Volume 6, Issue 9, May 1997


We are a society addicted to ideologies. It is wise to be aware of them, for many of them can be dangerous theories. We should keep a close eye on our opinions lest they lead us to transgress against our fellows, and lest we abdicate our responsibilities as thinking beings.

Whether in politics, religion, social sciences, or education, ideologies must be recognized for what they are - theorizing, speculation, thinking, and must be carefully scrutinized, especially when the theory or system of theories is idealistic, abstract, unrealistic or farfetched.

The aim of the ideologist is to manipulate, affect or force the majority into acceptance of their idea. They invariably have all-inclusive answers to questions and usually insist on rigid definitions. They will oppose criticism and encourage passivity from their hearers. They stress belief over knowledge, emotion over thought.

Ideologies have certain identification marks that identify them. You can be fairly sure you are facing an ideology when:

1. It makes everything sound simple. Simplicity is seductive, which is why views of this kind so often meet with unanimous agreement. Fantasy can often smoothly pass itself off as reason.

We humans base our institutions on principles which we proclaim vigourously and use as ideological pedestals on which any stance looks good.

These positions advertise theories and dogmas. Usually they are presented as clear common sense points of view.

Some religious groups hold ideologies based upon literal interpretations of scriptures. Their simplistic explanations and doctrines are food for the gullible.

2. It has all the answers. A convinced ideologist has plausable pat answers to criticism, and is adept at glossing over any weak spots in their arguments. They maintain their point of view is the absolute truth, and they discourage the search for evidence on which this truth is supposed to be based.

3. It shouts down criticism. Some ideologists feel that their views are so transcendently right that freedom of speech must be suspended out of respect for their rightness. They worship sacrosanct icons, and reject as unacceptable facts or opinions that run counter to their beliefs.

The ideologist takes the position, "We stand for the right; we will not question it; we cannot back down if our idea of right clashes with those of others; we have a duty to impose what we think is right on others; we must protect our stand by crushing opposition and not count the cost; we will make practice fit our principles because right must prevail."

4. It strains credulity. People with reformist attitudes often use hair-raising statements to whip the apathetic public into line with their causes. Mussolini said of the public, "If only we can give them faith that mountains can be moved, they will accept the illusion that mountains are moveable, and thus an illusion may become reality."

5. It reaches for justification. Ideologists will go to great lengths to give an air of legitimacy and fairness to their causes. We tend to justify our mistreatment of our aboriginal people by saying they are happier and better off on their wretched little reserves and under our domination.

Religion sometimes takes the position that the end justifies the means. Some religious persons want to "save" others and the world, and will misquote and misinterpret scriptures to justify their position.

6. It speaks for "them and us". Corporate, or group thinking often dwell on grievances coming from real or supposed ill-treatment by another group. Today in our community we have arguments between the unemployed and the working, the poor and the wealthy, the older and the younger. It is quite common to hear remarks about what "they" are doing to us.

The habit of monitoring ideologies and theories, especially your own, will help us all to create a just society. Can we stand for our opinions of what is right, recognizing others have theirs, and see that both sets of opinions are simply opinions in their own settings and we will mingle and let our opinions mingle and compete with one another, though we will remain above the opinions?

Theories should be guides, not dogmas; negotiable principles, not non-negotiable ones. Like in medicine we must deal with the problem rather than the symptoms. We must do our own thinking, come to our own conclusions, and try as far as possible to distinguish truth from falsity.

The ultimate illusion is the conceit that you are free from illusion.

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"Religion NOW" is published in limited edition by the Rev. Ross E. Readhead, B.A., B.D., Certificate of Corrections, McMaster University, in the interest of furthering knowledge and participation in religion. Dialogue is invited and welcomed.