Election season is now long past almost like it never happened, and I have found myself reflecting on my voting predicament this year. I was nearly undecided until the bitter end. Indeed, I was tempted not to vote. If you’re one of those who identifies with this type of indecision struggle (or, if you didn’t vote) you may just be an idealist. Likely that, or you simply just don’t care enough to vote. Disinterest and lack of participation are, after all, one of the biggest threats to democracy, and these conditions plague the political dysfunction of many developed nations.
After some soul searching and an attempt to see how my faith and life experience have come to bare on my decision-making, I have come to believe that many forms of idealism, while in no way inherently bad as a quality, are often dangerous and deceptively safe places for too many.
I see two different forms of idealists.
The problematic idealist finds a safe place of easy comfort because they are free from action: if the adhered to ideal is not a possible option in a given circumstance, then the problematic idealist can simply sabotage those options that are given from a safe place, abstain from association with the reality of the circumstance and reject productive action that would bring about anything save the fantasized ideal in proud protest. This type of idealist is frequently found amongst the ranks of liberal arts university students/recent graduates and also in the successful intellectual classes of the developed world.
This problematic idealism is often simply a means of insulating one’s self from action, possibly based on fear, a need for security, incompetence, past trauma, or any number of other enabling factors.
One’s political ideals, for instance, may in fact be ideas that could be beautiful when/if/however practiced, if it is possible for them to be realized. But who is practicing them? For too many, idealism is often a shield from the repetition of disappointment or trauma that has been experienced as part of living in a world of broken, hurting, often hopeless people. Possibly shield is too positive a word, because it also conjures images of battle, necessary protection and potential victory. Possibly a better word is prison: a protected space that at once sees one locked safely away from involvement in less than ideal circumstances.
After all, being part of a solution to the issues that our bleeding, bruised world is subject to may involve exposing our own dysfunction to the elements. Maybe someone’s ideals keep him or her from voting, because no candidate ever seems to be a safe option. Maybe the candidate is too extreme or too moderate. Maybe they promised to end many forms of injustice during their last term and they failed.
Beyond the realm of factors that enable dysfunction in democracy, often similar ideals have tempted me nearer a safe space of agnosticism, because no matter how much I respect Jesus, I am at times fearful to be associated with what’s been done in His name. Association, therefore, is not a safe place, and because I recognize and stand for an ideal, I am justified in my criticism and in the way I distance myself from belief and/or communities of Christians.
Based on the narrative of love unto death of Jesus for His followers, such thinking is certainly cowardice, however justified.
I pray that instead of this problematic form idealism that blesses complacency and disconnection in the name of critical evaluation and special understanding, my faith becomes my shield, as I move out of a secure space in to the unknown: the insecure space of decisions made with incomplete knowledge, the choices forced by an obligation to move forward in a direction which is not the ideal, but simply the best option based on the understanding and options available.
Armed with this shield, humbled by it, in the wake of life lived so often cocooned in a protectionist mindset punctuated by moments of utter disregard, I hope to move forward in new confidence and in faith. Safety is not my guarantee, though I am at once freed and bound by love, if I love my savior with the same love with which He loves, I will be in danger. I will be hated by some, the object of jealousy of others, taken advantage of by many, and yet still respected by some, I hope.
This is the adventure I need to lean in to.
And in some ways this is the other form of idealism, but these ideals stand apart. They demand action and investment. They promises struggle, and guarantee no immediate safety. In no way do such ideals coddle one who lobs criticism from the safety of their insulated ivory tower of perfectionism. They force one to embrace a form of adventure and growth. Instead of seeing perfection as a starting place for involvement, they instead are humbled by imperfection and confound self-righteous judgment, embracing grace as the way forward in an imperfect reality. Ultimately, as I learn to walk in the path of my savior, I must surrender my own safe judgments and places of comfort and in their stead hold my hands open before Him, my only assurance being that He defines justice, and while His way forward may be difficult, He walked it first, and I am no exception, nor am I greater than Jesus. This, I believe, is what repentance looks like.