Reality vs. Ideology

Carl Jung once observed that a mark of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again in the futile hope that this time the results would be different. I sometimes think of Jung when I consider my naively optimistic fellow Washingtonians-and someone else I know.

The vast majority of Washingtonians are relatively recent arrivals from elsewhere. In a state that is only 109 years old it stands to reason that pretty much everyone will be a recent arrival. And, as such, most people naturally bring with them the assumption that the climate here will obey the normal rules of meteorology. So, when June arrives, people assume that things are supposed to get summery.

Then it rains.

And rains.

It is then that the race of western Washingtonians bifurcates into two classes: those who navigate by empirical observation vs. those who navigate by ideology. I am staunchly a member of the first group. Having lived here all my life, I know perfectly well that June in western Washington is a rainy month. But many people, year after year, do not allow such inconvenient facts to get in the way of their personal dogma that summer must and should begin in June. Thus, year after year, it pours rain through most of June and, year after year, a large, ideology-driven segment of the Washington population blinks its big blue eyes and says with surprise, "What an unusually rainy June it is this year!"

I shouldn't complain though. After all, I am perpetually surprised at my own ability to sin. I start each day like Bullwinkle, vaguely thinking "this time for sure" I will do the right thing. I end each day ruefully looking back on the dumb things I have said and done. "How unusual for me to do such things," I remark to myself, as though it was unusual.

When I was an Evangelical, this worried me greatly. We believed "once saved, always saved." That is, if you are a real Christian, then it is absolutely impossible to lose your salvation. Naturally, this provokes the question, "What about those who sin or even reject Jesus after becoming Christians?" The easy, breezy answer to this was, "Oh, they were never really Christians at all."

This doctrine, which is supposed to engender a soothing sense of "eternal security," always had the practical effect of engendering a gnawing sense of eternal anxiety. For, of course, the $64,000 question was, "Am I really a Christian?" Every sin I committed told against that, just as every raindrop told against naive optimism about June. What was I to do about this routine fact of life?

The answer came in the form of a story I once heard about a traveler who stayed at a monastery. He asked one of the monks, "What do you do all day?"

The monk replied, "We fall down and we get up."

The monk, I finally realized, was in touch with human reality. I, in contrast, was dominated by ideology-and pride. The ideology, adhered to despite universal experience, was that disciples of Jesus ought somehow to be immune to sin. The pride, clung to because of sheer vanity, was that I-marvelous I-could surely not be capable of sinning like ordinary people do. Why, that would mean I was ordinary too!

That is when frequent confession suddenly began to make sense. For the reality-as distinct from the ideology-of life as a Christian is that we do indeed fall down and get up. Therefore I should not waste time speculating about whether I-or worse yet someone else-was "really" Christian. Rather, I should recognize that salvation is not a certainty but a hope, get off my duff, and be reconciled-again. Curiously, I found I became much more secure in my relationship with God once I was no longer certain I'm going to heaven. Reality trumps ideology every time.

Copyright 2001 - Mark P. Shea