I wonder when the adjective “rigid” became attached to our understanding of the word “ideology”? As in “ideology is a rigid set of beliefs and way of looking at the world.”
From a purely dictionary definition perspective, an ideology isn’t in any way “cast in stone.” It’s simply the “body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.”- (Dictionary.com) There is nothing to prevent that “body of doctrine” from changing as the people’s understanding of their world changes.
Nevertheless, in common usage, an ideology is often little different from an idol. And I think you would be hard put to find anyone who would consider being called an ideologue a compliment.
“Faith”, on the other hand, is generally thought of as fluid, adaptable; able to change with circumstance.
There are those who try to argue that adaptability leads to “relativism” and from there, they claim, it’s a short step to “anything goes.” For the most part, it seems to me, these arguments arise out of fear. Most human beings need certainty in order to feel secure. Some need more than others.
Of course, we all need an ideology in the true sense of the word. We all need guideposts by which we interpret the world around us and the relationships that we have with each other and all of Creation.
For those of us who are Christian, those guideposts are the teachings of Jesus; the radical, inclusive Message of the Christ.
But we also need something else.
We need the faith to let loose of the dogma that threatens to turn that Message into one of exclusion simply because we refuse to let it grow and adapt to the world in which we live.
The Gospel writers give us a tiny glimpse of Jesus’ interaction with the keepers of doctrine of his own time – the priests and scribes and Pharisees (let’s, for the moment, set aside questions of historicity). We’re shown repeatedly how poisonous rigid adherence to doctrine is to our relationship with God.
Those who held rigidly to the “rules” he called “whitewashed tombs.” They were capable of expounding chapter and verse of their ideology but they knew nothing of the faith that had founded it. Their whole view of the world was wrapped up in their ability to define precisely who was and who was not “worthy.”
It’s for these ideologues that Jesus reserved his greatest contempt.
Jesus talked about the value and worth of all, and about the need to understand that what we “do to the least” we do to our relationship with Theos (the word we translate as “God” but which means so much more than the Zeus-image that adorns Michelangelo’s Sistene Chapel fresco).
Rather than interpret our relationship with God through Scripture, Jesus shows repeatedly that we have to interpret Scripture through our relationship with God. And that we must see that relationship as extending to all.
That can be frightening. It can make us feel as though the comfortable “certainty” of believing in unchanging doctrine and dogma is slipping away and leaving us with no anchor.
But if we have faith – not faith in dry words endlessly debated, but faith in Theos, in the “God” that is immanent in all of Creation, including each of us – then our anchor is secure.
Through faith, we have no need to be afraid of change. We can prune away the dead branches that no longer empower our understanding of agapé but instead hem it in.
We can reach out to the “other”, secure in the knowledge that we’ll encounter God there as surely as we do within ourselves.
That, it seems to me, is about as much ideology as I’ll ever need.