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Consuming ideologies

Ideologies of any kind can be destructive


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J.K. Rowling, one of the most successful authors of all time, posted an interesting Twitter thread on April 20. I’ll call it the Parable of the Greengrocer.

It began with her noticing a sign placed in the window of the local produce seller: “Workers of the World, Unite!” This venerable slogan, she mused, came with the crates of carrots and onions. Why display it? Was the greengrocer a classic communist? Or is he just posting the sign to keep the local socialists off his back? “If the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan, ‘I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,’ he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth,” she wrote.

Ms. Rowling might have been speculating as to motives, or maybe she knew the man; that’s not the point. She sees this (possibly) craven display as ideology: “a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves.”

If that seems harsh, it may be because J.K. Rowling is herself a victim of ideology. In June of 2020 she tweeted a puzzled response to an article about “people who menstruate.” What do we call such “people”? Women, maybe? A series of follow-up Tweets explained her position: “If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives.”

Christ didn’t preach an ideology; he preached a kingdom and died to establish it.

The wrath of trans ideology rained down on her head. All three young protagonists of the Harry Potter movies called out her insensitivity. A TV special celebrating the publication of the first Harry Potter book took pains to not even mention its author. In response to her greengrocer posts a Twitter follower warned, “Your career has at most two years left, reflect and learn or be forgotten.”

“Ah well,” Rowling replied, “I’ve had a good run.” She can afford to say whatever she wants with no consequence beyond nasty Tweets. The local greengrocer has no such luxury; if the produce cooperative wishes him to fly Marxist colors, he’ll fly them.

What, exactly, is an “ideology”? My print dictionary concurs with Google: “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.” Sounds harmless, and even necessary for a coherent society. But every human invention is subject to decay, and thus ideology can become:

› Any slogan that fits on a bumper sticker.

› Any position that can be discussed in soundbites.

› Any view extracted from, but now isolated from, real-life experience.

› Something your political opponents hold, while you are merely proposing common sense, or a club to beat dissenters over the head.

Conservative Christians are finely tuned to spot ideologies on the left: “Love is love,” “Transwomen are women,” “Keep your laws off my body,” “Black lives matter.” The right doesn’t seem as adept at sloganeering, or at least no catchy bumper stickers come to mind. But capitalist, nationalist, and socially conservative ideologies can be just as destructive when the idea consumes the person, whether true believer, fearful follower, or hapless victim.

Are there such things as Christian ideologies? Judge for yourself: When homeschooling is the only way to educate a child or activism the only way to save the USA, when “Trump voter” is synonymous with “Christian nationalist” or CRT the exclusive lens for examining racism in the church, ideology has overrun the conversation.

Christ didn’t preach an ideology; he preached a kingdom and died to establish it. Lifestyles and politics are not the goal of the kingdom, but the One “through whom are all things, and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6). When transgenderism or anti-racism obscures the transwoman or the racist, the idea has consumed the person.


Janie B. Cheaney Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD's annual Children's Book of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.

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