So, I’ve been thinking about the Jesus story lately – not so much from the religious perspective but from the social perspective. I’m thinking about power and agency and autonomy. I’m wondering how a man who deliberately preached non-violence ended up with the death penalty and why his followers, after codifying a system of orthodoxy, have advocated violence in his name over so many centuries.
It sounds like a great idea. Maybe, on some level, it is. However, life is messy. Relationships are confusing. Nuance and paradox don’t fit neatly into simple categories. And so the response to this messy context is a militant defense of “the pure.” It’s why Jesus gets nailed for hanging with hookers and Socrates is told to drink hemlock and my neo-con friends will go to any length possible to convince me that hooded sweatshirts are indeed a sign of a criminal (even if St. Francis of Assisi wore one).
I’ve heard it in several contexts and communities, spanning many philosophies. People throw around phrases like, “If you really believed this, then you would take it seriously” or “look at the cognitive dissonance. Why can’t you simply follow your philosophy?”
What purists miss is that every great idea that begins as a utopia eventually hits a logical extreme that results in a dystopia. Both in fiction and in life, we’ve seen the dangers of socialism, anarchy, libertarianism, capitalism, pragmatism, meritocracy, globalism, parochialism and pretty much any other -ism that humans have embraced with a puritanical zeal.
Ultimately, purists eventually hit a point of becoming puritanical. It’s why conservatives create the violent and xenophobic Tea Parties and why radicals eventually tried to defend armed guerilla groups that murdered innocent civilians in the name of liberation.
It’s why unschooling purists think it’s okay to call teachers slave-drivers and child-abusers and why public school advocates push the union to attack home-schooling, continue to support laws that punish parents for un-schooling and ultimately use the same pejorative language about “child abuse” against those who believe in alternative education.
I’m not sure what the answer is in education, but I know this much: whatever I suggest and support I need to question and balance with alternative perspectives. I want change, but if change becomes puritanical, we will end up moving toward a dystopia.