It has been said that there are two groups of people in the world: those who divide people into two groups and those who don’t. I’ve been reflecting for a time on some of the issues facing The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and it seems to me that it is possible to group the responses to these issues under convenient — if inaccurate — headings.
Many who favor the development of a covenant for the Anglican Communion appear to me to be taking an idealist approach: they are describing a church structure that does not yet exist but which they feel sure should exist for the good of the Church. Many, who are concerned about the development of such a covenant, if not entirely opposed to it, seem to be taking a more realist approach: describing present church structures in an effort to determine where the difficulties have arisen. As my friend *Christopher describes it, it is a difference between prescription and description.
It occurred to me that while it is hard to define these categories in definitive ways, it might be possible to cast a broader net to communicate the kinds of differences in approach I am trying to describe.
[Added note: My effort here is not to create categories into which individuals might fit, but rather look at how idealism and realism are expressed in many and various ways in different contexts. An individual person might be very idealistic about her politics, but intensely pragmatic about childrearing. More importantly, I do not mean the following categories to reflect directly the categories "liberal" and "conservative." People on both sides of the ecclesiastical divide can be equally idealistic or realistic in various ways.]
Let me begin with a specific example and then provide an attempt at a “cloud of witnesses” in which I might hope to surround the area in which I think the categories might become clearer.
Bertolt Brecht’s play, The Measures Taken, charts the course of a Communist cell working in prerevolutionary China. I composed music for a production of this play when I was in college, and what fascinated me about the play was its objectivity: both ardent socialists and fervent Republicans could point to it and say: yes, that’s what communism is all about. [In keeping with my comment above, note that the play is about Communism, and the tension between idealism and realism in that context. An idealist Christian is very different from an idealist Communist!]
The play describes the problems that arise when one of the cell members, the Young Comrade, can’t seem to grasp the point of the cell’s purpose: to promote the revolution. The Young Comrade instead spends his time trying to help individual people in their misery. For example, in one scene set on the banks of the canal, the cell is sent in to agitate the barge-pullers into forming a union to demand better wages and, more importantly, shoes that will help them keep their footing better in the muddy banks. The Young Comrade, taking pity on the workers, instead of agitating them, gathers up rocks from the hillside and runs about putting them under the feet of the barge-pullers to keep them from slipping and falling. This completely undercuts the cell’s efforts and they are forced to move on to their next effort.
It is interesting to reflect on this in light of the issues before us. In the following chart I’ve attempted to list some “off the top of my head” reactions. Others may think I have listed things exactly opposite to the way they should be. Some may find this a frivolous exercise; but I hope it might hold a mirror up both for myself and others in the present discussions to assist in seeing why it may be that we can come to such different conclusions when faced with the same situation. And so, in no particular order, here are some various distinctions between idealism and realism in a number of different areas of human endeavor.
retrojection of present onto past
explanation of present from past
situational or utilitarian
“Glass is half empty”
“This is a glass containing half of its capacity.”
mode of operation
“founded on a rock”
“a pilgrim people”
new testament book
With a very large FWIW...
Tobias Haller BSG