Identity and Ideology are not Identical

S is not identical to her beliefs. S may have belief, b, that gives her reasons to perform some action, a. But she performs a and has b – she is neither identical to a nor b. If X is identical to Z, then X cannot exist if Z does not exist. If S did not have b and had not performed a, then S would still exist. Not identical, see?

Thus, no one is identical to the political ideologies to which they hold. I am no more identical to my belief that governments should be punish evil behavior and build a strong military, than a lefty is identical to the belief that the government should take my money and give it to someone else. If neither of us believed those things, then we would not cease to be because of it.

If an ideology is riddled with falsity, conducive to evil actions by its proponents, and thoroughly irrational, then it deserves forceful refutation, and consignment to the intellectual garbage can. But the person who holds to it is not so deserving. We may levy our arguments, barrage the man with letters, and strongly oppose his beliefs with words. But we may not stone him for what he believes. Because persons are not ideologies.

If the person acts on some belief and murders the innocent, then that person deserves punishment – even death. The reasons for their action, though relevant, do not solely determine whether or not the murderer deserves the punishment. He may have murdered a child because he wanted the child’s ice cream or because he held to some wicked ideology. Either way, the man deserves severe punishment to be carried out by the relevant authority. But that is not the same as attacking a person for what they believe.

Finally, some wisdom: If someone believes in some evil ideology, you would be wise to avoid placing that person among your children. But you would also be wise to vehemently reject and refute his ideology. If you hold to an ideology that suggests that it is wrong to avoid placing that person with your children and it is equally wrong to refute his wicked ideology with a good strong argument, then your ideology is made up of false statements in which you should not believe. You should abandon that ideology and believe something else. You can do so because you are not identical to the ideology.

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.