Human beings, it seems to me, are naturally thrown to 'name' things--to categorize, catalogue, separate out, group, sort, look for patterns, file, put things in geniuses and species. We, as a species ourselves, tacitly and subconsciously believe there is an 'order to things', that the universe is ultimately understandable. Whether or not that is true is worth pondering but not what I want to talk about now.
One of the things we name and label and distinguish between are other people. Some of that sorting out is quite simplistic.
My Grandmother Jones, for example, divided all people into two categories: "church people" and everyone else. "They may be a bit odd," she once said about a nearby family, "but at least they're church people." There wasn't a lot of subtlety in her categories and very little judgement. I never heard her imply that 'church people' were morally superior to 'non church people'. It was simply her way of making sense of things. All Gaul is divided into three parts and all people, for Lina Manona Jones, were divided into two groups.
Young children, it seems to me, tend to divide all people into two groups as well: good guys and bad guys. That was obvious when I played cowboys and Indians or Natzis and Americans, or cops and robbers as a boy. My twin grand-daughter often ask, about someone they don't understand, "are they good?" Small Children and Santa Claus are always sorting out naughty and nice.
When I was in college, those I knew divided humankind into hippies and squares. Actually, that's not quite accurate since the people I knew weren't real hippies--we were 'pretend hippies', weekend hippies. So the real categories were hippies, wannabe hippies and squares. We only worried about sorting out people under 30. Everyone over 30, of course, couldn't be trusted.
"Pretend hippies" reminded me of the conversation I never tire telling people about that I had with my granddaughter Morgan once. "Grampie," she said while drawing strange lines on a piece of paper, "are you a Dr. too?" Her other grandfather is a big deal at John Hopkin's Hospital--a thoracic surgeon.
Remembering my Doctor of the Ministry degree earned at Hartford Seminary, I replied. "Actually, I am, Morgan. But I'm not a medical Doctor." She thought for a minute and said, "Oh, you're a pretend doctor." "Actually, Morgan," I said, "I am....".
Note how St. Paul automatically categorized people: Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female. This irresistible urge to name and label has, of course, been the sword the powerful have always held over the powerless. The powerful 'name', the powerless 'get named'. The most obvious example is the 'Black is Beautiful' movement when Black people named themselves and shrugged off the label of 'negro', or worse.
All this is prelude to what my current operating categories of human beings is: the world is divided, for me right now, into Fundamentalists and people who aren't.
It's a distinction that is obviously flawed but functions pretty well. Fundamentalists of whatever ilk are much more alike than they are like non-Fundamentalists. This is obvious in religion. It's a helpful distinction. But there are 'fundamentalists' of other genres. Anybody who divides the world into those who are Right/Saved/Pure and those who are wrong/lost/tainted--is a fundamentalist in my book. Islamic fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists share a lot of characteristics even though, by definition, both groups abhor the other. There is 'one way' for both of them and anyone who isn't following that 'one way' is lost and not worth saving. There can be no compromise with 'the other'. And, within the fundamentalist world view, anyone who disagrees should be shunned (if not killed).
When I was the part-time chaplain to West Virginia State College as part of my first clerical job, I would meet with students as part of the required freshman seminars. Many of the young people were very conservative Christians and I was a Liberal Fundamentalist at the time and convinced it was my job to show them the error of their ways. (Like I said, fundamentalists come in all hues!)
So, I would talk with them about 'salvation'. I suggested that for some people 'salvation' was a thing certain, like, for example, Cleveland. You're either in Cleveland or not. The suburbs are not Cleveland and Toledo certainly isn't Cleveland. So the 'saved' knew they were in Cleveland. My ploy was to argue with convincing logic that another way of seeing 'salvation' was to 'be on the Way to Cleveland' and that there was lots and lots of ways to get from Institute, West Virginia to Cleveland. Brilliant, I thought, though the truth was that I was as big a fundamentalist about 'being of the Way' being right as they were about being in Cleveland.
Then one day, when I thought I'd about perfected my argument, having done it 10 or so times, one student in the back raised his hand. "Who says Cleveland is where we should be going?" he asked.
My days as a fundamentalist ended then. "Being on the Road" is how I seek to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling and not a little good humor. But may way is certainly not 'The Way'.
(I was going to close this by pointing out how fundamentalism--on both sides but mostly, honestly, on the Right of the political spectrum--had thrown a monkey wrench into the cogs of our constitutional government. But, as I think of it, the point is obvious....)
We'd all be better off to ponder how to strip away labels and names and judgmental thoughts and try to figure out how to work together somehow....
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