Recently there has been a political debate between idealism and realism centering on the American Democratic Party’s presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Those in favor of Bernie Sanders argue that in order for national change it is necessary to have a vision. The political idealist argues that focusing on a vision, on what the people want, society is able to improve itself. This approach begins with an end goal, and then applies creative problem-solving and critical thought to discover the path forward.
Those in favor of Hillary Clinton argue on behalf of doing what the government has always done in order to achieve consistent action. The political realist argues for things based in fact, in what “works,” or strategies and tactics that are proven with a history of verifiable evidence. Hillary Clinton’s catchphrase is that she is a “progressive that gets things done.” It is an approach that begins with the current reality, and takes steps that are proven to at least maintain reality, if not reform it.
The realist approach may be attractive to some in the political arena, however those who dive deep into religion have the exact opposite approach. The six most popular religions in the world require seeing past reality and acting out of faith, to seek a vision of the Divine ideal.
According to the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, reality is an illusion. Reality is something to be pulled away and seen through. Only when this is done, can an adherent experience oneness with the Source. The Buddhist perspective is similar. Buddha teaches that reality is suffering, and only by detaching from reality can one achieve nirvana. In both Hinduism and Buddhism, adherents are urged to let go of reality to connect with the Divine.
The Sikh view isn’t terribly dissimilar, as Guru Nanak argued to abstain from distractions and focus solely on God, a theme repeated throughout the Guru Granth Sahib. The idea of focusing on God and eschewing earthly pursuits is one that also appears in other faiths, such as Judaism and Islam.
One can look to the Talmud in Judaism, to see the wisdom of sages arguing on behalf of focusing on God and living a life based on God’s law (a theme repeated often in the Torah). The Quran directs Muslims to focus on God’s law and follow God’s commands, the notion predicated on belief in being held accountable by God. Observance of Islam requires daily actions, like praying five times daily, out of faith.
Christian gospel preaches a revolutionary concept of turning things upside down in the Beatitudes, which counters how society and civilization is run. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preaches that the meek shall inherit the Earth and the first shall become last.
The six most populous faiths in the world argue that realism is far from Divinity. Rather than focusing on things with verifiable evidence, adherents to these religions are urged to focus on an ideal – a Divine vision of what is possible for the self, and in some cases, society as a whole.
In fact, there is a drive to remove realist thinking and behavior from those who are spiritual. One of the most recognizable examples of this for the average American is referenced by the phrase “Doubting Thomas.” This refers to the Biblical story where Thomas does not trust Jesus is who he says he is and must touch Jesus in a very intimate way to establish verifiable proof. When we reference this, there is a stigma associated with the phrase. It implies a weakness on behalf of the person who cannot overcome their doubt. The “Doubting Thomas” has so little faith they need verifiable facts to prove something is true.
This is the big stumbling block for many “logical” or “rational” thinkers. In an age where science and reason permeate all aspects of life by way of technological advancement and easily accessible information, there is an understandable move towards the statistics, facts, primary sources, clear photographs, video recordings – the proof. When people come upon an article, picture quote, and even personal anecdotes, there is the tendency to be skeptical.
The push is towards asking questions. Is this true? Where is the evidence? Where did this thought come from? Is there proof or is this a lie?
Because of this drive for evidence, and inherent doubting of every detail, there is a kind of contempt that develops of the ideal. Suddenly the ideal, dream, or vision, becomes something that is false, misleading, malevolent, or foolhardy. The ideal exists without proof, and therefore is ridiculed. The emotions and intentions around the ideal are invalidated and labeled as worthless because the ideal cannot be “real” or “true” without proof.
It makes perfect sense that a realist would find the idealist ridiculous. How can such a person with such high ideals – with such a wild vision of human potential make good on their vision? There is no proof.
Meanwhile, the idealist – the true believer or faithful person – asks a different question: what would it take to achieve this? What would it take to make this vision real? What would it take to bring about a peaceful, beautiful, loving world? They ask this question, their hearts full of curiosity and creativity, taking steps based in faith that the vision, based on no statistic, is possible.
Is this not the work of the innovator? The entrepreneur? Is this not the visionary that is so highly worshipped in American society? The person who came from nothing and was no one, believing in a vision so firmly, they created what can only be called, miracles. In business we can look at Walt Disney, or Bill Gates and the paths they chose regardless of the messages they received from family, friends, or society. These stories are prized, mythologized by our society and held as examples of the Dream we should all have.
We are told to seek these dreams, even as we are fed messages like, “That’s not a real job!” “You can’t do that!” or “You don’t deserve this!”
So which is it? Are we realists or idealists? Do we need verifiable proof in all things, or is the vision enough? Are we willing to imagine what the world could look like and seek this better tomorrow with all the power and creative problem-solving available to us?
In the past we have done amazing things based on radical ideas. We went to the moon. We built electric grids. We have wireless communicators the size of a deck of cards. We have ways to prevent disease and control reproduction. We have urban reforestation projects and compostable plastics. We have machines taking pictures of far-off planets and stars. We humans are capable of amazing things when we focus on impossible ideas.
We are capable of incredible wonders with just a little faith.
By its nature, faith is idealistic. Religion and scripture urge believers to focus on concepts that are mysterious and invisible, without corroborated statistics or peer-reviewed studies. It is the nature of faith to belong in the world of ideas – in that which has not yet become reality. The argument throughout sacred texts of major world religions, is to seek spiritual progress, something that requires vision of the greatest human potential, regardless of proof. Spiritual progress, according to these religions, is the highest calling of humanity. The realization, or completion of spiritual pursuits, is the actualization of what it means to be truly human. One of the faithful, holding fast to the vision, has the potential to reach the ideal, something based in no verifiable fact.
If we are spiritual people, how can we not seek the dream? How can we not seek this ideal? God would have us do this. To do less, as stated in Proverbs, the people perish.
I have a vision for what is possible. I believe we can do amazing things together, and in an effort to begin this, I am so happy to publish SIX DEGREES. Buy the curriculum here and the devotional here. Thank you for supporting my efforts and let me know how I can help you do the same! Let’s do wonders together!
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