05 October 2017

Labels, part three: radical

These days, references to "radical" often come up in connection with the anxious question, "Where was [suspected terrorist's name] radicalized?" For better or for worse, the word has overtones of "extreme."

In the early 1970's, when I was a new Christian, left-wing evangelicals liked to remind each other that "radical" was associated not with extremism, but with the Latin word radix (= root). To be radical was to be firmly rooted in the faith. The magazine Radix (Web site; core sample) sought to demonstrate the full breadth of cultural and social awareness that such rootedness made possible. In my own case, this understanding of "radical" got me involved with Christian-Marxist dialogues, among other things.
London, UK, November 20, 2003

Portland, Oregon, USA, March 19, 2006

Another nuance: a "radical" identity sometimes has an allure for those who are discontented or disillusioned with mainstream politics. Nearly fifty years ago Tom Wolfe documented liberal celebrities' "radical chic." More generally, the activist subculture (in my experience) doesn't like being associated with the truncated political spectrum of the white American middle class or of speculative academia. Radicals are skeptical about gradualism; they yearn to disrupt and transform. At many of the large demonstrations I've attended over the years (most dramatically at an Aboriginal people's demonstration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on September 30, 1974), there have been disruptive participants in the mix, working to provoke violence. It can be a frightening experience.

It's easy for me to dismiss some of these self-proclaimed radicals as self-indulgent practitioners of (in Vladimir Lenin's words) left-wing infantilism, but I don't criticize their discontent. From a Christian viewpoint, we're waiting in hope that "the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God." (Context.) It's hard to wait! Some of us tend to the waiting flock, some envision the coming liberation, and some can't help demanding, with Jeremiah, that we stop saying "peace, peace" when there is no peace! (Context.)

Radical religion can be a creative synthesis, but it can also be attached to a sort of timid marketing conceit, to which liberal Quakers can sometimes be vulnerable. (Yes, I'm aware that evangelical Quakers have our own conceits!) How often have I heard variations on the line, "We Quakers are so radical that we don't even insist on biblical foundations, Jesus, or even God." Talk about cutting one's roots! With this attempt at attraction by non-offensiveness, Friends ironically use the word "radical" to cover the fact that they've been reshaped and thoroughly domesticated by the relentless skepticism of the larger society, rather than asserting a courageous and genuinely radical commitment to the Lamb's War.

Maybe the most genuine radicals among us are not especially concerned about how they're labeled. Example: was Daniel Berrigan a radical? His most persistent self-description was as powerful as it was non-chic: he was a priest, a minister of Christ. But he lived out Greg Kandra's assertion that "being a Christian, in fact, is radical."

What do you think? What is it about being a Christian that can usefully be described as radical? Have you and I been radicalized?

Other labels: evangelical, conservative, socialist.
My previous post on Daniel Berrigan.

Ted Grimsrud is reading the Bible in light of the Lamb's War.

Two important "Religion Dispatches": On Trump and the football players' protests: race and religious violence ... and why partisanship trumps morality in gun control debates.

Is this just snarky or does Don Burrows have an important challenge? ... On conservative Christians' sudden devotion to the imperial cult.

The latest edition of Friends Journal's Quaker Works. An impressive list with a glaring gap: no group primarily involved with evangelism is listed. Did nobody even try to get listed? (Well, to be fair, the Tract Association of Friends is included ... under "Consultation, Support, and Resources.")

At the Elektrostal Exhibition Hall through October 15: Woodpainting by the husband-and-wife team Bronislav and Antonina Kanushin. (First picture: Elektrostal Museum staffer and our former student Maria Bragina shows our group around the exhibition.)

"No hatred will be tolerated."

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