“Isms”, Ideology, and Idealogues

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By definition, an ism is a distinct doctrine, cause or theory.  Capitalism, communism, socialism, liberalism, and conservatism, for example, all define a specific view of social order and individual rights.  Catholicism, Buddhism, Mormonism, and Taoism, agnosticism, and atheism, in one way or another, attempt to describe, justify, and explain questions of metaphysics and meta-ethics.  They not only define what is “true” but also attempt to explain the limits of human knowledge:  this is what we know, here is how we know it, and these are the questions of which we will never be capable of finding an answer.   Isms also provide a sense of identity for individuals, communities, and even nations.  By self-identifying as a conservative capitalist, or a liberal socialist, we communicate volumes about our general beliefs and on how we view the world.

Isms are also valuable in helping us understand socio-political dynamics and interaction.  If, for example, we know that a nation is heavily influenced by socialism or capitalism, we can better understand and predict how that nation will respond to both internal and external events.  Isms, therefore, are extremely useful as descriptive mechanisms.  Despite their usefulness, however, isms can present unique and serious challenges.

One of the many difficulties presented by isms is that they often lead their adherents to form opinions, make decisions, and develop perspectives based not on how the world really is, but rather on how these adherents wish there world were.  For some, isms become so pervasive that they transcend being merely descriptive, and come to represent a type of dogmatic truth claim.  Isms, then, lead to ideology, and ideology inevitably leads to ideologues.

Certainly it is beneficial, and perhaps even necessary for  individuals to formulate  general ideas and assumptions about the purpose and function of life, society, and the world they observe.  However, when these ideas and assumptions themselves begin to trump and take precedence over the practical and tangible impact that the ideas inevitably create, unfortunate outcomes are almost sure to follow.  In the most extreme cases, for example,  social injustice is ignored for the sake of capitalism and violent atrocities are ignored for the sake of communism.

We all adopt and embrace isms to one degree or another.  They are helpful shortcuts which aid us in processing and compartmentalizing information.  But if we find ourselves embracing an ism such that we become ideologues, we implicitly place dogmatic idealism into a good in itself.  Which, of course, is absolutely absurd.  Ideas about “how the world works” are simply means to an end.  When abstract ideas about how society, religion, and other community relationships should function, overshadow the actual needs of members of pluralistic societies and communities,  human needs will always be considered secondary.  And as we have seen in the past century, when ideology becomes a ruling force, human life suffers; often in the most horrific and tragic ways imaginable.

This is not to say that the acceptance or embrace of a particular ism is problematic, in itself.  This is demonstrably not the case.  I myself embrace Mormonism (albeit in a nontraditional form) as well as classical liberalism.  I also consider myself a social contract theorist; social contractism, as it were.

Isms are useful descriptive shortcuts to help us gain quick broad understandings of the world around us in those who occupy it.  However, when we begin to embrace isms as goods in themselves; something to be valued primarily as an overarching truth, we’ve essentially flipped things on their head.

Isms are meant to serve as a useful tool for people.  People are neither meant to serve, nor worship at the metaphorical feet, of any ism or ideology.

 

“You Lock People Out of the Kingdom of Heaven”

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Hypocrisy and self-righteousness have been an unfortunate blight on world religions.  And, while Western religion has shown itself to be very adept at producing individuals with such unseemly qualities, the East has produced its own fanatics as well.  Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos all taught against thinking oneself better, or more beloved by God, simply by virtue of a particular religions institutional position, or status as a chosen people.  The Buddha, although subtly, preached against the Brahmans and their rituals.  Jesus too, reserved his anger and righteous indignation not for mere sinners — but for hypocrites.

The LDS Church recently excommunicated Kate Kelly, a woman who organized and led the “Ordain Women” movement.  I don’t think anyone really saw the excommunication as a surprise but as was recently noted at By Common Consent, some Latter-day Saints seem absolutely giddy at the thought of Kate Kelly’s fate.  After I initially read the post at BCC my initial reaction was that yes, there are certain nasty people out there who revel in other’s misery but they are no different than your standard Internet troll; those who do nothing but stir up anger and contention for no other reason than to be entertained.  However, given what I have read and experienced over the past several days, I may need to reconsider my view that these near-exclamations of joy (with the obligatory “we mourn with Kate Kelly for losing her membership …”) are perhaps more common than I would like to think.

A good friend of mine, one whom I consider to have one of the most charitable and kind hearts of any person I know, recently shared comments made to him by those who are absolutely giddy over Kelly’s fate.  I won’t quote the full contents in order to protect my friend’s privacy.  But I will say that the message was clear:  Kate Kelly is a minion of Satan and one who seeks to promote his message in order to undermine the work of God (LDS Church General Authorities, to be more specific).

Upon reading this my first reaction was one of surprise, and then came the realization that while these views may not be common within general LDS Church membership, I have seen them too often to think that these are made by few isolated trolls.  In fact, I have seen Church members with positions of great importance within their congregations make similar comments.

My first reaction upon reading the expressed sentiment was to think of Jesus’ words in Mathew 23:

Matthew 23:13–15 (NRSV)

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Please note that I am not suggesting that we should not be critical of Kelly and her work.  Anyone who places themselves in the public square and promotes a given position should expect and should receive thoughtful criticism and feedback.  But this type of feedback is a far cry from accusing Kelly of “delivering Satan’s message to the world.”

I am also reminded of Jesus’ words in Mark when the Apostles discovered a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name without having been explicitly authorized to do so.  The Apostles wanted to intervene and prevent this man from exercising the authority he believed he held.

Mark 9 38-41 (NRSV)

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

Allow me to take liberty and make a few adjustments to this passage:

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw Kate Kelly convincing other women to cast out demons in your name, and we tried to stop her, because she was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop her; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

I am disappointed in some of my fellow Latter-day Saints.  Regardless of how much we disagree — even on sensitive doctrinal questions — none of us the right to “lock people out of the kingdom of heaven” through our careless words and thoughtless judgements.  Only God is Judge and to assume that role which belongs solely to Him, is far more blasphemous than anything Kate Kelly has done.  Kate Kelly has shown herself to be FOR both Jesus and the Restoration.  As Jesus says, she “is not against us.”  She is our sister.  Our friend.

As Latter-day Saints we will be judged not in how we condemn the words and actions of others but rather, in how we show love and compassion towards each other — regardless of differing views and even vigorous debate.

John 13:34–35 (NRSV)

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The Excommunication of Paul

Note:  This post is satire.  Given the recent events surrounding certain actions within the LDS Church I began to imagine how Peter, James, and John may have reacted to Paul.  Paul claimed to be an Apostle for quite some time before even meeting Peter, James, and John.  He also had very strenuous disagreements with Peter regarding the Law of Moses and circumcision.  It should be remembered that the earliest manuscripts of the Gospels do not contain the “Great Commission” wherein Jesus told the Apostles to “go out into all the world.”  Rather, they contained Jesus’ teachings that he came, primarily if not exclusively, to the house of Israel.  As a result, the Church had to work through the issue and this involved discussion, prayer, inspiration, and revelation.

I recognize that this post may be nitpicked in that I reference Paul’s letter to the Galatians which was written well after the first Jerusalem council where the issue of circumcision was resolved (with apparently some misunderstandings).  

Also, before the Gospel was taken to non-Jews, Peter received a revelation or vision chastising him for calling unclean what God had proclaimed clean (Acts 10).  This, of course, was Paul’s position upon his direct call from Jesus in Acts 9.  However, I am basing this satirical letter on a fictional imagining of Paul coming to Jerusalem and proposing his ideas to Peter, and the Jerusalem Church well before he actually did so at some point after Peter’s vision.

My purpose in writing this post is simply to observe that things are often not as harmonious and straightforward in the Church as they may seem on the surface.  The scriptures are full of examples of prophets, leaders, and believers working together to discover and follow the will of God.


 

The Church of Yeshua

50 W Temple

Jerusalem, Judea

 

September 18, 55

Brother Paul,

It is with love and concern that I write you this letter.  You and I have been meeting for quite some time now to discuss your preaching to the Gentiles and insistence that Church members are no longer subject to any aspect of the Law of Moses.  It had been my hope that through these discussions we might come to understand one another better, and that you might  have been willing to reassess some of your actions.  I was saddened when you told me that you were not willing to change your views or stop claiming to be Apostle, an office to which you were not called through the appropriate Church channels and to which you have not been ordained.

Because of this, as you know, a Church council with James and John was held on your behalf earlier this month.  The council’s conclusions was that several of the claims that you make in your preaching to the Gentiles constitute clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church and its leaders.  Especially egregious is when you wrote to the Galatians that you had “opposed [me] to [my] face” for hypocrisy regarding circumcision.  This is a clear misrepresentation of the encounter and it has seriously harmed the reputation the First Presidency has with the Church in Galatia.  Consequently, the council determined that you should be excommunicated from the Church for conduct contrary to the laws of the Church.

Although it was very clear to the council that your actions constitute apostasy and conduct contrary to the laws of the Church, the excommunication decision was not an easy one.  Although you once actively sought to destroy us you are now our friend, neighbor and brother.  We, as a First Presidency, share with you the desire to spread the Gospel to non-Jews but as has been demonstrated to you several times, this was strictly forbidden by Yeshua, the Messiah, our Lord (see the writings of our brother, Matthew).  We are sorry that through you actions and claims you have chosen to leave us.  Because your actions and teachings are having a direct impact upon others, we determined this action was necessary.

As I think you know well, although you are no longer a member of the Church you are still very welcome to meet and counsel with James, John, and myself.  I hope you will take the opportunity to do so.  We warmly invite you to house meetings and other gatherings.  The Jerusalem Church has much love for you and hope that you will continue on with us in fellowship.

Of course, the loss of Church membership also brings with it significant limitations.  You should not pray or offer talks or testimonies in Church meetings.  You should not write letters to any of the congregations you previously taught (with no authority or authorization from us, the First Presidency).  We have no record of your baptism and it will require at least one year before we may consider baptizing you into our community.

I would happy to answer any questions you might have about these limitations, or to discuss them with you in more depth if you desire.  I would also very much like to continue meeting with you as we have in the past, and to discuss the specific steps necessary for you to come back to the Jerusalem Church.

Brother Paul, the blessings of Yeshua are for everyone.  There is a way back.

Sincerely,

 

Peter (Cephas), President

James, First Counselor

John, Second Counselor