The Problem with Ideology…

…is that when it is faced with a choice between believing a theory or its own two eyes, it goes with the theory.  In this case, the obvious witness of one’s own two eyes is that Pope Francis is a humble man.  But according to this Protestant ideologue, “By definition and by Catholic dogma, Francis is no humble Pope.”  He just can’t be.  It will screw up all the diagrams and theories!

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  • Brandon Jaloway

    What is the alternative to ideology? Isn’t everything we fight for an ideology on some level?

    • Mark Shea

      No. The Faith is not an ideology.

      • Brandon Jaloway

        Perhaps I fail to understand what you mean by “ideology”. It does not seem to be a very accurate term to me.

        • Mark Shea

          Another term for ideology is “An All-Explaining Theory of Everything”. Ideology tries to cram all of reality into a cramped box. Everything evolution, or economics, or race, or class, or gender, or some theological theory about predestination. The Faith is content with mystery. It doesn’t claim to understand everything. It says, “We don’t know much but we do know that there is one God, the Father, the Almighty, etc….” When it runs into things it can’t explain it does not will them out of existence, but tries to understand them. This guy is willing the Pope’s obvious humility out of existence. It doesn’t fit the cramped box of ideology, so it can’t be. It *mustn’t* be.

          • Irenist

            The fundamentalist tendency to try to turn the Bible into the Big Book of Everything, rather than let science and politics and philosophy and economics and all the rest do their own work in their own humbler spheres is a good example of this. So is the New Atheist tendency to try to use science and technology as a justification for scientism. In the linked article, part of the author’s problem seems to be that he conflates the theological virtue of Faith, as interpreted by his denomination, with the natural virtue of humility, so for him, Humble = Evangelical, and it’s impossible by definition for anyone who doesn’t accept his theology to be humble. Indeed, his whole schtick seems to be that no one can have any authentic natural virtue unless they are Christian, and no one can be Christian unless they subscribe to whatever Calvinist claptrap he happens to believe in. It sort of reminds me of Muslims after al-Ghazali who denied secondary causality, and so struggled with finding rational order in the natural world. Theocrats who refuse to accept that the City of God and the City of Man are separate spheres might be another example, as would (from the other direction), Marxists.

            • Dustin

              Mark’s Patheos colleague Peter Enns has been doing really good work confronting fundamentalism within his own sector of evangelical Protestantism. I’ve learned a lot.

              I don’t have the problems toward ideology that our host seems to have. I think ideology is important and has room for skepticism, hesitation, ambiguity and mystery. It’s important to have a frame through which to view the universe. We can’t regard everything simultaneously. We sort it and explain what we can. An ideology needn’t be totalitarian or immune to reform or flexibility. Not that I’m arguing that any ideology is better than none. But nobody, seriously nobody, is utterly without one, and it isn’t a fault to own it and claim it, as long as one is open to further development and influence.

            • S. Murphy

              Yeah, and he’s conflating the Pope’s billet description with his personal qualities. Or arguing that a humble person can’t hold an exalted office.

              GENERAL ORDERS (USMC) (re standing a post, but keeping them in mind, in general, can keep people out of trouble)

              6. Receive, obey, and pass on to the sentry who relieves me all orders originating from the Commanding Officer, Officer of the Day, Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers of the Guard, only.

              9. Call the Corporal of the Guard in any case not covered by instructions.

              So, if the CO is Jesus Christ,
              Marine standing duty -> Joe and Mary Catholic, passig on the faith to their kids
              Corporal of the Guard -> Parish priest
              OOD (Bn or regimental level overnight/weekend duty officer) -> bishop
              Pope? Supreme Pontiff, Vicar of Christ, etc, etc? All that fancy language means is, he’s the Command Duty Officer up at the Division, or MEF, or wherever you want to take the analogy. He’s still just a guy standing duty for 24 hours. His job is to receive, obey, and pass on the Tradition. Not so impossible to be humble, from that point of view – even for the ones that live in the Papal apartment.

              Semper Fi.

  • Brandon Jaloway

    Allow me to try to expand on my question. What is the alternative to ideology? We have all heard this accusation thrown around that the other side is, “motivated by ideology,” as if that were some kind of sin, right? But why is that any kind of surprise? What would you be motivated by if not an ideology?

    I can only think of a few possibilities that might be offered as serious alternatives.

    Pragmatism: This is not a motivation for anything. This is a way of getting stuff done. If someone says they are just being pragmatic it is because they have not admitted what is motivating them yet.

    Relativism: This is an ideology

    Objective Truth: This is also an ideology. In fact, searching for and adhering to the objective truth is the “ideology” that motivates me. I particularly like the objective truth and I like the fact that there is an objective truth and that it is both true and objective. Of course, objective truth is kind of hard to swallow for many people since it only allows for one interpretation of reality. Relativism is much, much safer. I particularly like the fact that nothing both is and is not at the same time and in the same respect. But many people can’t handle that. They want things to be open to multiple interpretations. They want you to have your truth while they keep theirs… as long as they can push you around. Of course, if your truth is not what they like, they will do their best to stomp you out. But we will save that discussion for another day.

    • Jon W

      An ideology is our own mental map of the reality we’re living. As such it is fine. It allows us to chart our progress and plan our trips. But sometimes our mental maps are not adequate to the reality, and when that happens we need to recognize that and change them. Being “ideological” in the bad sense that Mark criticizes means you refuse to do this and keep interpreting everything according to the map in your head, even when it results in absurd distortions of reality.

      • Dan F.

        Exactly – the Map is not the Territory.

        Paging leahlibresco

    • Bob

      Yes, what Jon said. The problem is not ideology itself, but ideologues.
      There’s nothing wrong with having an ideology, in and of itself. We all do. But the ideologue is the person so committed to his ideology that new or contrary information simply cannot be allowed to penetrate the veneer, because that would suggest that he may have been, you know, wrong about something that he believed in strongly, and the one thing you need to understand about the ideologue is that he is Right, by God.

    • Renata

      Sorry, ideology is a BAD thing. As Dostoevsky put it, it is when you don’t have an idea, the idea has you. There IS clarity on the difference between an ideology and being free of ideology. . Merold Westphal says that “mteanarratives,” which postmoderns equate with ideologies, are examples of trying to“render the whole of reality intelligible to human understanding” or as Mark says, they are totalizing theories of everything. Catholicism is NOT a metaanrrative but a “mega-narrative.” It CANNOT be an ideology BY DEFINITION because it CANNOT capture God in an ontotheology (bringing God down to be subsumed UNDER human reason). A meganarrative has a wide scope – it talks about everything under the sun – but WITHOUT the attempt to master and control by limited human reason, as, for example “scientism” does, or Darwinism, or any other reductive theory. This all has been discussed in great depth and great detail in theological circles.

  • Theodore Seeber

    Depends on what the meaning of humble is, I guess.

  • Joachim

    Wormwood, “all our arithmetic is dismayed.”

  • Irenist

    The “related posts” section at the bottom of the linked article bashing Pope Francis for being Catholic includes a link to a related post by the same Protestant author borrowing from Christopher Hitchens (of all people) for cudgels with which to beat up on Mother Teresa. The author, a Canadian pastor, seems less motivated by Christianity than by anti-Catholicism; how toxic and how sad.

    • Grey Pilgrim

      I am always a little surprised at how the supposed Defenders of Grace (as some in the Reformed world would consider themselves) seem to exhibit so very little of it.

  • Mark R

    Reality often crushes Ideas with a giant Terry Gilliam illustrated foot.

  • Lori Pieper

    As further proof of how many Rad Trads are really Protestant at heart, large numbers of them would deny that Francis is humble too. It has to do somehow with “submerging your personality in the tradition” instead of doing it your own way and “making it all about ME!” Not wearing the mozzetta is so clearly just not humble. I think if I hear this once more, I’m going to scream!

    Of course, there are a lot of things you can say about this idea, such as that humility has nothing to do with submerging your personality in anything, but rather having a clear and realistic idea of who you are in relation both to God and your fellow human beings, which is, in every case “a lot less than you think.” You can actually be both humble and smart at the same time, and be able to weigh and judge the validity and usefulness of a tradition without your ego intervening.

    And then, it’s very hard for some people to grasp that Francis was probably not thinking of himself his humility at all, when making some of his decisions. Rather, he was most likely thinking of those young people without much hope whose feet he washed, or the millions of unchurched who for the first time looked at a Pope stripped of some extraneous trappings and got a good idea of what a Pope really is. These seem to be pastoral decisions, not exercises in humility.

    Of course, Benedict was humble too in a different way. He wore his trappings happily and light-heartedly, not thinking of himself but of his office. This is valid in its own right. (And I’ve got to admit, the white mozzetta with the ermine trim that he wore outside of the Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral here in 2008 was seriously awesome!)

    For some people, Benedict’s choice was counter-productive, while for others it was a godsend. The opinions of other people and whether they liked what these men did or not, has nothing to do with their humility, but with those people’s ideological rigidity.

    Kind of like the Protestants.

    • Lori Pieper

      Hmm. I meant that the opinions of those who would accuse either man of a lack of humility are not about humility but about ideological rigidity, of either left or right. I’m not saying that those who would criticize a choice without this ridiculous accusation are ideologues; far from it.

  • Joannie

    This is one of the dumbest things I have heard from this Protestant pastor. The Pope is part of a “ideology” FAITH is what the Pope represents. Ideas and ideologies will come and go but not the Christian Faith. This man is just way off. Perhaps he thinks that Pope Francis only is making things up as he goes along like the reality of Satan which he has mentioned several times. His task is to bring the Gospel to all mankind. It has nothing to do with agendas like Nazism or Communism which makes the State God. I hear that Francis actually believes in God and in Jesus and it is what will turn our world around. The pastor does not seem to have much Faith himself it appears to me

  • LaVallette

    Another example of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s famous dictum: “Millions of people hate the Church for what they think it is, but only a handful for what it really isi”.