Did you ever have one of those label makers? The kind with a rotating wheel that embossed a plastic ribbon with letters that you could stick to things? Labeling is so easy! I often feel constrained, however, by the chosen labels of extremist groups. Not all evangelicals are power-hungry or enemies of human welfare. This is perhaps one of the keys to the success of extremists. Camouflage has long been recognized by evolution as a most effective tactic. I have many evangelical friends who do not protest cartoons, or ride around in Trump-laden vehicles, polluting the environment like there’s no tomorrow. The problem is what to call them since the more radical wing has usurped their nomenclature. I often think of this because I eschew labels in general, but people in a collective can do quite a bit more damage than a single disgruntled individual. Perhaps “disgruntled” should be part of their name?
Religions generally begin as efforts to help make the world a better place. The historian of religions sees, however, that over time many believers begin seeing the peripherals as the central tenets of the faith. Since I’m familiar with evangelicalism, let me use that as an example. As a form of Christianity, evangelicalism began with the Reformation. Pietist groups, freed from Catholicism’s idea of communal salvation, began to worry about their individual souls and how they might be saved. Their belief structure eventually came to include the necessity of converting others because, if you read the Bible a certain way, that’s a requirement. Over time this outlook evolved into the idea that only one group (one’s own) has truly understood the Christian message. Once numbers grow numerous, it becomes like the medieval Catholic Church—large enough to take political power. Somewhere along the line the central message of helping make the world a better place morphs into making the world evangelical only. Or whatever label we feel constrained to use.
I’m not picking on the evangelicals here—this could apply to any extremists. And it certainly doesn’t apply to all evangelicals. Religion has been part of human culture from the very beginning. A good case can be made that it is one of the basic components of consciousness itself. A person has to learn how to become unreligious. We are also political animals. Who doesn’t want things their own way? We can’t all win, however, and some religions have difficulty separating, say, a savior willing to die for others and the insistence on one’s own way no matter what others want. Like most aspects of life this is a balancing act. I grew up evangelical. I have friends who are evangelical. I don’t want to insult anybody, but what can you do when you feel disgruntled by the degradation of religion into an excuse for hate? I lost my label maker long ago and I no longer know what to call things anyway.