ‘brand’ while silently killing the souls of those who associate with it.
The radical ideologues highlighted here are admittedly extreme examples of threatened ‘species’ of truth-mongers. But we would be wise to look for many far more subtle and nuanced ideologies in our own respective lives. And to consider the dangers of anyone or anything that purports to hold sole truth in any space: be it our places of employment, universities, membership organizations, political parties, favorite media providers, or even our places of worship. If so, what are these dangers? For one, any too-tightly-held ideology stunts individual growth and actualization—all in the name of subsuming the real identities of its followers. And, all too often, affiliation with strict and rigid ideologies fosters an un-anchoring of followers’ existing beliefs, relationships, thinking, and associations. In the void, followers are more susceptible than ever to isolation, self-doubt, and dependency on the control of others for receiving any affirmation. It gives way to an abdication of our own agency and empowerment. In the process, our options become more limited. And even these options are largely dictated to us. In other words, false ones. But worse yet, rigid ideologies of any kind utterly re-define words, meanings, rituals, and symbols for us. As members adopt these new things, they lose their ability to thoughtfully discern the sometimes hurtful, dubious values that really sit underneath them.
In all of this, you’d be right to respond that good, worthy, and loving causes have absolutely nothing to do with hurtful ideology. And, admittedly, there are myriad good causes worth protecting and even fighting for. Second, you’d be right to point out that the danger of various ideologies is relative. They’re all not created equally, for it’s always a matter of ‘degree’. Third and lastly, you’d be right to qualify my warnings, stating that our memberships in these upstanding organizations are wholly voluntary. We’re not forced into compliance. We’re not subjected to any mind-altering propaganda. There are no overly-strict rules of conformance in order to belong. So be it, point taken on each of these three points. But it’s still worth staying vigilant nonetheless. And the pivot point in this regard is ‘truth’. More specifically, important questions around the truths that are critical to membership or affiliation with any ideology:
- How does the ideology that you associate with handle matters of ‘truth’?
- Who decides what is true?
- Who really benefits from their definitions of truth?
- How are these truths actually helping you (or not), especially when you’re in crisis?
- How open are these organizations or ideological thought leaders to questions, examination, and challenge from others?
- How do these entities handle those who openly disagree?
- How democratic and engaging are their decision-making processes?
- Do their words and actions actually align with their purported values—especially when those values are supposed to be around inclusive love, charity, justice, compassion, and grace?
- Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, how do these entities react and respond to perceived threat? What happens when they feel that they’re under fire? You’ll get the truest sense of their actual agenda when they’re under pressure as a threatened species.
You’d be wise to keep an eye on all these things… even if everything appears to be fine on the outside. You’d also be wise to do a ‘health-check’ periodically. Do this because your truest identity lies not in some ideology or some over-engineered idea of belonging. No. It lies, rather, in yourself—in the very self that God has uniquely created in you. And that God continues to nourish. You do your part by looking to the very God who calls you to love and serve according to God’s inherent values that we all existentially carry. And by carrying these values with proper boundaries: be they spiritual, emotional, relational, or rational and analytical.
So, by all means, go ahead and belong. Stay connected. Believe in ideas, ideals, causes, and people. But with an ongoing vigilance and discernment. Especially when you and others around you are struggling. Like endangered species. Especially when someone who’s supposed to be ‘in the know’ has told you that you’re threatened. Especially when preserving the ‘party-line’ of accepted ideology is the first and only real priority in the ideology’s quest for continued self-preservation. Especially then…