Idealists, and, specifically, idealists who are also zealots, scare me. Laser-like focus not only cuts, it blinds. Even if a person is “correct” on an issue, tunnel vision is by definition partial loss of vision.
Idealistic zealots think that the only way to get what they really want—and what they really want is the only result they’ll accept—is by getting all of what they really want. And a significant percentage of them believe or act as if reaching their goal justifies any means of getting there.
It does not. We can “win” at all costs, trample on what is precious, adopt wicked and slimy methods, rationalizing that the result will be something good—and lose miserably even as we scrawl a “W” in the win column.
Zealots generally pigeon-hole the people they deal with as either enemies or friends, nothing in between. In older days, and still in some cultures, an enemy would simply be knifed and removed as a problem; in “civilized” society today, an enemy is just “cancelled.” A friend is expected to help in the knifing or cancelling, and everyone else is ignored.
What that means in practicality is, surprisingly, that those on opposite sides of an “issue,” but those who realize they must settle for some middle ground in order to make any progress at all, may actually be closer to each other than zealots on both far ends. At least, they don’t reach for knives or make every effort conceivable to “cancel” each other. They realize they must talk and, yes, compromise, to get anything done. They might even be able eat an occasional meal together, learn something from each other, and inquire about each other’s families—even as they roundly disagree on many issues, and yes, remarkably, issues that matter deeply to them.
In the above context, “compromise” is a very positive word. But a zealot, wearing his “all or nothing” blinders, will always see compromise as cowardice and treachery. He’ll often get “nothing,” which in a (like it or not) pluralistic society like ours is probably what, I’m tempted to say, he deserves. Even if I agree with him on the issue.
Months ago now, we got word that the member of Congress from our district was coming to my town to meet and speak to his constituents. I actually like him. I trust him more than most politicians. But politics, politicians, and parties have seemed to me increasingly pathetic and, along with many folks, I’ve become increasingly tired of the whole thing and, yes, cynical. In the interest of mental and spiritual health, I almost just stayed home.
But I went. And I’m glad.
I got to ask one question. And I got to see one glimmer of hope.
I don’t recall the exact words, but I asked him privately, “I’ve never met our president; you have. Sooner or later, every president faces a crisis that tests his character, integrity, and wisdom. When the test comes, will our current president have what it takes?” He answered and, I think, meant it. The crisis has come, and we’ll all be answering in November. If you think you know my answer, I’ve written this poorly. I will only say that I expect November to be every bit as much fun as a colonoscopy sans anesthesia. Cynical, right?
But the glimmer of hope? It came during an otherwise pretty predictable speech as our congressman told us that among his little family’s closest friends in Washington is the family of another congressman on the other side. They almost always vote differently, but, personally, they enjoy warm friendship and respect.
That, my friends, is a glimmer of hope, the kind “zealots” will never be able to embrace. The kind that might actually accomplish something when coming together as fellow humans, as different as we are, is the only way to really stand.
Oh, I care about issues, and I care deeply about voting in ways that I believe most likely to honor my King. But hasn’t Christ always cared much more about hearts than issues? Yes, oh, yes.
A zealot will never understand that. His heart won’t let him.
You’re invited to visit my website, and I especially hope you’ll check out my new podcast at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com/podcast!
Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.