Every age has its own falsehoods that seem perfectly reasonable, and even practical, if taken in a particular and limited sense. In the past, among certain societies, concepts of honor seemed to be important and unassailable, but taken to logical conclusions could lead to horrors like the killing of rape victims because they have “dishonored the family”.
In our contemporary American culture, we have had, and still have, questionable beliefs that can have disastrous consequences. I remember in the 1960’s we said crazy things like: “If it feels good, do it!” It never dawned on the denizens of the “Age of Aquarius” that they were giving license to pedophiles! One has to be very careful about ideas.
Good ideas can have a wonderful harvest of good fruits, but a single bad idea can be devastating in the evil it produces. Parenthetically, this is why the Church has been so concerned about heresy. A bad idea about God can have disastrous effects. The heresy that Jesus was not truly human spawned the rejection of the human in the cult of the Cathars in Southern France whose advocacy of suicide (since it frees the soul from the human!) had to be put down by armed force!
But there are some pernicious bad ideas that can cause havoc even today. One of these is the ideal that is often spoken about in third-rate shows on TV about “Believing in your Dream!” There is always something true in even a false belief. We should have dreams and ideals and aspirations. But we cannot absolve ourselves of testing the ideals to be sure they are truly life giving. Reason and reliance on the wisdom of the ages must be applied even to dreams.
It is simply claptrap to say that no matter what I dream, if I keep working at it, it will happen.
You hear this often when someone wins a prize: just believe and work hard and it will happen! Now, I may have a dream that I am the quarterback for the New York Giants, but at 68 years of age and in my present physical condition added to my lack of talent in this area, I can rightly and accurately say that no matter what my dream tells me, I can never be that quarterback! To spend my life trying to do it would be a waste of time and effort.
Similarly, take a high school student who wants to be an actor or a performer of some sort, who dreams of becoming a star: If they make decisions regarding schooling, practicing, etc., that are unrealistic, they may be imprisoning themselves in a future nightmare. I have met men and women in their forties and even fifties who are still waiting for that big break and even delayed marriage and family for that.
I have discussed the pain some parents feel over these unrealistic expectations that they supported with great financial sacrifices. One Dad urged his son to go back to school and get a teaching degree so that he can fall back on something reliable if his “dream” does not materialize.
My point in this long digression on unreality, and the damage caused by false ideas accepted as true, is that God calls us into what is best for us and that we need to be able to sacrifice our dreams, ideas and agendas to His Holy Will. Our own prideful stubbornness of will can work against us, and our spiritual development, especially when it is fed by the false philosophy that permeates our culture.
These illusions of the will are the playground and tool box of the Tempter, for he tries to get us to veer off the path of God’s Will, which is where our true happiness lies. He then establishes a false premise that leads to disaster for us.
The psychological field of cognitive therapy has built its whole science of the mind on this idea of the danger of the false beliefs that engender distorted perceptions of the self. When you build on faulty foundations, all the effort is wasted since the house will come tumbling down.
Hence, the importance of consulting the great saints and the tradition of the Church, since we need independent and proven objective standards so that we know we are on the right track and are not building for ourselves something that will be a colossal waste of time.
This is another reason why humility is the basis of all the virtues. It takes humility to question, for it admits our limitations and helps us not to absolutize our own agendas. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, “…live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness [and] with patience…”