Christianity, the Anti-Ideology
The notion that no one should be able to do, pursue, appreciate, argue, or think about anything else but your cause is a form of intellectual tyranny that, if tolerated widely, can quickly erode the foundations of a free society. If everything must be sacrificed to your ideology, then it’s much more than a cause that demands justice. It’s an idol that demands worship.
It comes near the end of a powerfully persuasive piece on “the death of debate.” This all-consuming commitment to ideologies leads too many activists to do whatever it takes to win.
To activists, however, that irrelevance is irrelevant. Their ideology, they’ve been taught, is the only thing in the world worth talking or doing anything about, and they will actively hijack or destroy all other human pursuits until everyone shares their singular obsession.
Stonestreet and Morris are right, of course. But what about Christianity? Isn’t our belief “all-consuming,” too?
What About Christianity?
Christ calls us to give Him total devotion. Chuck Colson, founder of the Colson Center where both Stonestreet and Morris work, loved quoting the great Christian statesman Abraham Kuyper, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
I myself would say that wherever your beliefs (or mine) contradict Christian truth, we’re wrong. Not all truth is “Christian” truth in the sense that it comes strictly from Christianity, but any “truth” that is inconsistent with Christianity is no truth at all.
Does that belief make me as dangerous as the ideologues Stonestreet and Morris wrote about? Look up the words “theocracy” or “Christian nationalism,” and you’re sure to find someone who thinks so. Are they right? Is Christianity different from any other ideology?
One Man’s Example: from Pursuing Power to Living in Love
The answer is no, they are not right, and yes, Christianity is different. Chuck Colson himself was a great example. Once he was Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man,” the White House’s “dirty tricks” specialist, who boasted he would “walk over my own grandmother” to get Nixon re-elected. He was caught and convicted for crimes related to Watergate, did time in prison, and in the process met Jesus Christ.
I knew him late in his life. He still knew what power meant, and how to wield it. Everything else had changed, though. He split his time between humbly helping inmates through Prison Fellowship, and advocating strong Christian thinking through Breakpoint and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
I think he would have cringed at calling Christianity “ideology” — I certainly do — but he still had one all-consuming passion: to follow Jesus Christ. My enduring impression is that he was an extremely impressive individual. He still had the same capacities that had put him in a position of power in the White House, yet he lived it out with love, humility, and devotion to Jesus Christ.
Christianity is Different
So yes, Christianity is different. I’ll mention three reasons why. First, though, I need to address the one howling objection I am sure I’ll hear from skeptics: Christians get this wrong. Badly wrong. We do it way too often, and there’s no denying it. Christian history is spattered with blood, both literal and figurative, from Christians (or “Christians”) who have lived for power, lust, and money.
It doesn’t change what I’m saying here, though. The point of Stonestreet and Morris’s article is the dangers that come with all-encompassing convictions. If someone’s life doesn’t line up with Christian doctrine and teaching, and if things come out badly as a result, you can hardly blame the teachings they’re not following for it.
1. Humility, Not Pride or Power
The first difference between Christianity and the all-consuming ideologies worth worrying about is the call to humility. I do not mean the false humility that says, “I wouldn’t claim to have a clue what’s really true.” I mean the true humility that says, “Christians don’t hold the truth; the truth holds us.” We accept that truth as true. We yield to its truth, we speak it as truth, in confidence but also in humility. To do less would be the ultimate arrogance: denying God His own truth.
So we walk in truth, but humbly. We follow the one faith which has “as its central event the humiliation of its God,” as historian Bruce L. Shelley put it. Christ’s victory came through apparent defeat. He instructs us to serve, and tells us “the first shall be last, and the last first.” We know the reality of sin, which translates to the danger of holding too much power. We seek His glory and His Kingdom, not ours
2. Respectful Persuasion, Not Coerced Compliance
The second great difference is in how we seek to win. We do want to gain ground, no denying that, but with a difference.
Today’s ideologies have no power to persuade anyone to think what is true or do what is right. How could they? They’ve given up any conception of truth, making it entirely social or personal opinion. What’s right is what society imposes on us as “right,” either by cultural pressure or by force of law and policy.
Just try speaking your own mind on gender or sexuality in school or at work, and you’ll see that pressure in action. It isn’t about your belief, it’s about your compliance. You don’t have to agree, but you sure have to act like you do.
Christianity, in contrast, is about belief, thoughts, and ideas. It’s about being convinced of what is true — convictions that must live first in the mind and the heart (which amount to the same thing) before being carried out in the body.
There is no such thing as belief by coercion; it’s a contradiction in terms. Forced compliance means nothing in terms of Christian life of ethics. Christian conversion comes by persuasion, and persuasion comes by the power of God’s word, by reason, by example, and through prayer. This is not the kind of “danger” one needs fear.
3. Christlike Love, Not Inhuman Hatred
Finally, Jesus taught what no other religion or ideology has taught: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) Paul added in Romans 12:17 and 21, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to what is honorable in the sight of all. … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
This is no add-on teaching, slapped on top of Christian ethics to give it a nicer face. In the history of world philosophies and religion it was revolutionary, yet it also follows straight from the fact of God’s love for all. He created all mankind in His image, equal in worth, and equally loved. There is no Christian humility without love for opponents, for we know the difference between a Christ-follower and a Christ-hater isn’t our own goodness, it is the grace of God.
Stonestreet and Morris are right: Ideologies can be very dangerous. If the most important thing in the world is to stop global warming, to affirm LGBT “rights,” to stop a politician, to control a narrative, then that’s the most important thing — which all too easily makes it more important than preserving other human goods. More important even than treating other people as fellow human beings.
If you do it in the name of religion might end up like the “faith” people Sam Harris feared when he wrote the book that kicked off the New Atheist movement:
The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not ‘cowards,’ as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith — perfect faith, as it turns out — and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.
Harris is so right about that, but so very wrong, too. If that “perfect faith,” that all-consuming passion includes humility, respectful persuasion, and love for enemies, it might just change the world. It might challenge others’ worldviews — as it should! It may even turn their world upside-down, so they, too, will place Christ at the center, and live with humility, respect, and love for others. They might join other Christ-followers in denying self, taking up their cross daily and following Christ.
But if you think all-consuming ideologies are dangerous, count Christianity as an anti-ideology. Yes, Christ demands your life of you. He will change it for the better, in His goodness and grace. Otherwise? No danger whatsoever.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.