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IDEALISM, Where has it gone?

By A.R. Schaffer


i·de·al·ism (-d-lzm) n.  1 The act or practice of envisioning things in an ideal form.


hy·poc·ri·sy (h-pkr-s) n. pl. hy·poc·ri·sies 1 The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness. 



     It would seem we have a great hypocrisy with our religious and American principles, at least in the rhetoric that is so often spoken these days.  A great place of honor goes to men like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Jesus --- those men who speak of peace, brotherhood, equality; men who promote love and non-violence as a revolution that could change the face of the earth.  Men who had the vision and character to see a world that could settle differences in an intelligent, logical and peaceful manner because they were united in their rather idealistic concept that we can move beyond our self-centered and violent natures;  men, who dreamed about a world where men respected one another and lived their lives in a totally honest, caring, and ethical manner.  Human beings quote them, honor them with holidays, and in Jesus’ case, many actually worship him.  Yet, while society pays idealism lip service, it is virtually absent from the realities of our world, in our businesses, in our government, and sadly even sometimes in our religious life. 


     We need to examine the hypocrisy ( a fault Jesus criticized more often than any other in the Gospels[1]) of what we say from the realities of our civilization.   Our leaders talk of peace and freedom, yet move toward war in the name of peace.  Freedom is ever increasingly becoming a mere slogan as constitutional rights are being swept away driven by our fears. The same is true of equality for all men as certain ethnic groups become the target of suspicion.  Not even in the cold war, was the world in such a sorry state of political affairs. Average citizens are afraid for their employment and the economy seems shaky at best. Conflicts and potential conflicts all over the globe:  Israelis and Palestinians,    Koreans, Iraqis, Muslim fanatics all at odds with the US, India and Pakistan, Russia and Chechnya, Ireland is rekindling its conflict, Africa is in a state of chaos from genocide to revolution to an AIDS epidemic, and South America with a number of turmoil’s.    Our environment is in grave danger, our businesses are full of corporate scandal and corruption, race problems thought to be somewhat resolved are being rekindled, states and cities are finding it harder and harder to provide necessary services, poor people are having benefits eroded, and our national debt (that our children will inherit) continues to climb at an alarming rate --- all this, while the administration which claims to have Jesus as it  most admired historical figure, pounds the drums of war,  wants to give money back to those who need it the least, and promotes an agenda of intolerance declaring those who disagree with its policies are somehow anti-American.  When our president speaks he talks of values, freedom, equal opportunity, human rights and faith in God;  [2]  all seemingly far removed from his actual agenda.  “Actions speak louder than words”.  And we, as a people, seem to follow him in an almost unquestioning religious zeal that assigns to him a holy authority that is dangerous in a Republic Democracy.  For all the espousing of virtue in America, this president maintains almost unprecedented support for his agenda, which has little to do with virtuous standards.

      Recently we have taken the time to mourn the seven lives lost in the tragedy of the Columbia Shuttle break up, a most sad and tragic event, and our hearts go out to their families!  Yet, even as we mourn we prepare as a nation to send who knows how many innocent soldiers and civilians to their deaths.  This, without so much as a thought given to the families who will mourn their losses without much comfort.  “The world will be a safer place for us and our children,” we are told.  But what is the support for such a claim, beyond the hypocritical rhetoric of our leadership?   Those unquestioning constituents would do well to remember that our government has deceived and lied to us in the past; especially, some who serve in the present administration.  While it is patriotic and wise to follow a president’s lead; to do so unquestioningly is absolutely foolish.   Our silence seems to be hypocrisy to the American Values we proclaim: freedom, equality, justice based upon innocence until proven guilty, compassion and peace!


      Religion often talks of morals, yet such seem only to apply to the privacy of our sexual behaviors; not the ethics that motivate the reality of the world.  Many portray God as being on our side because of a faith that really seems absent from our everyday reality.  And such logic really begs the questions:  Does God really want us to bomb an entire people for the offenses of their leader?  Does God really want us to give more to the rich at the expense of the poor and those just getting by; at the expense of the necessary services needed to maintain our society?  Is God really satisfied with our efforts as a people to bring about peace, justice and equality to all?  Of what use is faith if it is not reflected in the actions of our everyday world?  What good does it do to worship Jesus from morning till night when his message of love and brotherhood are nothing but empty words spoken from our pulpits and uttered in our prayers?  “My people pay me lip service, but their heart is far from me, there worship of me is in vain, for they teach as doctrines the commandments of men.”[3]


     Our business leaders and politicians sit in the front pews of churches, quote from the sacred scripture, talk of morals and values, and pay great tribute to peacemakers and idealists’ dedicated to human equality.  Our nation lays claim to freedom for its people, the democracy of its Republic, and values that it offers to the world.  People screamed in outrage about certain questionable acts of our former president’s personal life.

      But let us do a reality check.  Business is driven by greed and deceit resorting to outright criminal activity in the last decade. Lies and sex are built right into the advertising used to sell products and few even question it.  The voice of the people is drowned out by the money of special interest.  Pornography is a billion dollar business and we flock to our screens of entertainment lured by sexual situations and violence of every kind.  Family is espoused as the cornerstone of American life, yet divorce is at an all time high, parents are forced to put their children in day care because of the economic realities, and career takes precedence over family. 

    Ministers of God are being charged with all sorts of scandals from the molestation of children to con artistry; often being covered up by the authorities of churches.  Drugs and crime are a constant battle in every community; yet, we don’t want to pay our police what they deserve. We think nothing of the tremendous salaries of our movie and rock stars, our sports figures, and television personalities; while we bicker and complain about the salaries paid to the people responsible for educating our children.

    Respect for the law is another great slogan, yet as you drive down a highway you see numerous people speeding, tailgating, running stop signs and lights --- is that not breaking the Law?  Such has become a game we play and hope we do not get caught; yet too often, lives are the costs.  People violate the law when they cheat on their taxes, but this too is just a cat and mouse game.  How about those who drink and drive or smoke “leaf”?  The law is great as long as it serves our needs, but to be ignored when it don’t.


    Liberalism is labeled as a bad things these days (not that all liberal are idealist by a long shot), but what is so wrong about caring for others?  There seems to be a serious disconnect between what we as a people proclaim as our value system and the way we live our lives.  Lying is a bad thing we say, yet a tool in our advertising, a way of life in salesmanship, and a necessity claimed by our government.  Isn’t hypocrisy itself nothing more than a living lie?  And what of the deceit in our contract law with its fine print and often hidden agenda, its often garbled language all designed to mislead people. 

    And what of our religions who sing the praises of God on costly television, build grand houses of worship, often bestow lives of luxury on their clerics; while human misery surrounds them.  In reality, what need has God of a house of worship, when creation stands as the temple to His/Her Being!  Did not Jesus ask that those who follow him sell what they have and give to the poor?


     Idealism is in the heart and soul of every person.  The very high esteem we pay to it in our literature, philosophy, religion, works of art, music, poetry, is a testimony to our desire for it.  But such really becomes “lip service”, a true hypocrisy, when we do not strive to practice it as we preach it, when we do not hold accountable our religious, political and business leaders to the values we claim sacred. 

    Idealism is the basis for most religious systems, the very foundation of America.  Yet, too often when such is cited in the reality of our everyday world, it is scoffed at, ridiculed, considered to be the fantasy of a dreamer. It is often persecuted, ostracized, and branded as the mark of a fool.  Ever present in our heats and the fuel for speeches; the self-centeredness of our lives negates its impact upon our world.   

     Idealism centers on the principle that concern for the whole benefits the self.  When we protect the rights of those who differ from us, we in effect are protecting our own rights.  When we raise people from the depths of poverty, we guard against our own falling into poverty --- we lessen the chance someone may try to take from us.  When we show concern for the environment, we are in effect protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, the beauty we and our children can enjoy.  To speak out against war is to lessen our threat of attack, protect our children and friends from dying on battlefields.  When we provide medical assistance to those who cannot afford it themselves, we are protecting ourselves from the spread of disease.   To respect another is to earn their respect in return.  When we reach out to others we are ensuring someone will reach out to us if we should become in need.  These things are the tenfold reward our Bibles tell us we shall receive, not a dollar for dollar payback as some ministers imply. 

    Faith is not about what we say.  Values are not slogans and generalities.  Peace is not achieved by war.  Faith is recognizing God in creation and treating it accordingly, including our fellow man.  Values are in the actions we perform, they are reflected in the realties of the society we live; anything less is hypocrisy.  Peace is achieved with patience and tolerance, with dialog and compromise, in understanding one another; war is simply hatred in its most blatant form.  Our words are lies if devoid of deeds, our values are hypocrisy if we do not live them, and our faith is in vain if it does not better our world. 

     People need to demand better from their clergy, vote hypocrisy out of leadership, and hold business accountable through their purchasing power.  Idealism has power when we exercise our vote responsibly, use our purchasing power selectively and thoughtfully, think of others in relationship to ourselves, and bring virtue and ethics into the reality of our everyday lives.  Religious values are not lip service to God, nor, are they reserved for strictly for sex or Sunday morning.  Moral values and ethics should be an intricate part of our everyday lives, part of our business and government.  Virtue is honest, tolerant, respects diversity, promotes compassion and justice, and never advances the cause of hatred.  Idealism is the womb for virtue.




Hypocrisy, the Enemy of God

Religious Ethics In Social And Economic Reality

Religious Ethics and the Ecology

Indifference, the Unacknowledged Immorality





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[1] “But the fault he [Jesus] particularly charged them with was hypocrisy. The word occurs no less than fifteen times in Matthew, but is also found in the other gospels as well. Jesus' principal indictment of the Pharisees and Scribes, then, was that they were only acting a part, behaving dishonestly and pretending. As we have seen, the Pharisees did not escape criticism from their fellow Jews for this particular fault of lip service and insincerity. But it infuriated Jesus very greatly; just as (he pointed out) the same vice among earlier Jews had incurred the anger of Isaiah. HYPOCRISY SEEMED TO JESUS A TERRIBLE FAULT, because it annulled the whole intention of the Almighty, blinded man to his own failings, making it impossible for him to experience the repentance, the total change of heart, which was needed before he could be admitted to God's dawning Kingdom.”



[2] For a long time this site has avoided political discussion, but, so many of the policies of this administration are theologically relevant, and so often does the president and his aids site his religious character as foundation for their agenda, that we can no longer remain silent.  While we believe in an ethical government based upon humanist values we feel to cite values in the Name of God or religious beliefs oversteps the bounds of its authority and seeks to manipulate the emotions of its peoples.    

[3] Matt 15:9 repeated in Mark 7:6-8