The Mad Hatter and the Trouble with Isms

If Lewis Carrol wrote a bit more about Wonderland, I wonder what may have been the subject of the perpetual tea parties that were the fate of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. I suspect that they may have formed a group of beliefs and called them an “ism”.  

Socialism, capitalism, feminism, egalitarianism, fascism, veganism, racism, sexism, militarism, pacifism, nationalism, patriotism, inter-sectionalism, activism, atheism, communism, environmentalism, conservatism, liberalism, progressivism, fundamentalism.  The suffix “ism” adds action to a noun and is often an ideology. Some isms seem positive, some neutral, some negative and all are characterized and labeled as good or bad in the mind of the observer. Most are viewed differently by different folks. Almost all such isms are essentially an ideology with certain established narratives.  They are all human constructs. 

Isms develop when humans think they have come to conclusions about things. As we continue to consider our conclusions and discuss them with others we tend to attach certainty to such conclusions and, hence, create isms with their established narratives that drive our perception of future facts and the opinions we derive about such facts. At times, we go so far as to ignore facts that don’t fit the narrative or even invent our own “alternative facts” to make our narratives work. 

Usually we just stop looking for sturdy facts altogether and the narratives simply run on fumes. In turn, this tends to lead to moving away from those who don’t share our ism because we become uncomfortable about questioning our long forgotten basis for adhering to the seemingly satisfying ideology. Yet, we may have attached the ism so firmly to our identity that we refuse to ever allow challenges. This, in turn, leads us to a discourse with others that focuses on mind reading the motives of others rather than a substantive discussion on the underlying merits of our beliefs. We invent new forms of social media in order to enlist our fellow ismists in order to manufacture outrage and drown out dissent when an intruder threatens our beliefs. We like our familiar bubbles.

Again, some of the isms may be regarded as positive things, depending on one’s point of view. However, even something that seems positive can lead one down a rabbit hole.  Like Alice, we are taken to a place that doesn’t seem like Wonderland after we have been there a while. We find ourselves stuck in time, having tea with the March Hare and the Mad Hatter, as the March Hare seems to have gone mad and the Hatter keeps changing positions and asking unanswerable riddles and reciting nonsensical Twitter poetry. We find ourselves having been unwittingly sentenced by the Queen of Hearts for the Hatter’s crime of having murdered time and the resulting sentence of a perpetual tea party becomes an unsatisfying thing. 

Those of us that call ourselves Christians are not immune from any of this. We seem prone to speck removal from the eyes of others, in spite of Jesus’ admonition against doing so. Our human constructing of isms can leave us very short of anything godly or sublime. 

The thing is, none of the isms are actually necessary in the first place. Nowhere in the Bible does God seem to require us to have an opinion about anything. In fact, it doesn’t seem as though it’s required or even recommended that we have opinions of others. You know, that business about “ judge not, lest ye be not judged” seems to be informative on that point. 

But we humans seem to want to believe in something and we seem to gravitate toward our chosen isms rather than to God himself. So we construct things, our own Towers of Babel, ever reaching upward to the sky in their grandeur until we become babbling fools who cannot understand one another. In modern times, we seek to build walls, real and imagined, in our own emotional states of national emergency in order to keep others out of our safe spaces. Ironically, we often lack the funding to build these walls but we ardently proceed anyway because we recall that our ism has told us we should do so, even when we’ve long since lost sight of the nature of the walls themselves. 

Perhaps the reason we humans avoid God’s way and favor our own constructs is because God’s way requires love and we understand love dimly, as the apostle Paul reminds us. However, the two greatest commandments seem to give us our guide. We are to love God and love others. Everything hangs on these two commandments. 

The problem is, neither of these commandments tell us in so many words how we obtain love for ourselves, which is the thing we crave more than anything else. Isms, on the other hand, give us the illusion that we are loved because we have found the proper ideology and since it is shared by others, we are affirmed in our correct thinking. That’s why we defend our isms so staunchly.  But affirmations are not the same thing as love. 

Perhaps we would do well to remember that God created us and He first loved us. In fact, God is love. The two greatest commandments don’t negate God’s love for us, they presuppose it. But it’s easy for the fallen human race to forget that at times so we seek the bed of ismism for comfort, finding temporary solace but leaving with the unfulfilled longing, still unsatisfied. 

It seems our human concept of love can go back to that business about having opinions. But just as we are not required to have opinions about others, neither does God require us to have opinions about ourselves. I think that may be because God’s love for us, which He wishes us to share with others, is not based on an opinion of worthiness. It is not based on a human design or adherence to any sort of supposed correct thinking. It is unconditional and not based on anything at all other than the nature of God and His love. 

Isms are not inclusive, even when they claim to be. They are human constructs that are designed to admit a group of humans and the bar the door to keep others out. Of course, those on the outside are deemed inferior or corrupted, in contradiction of God’s universal and unconditional love. 

The poet, Mary Vasquez,  has said “God is love, and as pure love, He is inclusive”. St.  Augustine has said “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us”.  Perhaps if we can step back from our isms and focus on God’s inclusive and personal love, we won’t need the isms and their unsatisfying nature. Our fate does not need to match that of the Hatter from Wonderland. 

Copyright March 2019 by Daniel Blake

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