Are our Ideologies our Idols?

Spent all of today in the company of nurses, cardiologists, and so forth with my dear husband, who had mild-but-persistent chest pains over the weekend. They had “mostly” abated by this morning, and he was preparing to travel, but I couldn’t see my way to letting him get on a plane with chest pain “mostly” gone, and insisted that we get things checked out.

Things are less conclusive than we’d like – not a heart attack, thankfully, but whether he’s headed for one is another question. He, of course, is insisting that he’s a he-man and “completely fine with a little indisposition, okay, maybe angina…” I am not over-reacting but I’m not at-ease, either, and more tests are needed later this week. If you could keep us all in your prayers, that we get through this bump in the road without overturning the cart, we’d appreciate it.

This means, of course, that blogging continues lighter-than-normal and emails are going mostly unanswered. For the gent who felt “forgotten” and “ignored,” please know you’re neither, but my attention is necessarily directed elsewhere, just now.

Meanwhile, please bear with me as I repost a piece from January 2008, that touches on the issue of whether we make our ideologies into idols. Worth thinking about these days, no?


“Ideas create idols; only wonder leads to knowing.”
– St. Gregory of Nyssa

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial up entitled McCain’s Apostacies.

Think about that for a minute. His differences with his party are not differences, they’re “apostacies.” He is, for some, a heretic who has departed too sharply away from the dogmas and sacraments of The Church of Conservatism.

And he’s the pro-life guy!

I’ve been thinking for a while that the hyperpartisanship on both sides was beginning to resemble the Protestant/Catholic sectarian troubles in Northern Ireland. Hate and malice are being extended by both sides to those “others” over there. The “other side.”

Nothing else matters but that they don’t believe the same things “we” believe (whoever “we” are, Conservative or Liberal). Because they don’t believe the same things “we” believe, they are bad, undesirable people and we shun them and will not have them in our midst.

It’s downright unAmerican, if you ask me. And the tenacity with which both sides cling to their beliefs makes one wonder if the political extremes are not misplacing their faith – putting it not in God, but in “the party” and “the movement.”

I did something I almost never do, recently, and spent a little time exchanging ideas within the thread of another blog. Within that exchange, someone wrote:

I just don’t see what [George W]Bush has done for the movement or the party.

That stopped me in my tracks. All this time I thought the president – any president – was expected to serve the interests of the whole nation and all its citizenry. Apparently not; apparently the president is supposed to serve “the party” and “the movement” and if he does not do that – he is a poor and despised president.

That “movement or the party” remark recalled the histories of fascism and communism and their ugly progeny – totalitarianism; all of those “isms” began with the notion that “loyalty to the party” trumped everything else – new ideas, tactics, statesmanship, economics, social unrest – whatever the question, loyalty to the party – the growth and sustainment of “the movement” was the answer.

That’s all bad history. It is history we want to remember, but not repeat. But here we are, the mightiest and most democratic nation in the world, and the extremists within both ideologies have deemed fealty to the “ism” – whichever ism it is – to be the defining characteristic of a desirable candidate.

Someone else wrote:

Well here’s the thing – conservatives are conservatives because they believe conservatism is what’s best FOR AMERICA.

That’s quite true and un-objectionable. But of course, liberals are liberals because they believe liberalism is what’s best for America, and centrists are centrists for the same reason.

It just seems to me that within those little ideological spheres which are full of ideas, a president must be permitted to listen to ideas and debate them and perhaps even to choose portions of ideas from each position, left, right and center, in order to formulate policies which are best FOR AMERICA, and which address the concerns of all the country, not just “the party,” and which serve the whole citizenry, not just “the base.” The best recipes call for more than one ingredient. The best policies do, too.

If we are determined to shut out whole blocks of people because their thoughts are not ours, their ideas are not ours, their beliefs are not ours, then we’re doing democracy wrong – we’re turning it into something else. And I don’t think the “something else” is necessarily a good thing.

Thomas More, the patron saint of politicians, was a good and trusted adviser to King Henry VIII, but his faith and conscience took precedence over that fealty. When Rome refused Henry a divorce, Henry broke away and formed the Church of England. More could not go where Henry went, saying at his arrest, “I am the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

I am by no means comparing President Bush to St. Thomas More, but it does seem to me that part of his problems within his own party stem from a similar attitude: Love him or hate him, he is the party’s good servant, but America’s first. And America’s good servant, but God’s even before that. Or, as I have written elsewhere,

It does not surprise me that he is a Christian man living a creed before he is a President, that he is a President before he is a Conservative. It seems to me precisely the right order of things.

Those priorities seem like good ones to me, and perhaps in a healthy society, they would be appreciated. But we’re not healthy right now – I doubt anyone would truly suggest we are – and in this society, sadly, the precedence of “the parties” and “the movements” over everything else is disconcerting. People who six months ago declared they would “crawl over broken glass” to prevent a particular presidency now declare they’d prefer to see that presidency over the “impure” alternative, and that seems oddly disoriented.

How can an undesirable candidate suddenly become an acceptable, good-faith alternative? I know there is a school of thought that says, “well, that will teach others and they’ll be more loyal to the party, next time.”

But that’s being too clever by half, isn’t it? One of President Bush’s errors was in thinking he could sign a campaign finance reform into law and count on the Supreme Court to find it unconstitutional. The Supreme Court did not meet his expectations.

Signing off on this election while counting on people to “do the right thing” in the next one seems to me equally hazardous and just as likely to disappoint. And it feels a little bit like putting one’s ideology before all else, and trusting in it, alone.

I am no “McCainiac.” At this point I have no idea who I will be voting for in November, particularly since there is ugliness in every campaign. I’m merely offering food for thought.

Eloquent Jonah Goldberg:

…this disaster talk leaves me cold. McCain wouldn’t be my first pick. Then again, none of the candidates were really my first pick. But I think the notion that, variously, conservatism, the country or the party are doomed if he’s the nominee or the president is pretty absurd.
I think both the GOP and the conservative movement could benefit from a slightly more adversarial relationship. George W. Bush moved the party leftward and/or damaged the image of the GOP in many respects precisely because he was given the benefit of the doubt by conservatives who saw him as “one of us.” It’s not obvious to me that having a more transactional relationship with a Republican president would be altogether bad for the country, the party or the conservative movement.

Sister Toldjah has more thoughts.

Palm Tree Pundit has a quote for you.

Jay Stephenson surveys the mood – and confusion – on the right.

Beth minces no words.

As I said in the comments section:

Once upon a time I might have agreed with the statement that the left is all about “feelings and emotions” while the right was about thinking and issues. I’m not entirely sure I would, anymore. Both left and right are doing their share of emoting.

Related: The Nation Needs a Time-Out

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • ViolaJ.

    Anchoress, I am so sorry your husband is having health issues at the moment. I will keep him and you in my thoughts and prayers. I trust you are feeling better now.

  • rcareaga

    My best wishes for Mr. A. I did the “possible heart attack” bit three years ago (bullied into it by my HMO’s “advice nurse”), and spent ten hours in a hospital room wired up like a switchboard to a battery of recondite instruments that finally concluded based on the evidence of my blood chemistry that none of the debris that would typically remain following a coronary was in fact coursing through my system. A treadmill test the following week ratified that initial diagnosis. The doctors told me that the alarming symptoms were all also consistent with my long history of dyspepsia. Might that not be hubby’s situation? Is he, like me, an antacid-head?

    Best wishes for a benign outcome.

  • invernessie

    Anchoress – Please accept my best wishes and prayers for you and your husband. May you all be feeling better and in top form soon.

  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    Ah, a pleasant stroll down memory lane. Frankly, I think it a good thing that so many saw from the very beginning what the problems are and what needs to be done.

    Meanwhile, our girl Sarah looked and sounded awfully good on Greta Van Sustren tonight. No wonder so many want to destroy her.

    Prayers for you and the family.

  • Barbara

    My prayers are for your family to have excellent health care providers.

  • Gayle Miller

    Our leftwing Obamamaniac car pool friend opined this morning that in her lifetime (she’s only 34) the ONLY President she knew of who HADN’T broken his promises was Ronald W. Reagan! I was stunned.

    Our love and prayers to you and your husband. We are all in some vestigial way members of your extended (very) family and we care deeply what happens to all of you.

  • Acer Palmatum

    These things are wakeup calls and truly gifts (if you pay attention). I was listening to the radio about the anti-inflamatory diet. My achilles tendon has been sore recently every time I go to the gym. After hearing him describing how inflamation leads to a host of problems like tendonitis, bone spurs, and especially heart disease, he described the simple cure:

    Less red meat and processed foods, less bad carbs like pasta and bread, more fish (especially salmon), more colorful fruits, berries and veggies (especially brocolli, cabbage, califlower) (preferably raw or al dente). Take fish oil. Take Vitamin D (or get out in the sun more). Take a baby aspirin once or twice a day. Interval aerobic exercise (this need not be a deal breaker, brisk walks will work) and some weight training (just to keep your mussel mass up). Stretch before you exercise. Wear good shoes.

    It is really not that hard. Call it the Sicilian feast diet.

  • DWiss

    Anchoress, of course you and Mr. A are in our prayers. God bless.

    This topic of ideologies and idols is timely because I’ve been reading Peter Kreeft’s book, The Philosophy of Jesus. Kreeft is a master of stating truth simply. If you haven’t read him, stop what you are doing and order one of his books…doesn’t matter which one. There’s a lot packed into this little book, but I’m thinking of a passage where Kreeft reminds us that Jesus didn’t just speak the truth, He IS the truth. He doesn’t point the way for us, He IS the way. He is the answer to all questions; He is the the only ideolgy that matters.

    We are so easily distracted by what is around us. Yes, much of it is important. We do good by paying attention to all variety of worldly matters and influencing their outcomes. But what really matters, beyond politics, economics, elections, media bias,health concerns,etc., ad infinitum, is Jesus, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

    In this life, if we fight the fight, run the race and keep the faith, with our eyes and hope fixed on Jesus, it will be enough, and all will be well beyond all our powers to imagine. That is the peace that Jesus promised his Apostles, I think. That over and above the trials we face in life, be they slight or horrifying, all will be well.

  • Mutnodjmet

    Dear Anchoress: As I am not Catholic, I am not quite sure how to start this off.

    Forgive me, Mother, for I have sinned. :)

    I am in the throes of Obama Derangement Syndrome, and I am enjoying it. I love saying Barry is not my President. I love mocking him at every turn. I must admit, freeing oneself of respect for someone who disagrees with what I believe is highly energizing and is making me feel better about the election.

    I think the thing that is angering me the most is now the “52%”, the lunatic lefties who trounced on President Bush at every turn, want “healing” and “unity”. Where was there desire for this when we could have used it — during the low times in Iraq, while we were in the financial crisis?

    The HillaryClintonForum, which I joined for information on the PUMAs, is now closed. It was the one spot where Democrats and Republicans could go to for civil discourse and action-oriented organization. Thinking that they could be the “Common Ground” between both parties, they HCF was going to go forward with a bipartisan approach. Then, they opened up registration to aggressive, gloating, arrogant supporters of Obama who promptly insulted both the Clintons and the Republican team. The tone and tenor of the entire forum suffered, because the Obots could not handle disagreement respectfully, and now the doors to this magnificent internet townhall are shut.

    I wish for peace of spirit, but I think it will be elusive for a long time. My like-minded colleagues and I plan to hold Obama and his staff accountable for all the campaign promises over the past 2 years — lower taxes, free healthcare, college tuition for all, abundant alternative energy at low, low prices, glowing amounts of international respect from all the leaders of the world, and the end of global warming. I think the Obots will be shocked when the bill comes due for this man’s media coronation.

    I wish Barry all the joy in office as he deserves


    I am sorry to vent, but the petty people who preened when President Bush experienced hardships and who were quick to diminish the dignity of Senator McCain and Governor Palin will discover a whole lot of us are not ready to make nice. Personally, I plan to keep myself away from all sources of news pertaining to Barry until well after the inauguration. Basically, I am down to reading you, HotAir and Gateway Pundit for my current events — so I really need you to stay healthy and energized for my own sanityl


    On a personal note, prayers to your husband. You may wish to consider that he take a coenzyme Q supplement, if he doesn’t already. It is very helpful to good heart function. Keep us posted, as you and your family are dear to us.

    [Hmmmm...a "common ground" party...what an interesting idea. Thanks for the prayers - hubby goes through a nuclear stress test on Thursday and then we'll know more. As to the rest, I'm not going to lecture the right to "behave." They need time to lick their wounds. I think the 52-to-48 site made a huge miscalculation; speaking for myself, I was taking the Obama win in stride and attempting to be philosophical about it until they got all cloying and condescending. "Wets be fwends" after 8 years of unrelenting insult and hate just doesn't sit well, you know? - but I'm not going to write about politics until tomorrow, and after that maybe not for a while - admin]

  • Poohbah

    It just seems to me that within those little ideological spheres which are full of ideas, a president must be permitted to listen to ideas and debate them and perhaps even to choose portions of ideas from each position, left, right and center, in order to formulate policies which are best FOR AMERICA, and which address the concerns of all the country, not just “the party,” and which serve the whole citizenry, not just “the base.”

    I emphasized the last two words in this sentence because I find it supremely ironic that we are at war with al-Qaeda . . . which translates into English as “the base.”

  • pendell

    Well said. I wholeheartedly agree that there’s too much ideology, and too much demonizing of people. Before you can kill someone, you first have to make them less than human in your heart.

    Unless it’s fixed, it does not bode well for the future.

    Unfortunately, I think that abortion is the thing that’s really exacerbating this. There’s something about the shedding of innocent blood that really sets the monsters in people loose.


    Brian P.

  • tim maguire

    I hope for the best with your husband’s tests Thursday and for your recovery from your own maladies. I have a few random thoughts:

    There are certain areas where we are as lucky as can be that George Bush was our president these past 8 years. Pretty much every part of foreign policy from al queda and Iraq to Africa to South America. I think over time we will realize among his greatest acheivements was to keep the hounds of pseudo-science at bay until the earth started to cool on its own without destroying our economy and adult stem cells show their full promise such that we don’t need to abort babies to treat adults.

    But Bush should still be faulted for spending so recklessly and for letting the Republican Party fall so deep in decline. Bush doesn’t seem to have had much interest in party or brand building and Republicans are now suffering as a result. Because I believe we need two healthy parties to have a healthy democracy, that is a serious shortcoming on his part.

    I’m still not buying that the electorate is as divided as all that. I am surrounded by the latte sipping crowd and if I didn’t have them as friends, I would not have friends. They are good and interesting people in most areas of life. I don’t inquire about their political and social views because they haven’t an original or careful thought among them, but that doesn’t make them bad people. Just tiresome around election time. And I think my experience is pretty common.

    The Red State-Blue State maps create an illusion of sharp division that has sunk into our psyche to the point where we believe it even though our own lives say it’s not so. New York City, about 75% Democrat, has elected a Republican mayor four elections in a row. Granted, they are RINOs at best, but still they were not laughed at, but rather voted for.

  • terip


    This is from me direct to your husband. Please set him down and have him read this.

    “Dear sir:

    I don’t know you. But please, do not do this to your wife. My husband of 37 years told me that he was fine and every day that he was feeling better, right up to the day I dragged him into the emergency room. He had pnuemonia in both lungs and sepsis. He spent two weeks in the ICU and he DIED there, on Oct 13th. I don’t know if I could have saved him, if I’d been able to talk him into going to the doctor earlier. I’ll never know that now. Guys like to think they are bullet-proof. Just this once, listen to the doctors and take it easy. Trust me, you do not want to put her through the hell of life without you.”

  • marfan

    Your husband and I are in the same boat. I had a pharmo/nuclear stress test last week and am awaiting the doc to call with results. Tomorrow I see a doc about the aortic c/t which I had last week. My poor ol’ aorta has been patched so many times that they ought to put a zipper in my chest. Beats looking at the grass from the wrong side though. Wonder how critical med issues such as your husbands will be handled under socialized medicine that may come about in the next few years. Scary thought.

    Hope all turns out well for the Mister.


  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    But Bush should still be faulted for spending so recklessly and for letting the Republican Party fall so deep in decline. . . . Granted, they are RINOs at best, but still they were not laughed at, but rather voted for.

    Come on now, which is it?

    (1) We should blame Bush (there’s a new one!) for not doing more to stop the moderates and liberal Republicans who spent like crazy and did everything else they could to destroy the party; or
    (2) We should continue to vote for those same moderates and liberals?

    Why not simply recognize things for what they are? Enough of the big tent. Enough of McCain and Graham and Specter and Snowe and Collins and Hegel and Voinovich and Martinez and Warner and everyone else who George W. was forced to pander to and placate and appease at the expense of his own standing. From the very beginning, it was these moderate/liberal/mavericks who have worked to sabotage Bush and prevent any move toward effective conservativism. Blame Bush? What? Blame Bush for being repeatedly stabbed and shot in the back?

    Let’s look at things as they really are. Let us be honest with ourselves, finally. Enough with the architects of disaster and ruin. Enough with compromising with cancer. Enough with the suicide pacts. Enough.

  • Maggie45

    You and your family have been on my prayer list, and prayed for at least three times daily since I got my first copy of Magnificat around the 2nd week or so in October. I will continue to do so.

    I was not happy about Obama’s election. I just cannot imagine the character of a man who is so fanatically NOT pro life. On the other hand, if McCain/Palin had been elected, we would have had another four years of total hatred from the left. It’s ironic in that the weekend before the election I was having lunch with someone who was convinced that McCain would win because of course the Rethugs would steal the election. She had no idea about ACORN, and the non-secure website contributions and fake names of Obama donors. I dunno, I just wish him well. I don’t want anything bad to happen to our country. I pray it won’t be like the Carter years.

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  • ultraguy

    Firstly, prayers for you and your husband and the docs that are examining, advising and treating. Scary. Hang in there, A!!

    Re. ideologies as idols: yes. It’s easy to imagine that the category is limited to carved statues and golden calves and the like that silly people fell victim to 3,000 years ago, but really, the tag includes anything that gets in the way of acknowledging Jesus as Lord and the truth that he brings and in an information age many of the things wrongly worshiped are ideas, information, knowledge, education, bits on a screen that stand for money, bits on a screen that say aren’t I great?

    Are some ideologies worth idolizing? Only if they flow from God and, only if said truths are used with grace.

    This election seems to have been characterized less by ideology than some though, IMHO. Obama went to great pains to obfuscate his (if he has one) and be Mr. Rorschach-Everyman. McCain is known for reaching across the aisle and splitting the difference (both for good and for ill) — hardly an ideologue. The liberal-socialist thing never quite stuck, nor did any of the usual ideological epithets the other side usually throws at Republicans.

    No, I’d characterize the current environment as more filled with pure mocking than idol-eology. Biblically they’re not in the same league, but then a dozen or so Proverbs on the subject don’t exactly make a virtue out of the habit. Does it feel good? Yeah. Does it leave a mess of bad feeling in its wake? Yeah.

  • saveliberty

    I will say prayers for your husband and for you and your children.

    Mom voted for Obama this year. She won’t have a bad word said about him, although she loves President Bush and would have voted for Mike Huckabee, if he ran.

    That said, Obamamama wants to be thought of as a liberal now (she was when she was young, as was I). However, she opposed tax increases on the rich, as these would cause “dribble down”. She has a unique way with words such that no expression ever comes out the way that I think that it’s going to when I talk to her.

    She opposes reimposing the ban on drilling; she’s against embryonic stem cell research as it’s an attempt to use abortion to justify a research avenue that is just not working at all. She was outraged by the 401K nationalization efforts.

    We agreed that we will blame everything bad on Nancy Pelosi. :)

  • tim maguire

    Sorry Bender, you are wrong. There is nothing inconsistent about those two lines you place together. Bush, the architect of the incoherent “compassionate conservatism” was happy to do heavy spending, and the two Republicans I mentioned are Rudolf Guliani and Michael Bloomberg–neither makes your list and both are (or were) city mayors, not national politicians. It is you who needs to be honest and accept things as they are rather than shout down someone who is already doing that. Credit where due and blame where due.

  • tim maguire

    How typical of me to answer quickly and leave out the most important point–those two passages you cited are obviously used in two completely different arguements, and address two completely different issues.

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