Having a conversation with my friend Todd Littleton the other day prompted me to blurt out this phrase: “The kingdom of God is idealistic.” Having a conversation this past Monday morning with my coach prompted her to force me to explain idealistic. So over the next couple of posts I want to do that, especially in terms of the Kingdom of God
My dictionary on my mac defines idealistic this way:
idealistic |īˌdē(ə)ˈlistik| adjective characterized by idealism; unrealistically aiming for perfection: idealistic young doctors who went to work for the rebels.
The thesaurus (located in the same dictionary app) provides the following:
idealistic adjective some say I’m drawing a wildly idealistic portrait of what the Church can become: utopian, visionary, romantic, quixotic, dreamy, unrealistic, impractical, starry-eyed;fanciful; informal with one’s head in the clouds; chiefly Brit. informal airy-fairy.
When something is idealistic, it characterized by idealism, which means:
idealism |īˈdē(ə)ˌlizəm| noun the practice of forming or pursuing ideals, esp. unrealistically: the idealism of youth.
All of that is based on the meaning of idea. The origin of the word “idea” comes from the late Middle English via Latin from Greek idea ‘form, pattern,’ from the base of idein ‘to see.’
Ideal comes from the Late Latin word ideālis, which means “existing as an idea or archetype.” The earliest recorded use of idealist in English occurs in 1701 in philosopher John Norris’s Essay toward the Theory of the Ideal or Intelligible World, in which he references the Greek philosopher Plato’s “theory of forms.” Plato had posited that everything we perceive is actually a representation of ideal things, but not the things themselves. Idealism gained popularity in various guises in the 18th-century works of philosophers such as Berkeley, Kant, and Hegel.
By the start of the 19th century, the meaning of idealist broadened to describe artists or writers who treated subjects with imagination, in contrast to a naturalist or realist, who depicted a real-world atmosphere in their art. A few decades later, the term was applied to visionaries, and soon after to people who were so imbued with an ideal that they failed to see the world for what it is.
But today, the word can be a two-edged sword: if a person calls herself an idealist she very likely means it positively, as in the pursuit of a higher good. However, if somebody else calls her an idealist, that person can mean that she is impractical or naive.
Do I think the Kingdom of God is an ideal? Am I an idealist if I believe in what the Kingdom of God describes? Yeah, on both counts, at least in the origin of the term.
And yet, some might even call me an idealist in the modern sense of the term…As if I am naive.
Call me as an idealist then. Why? Idealism inspires.
More coming in the next post.