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29 April 2013

Can You Please Stop Using That Word Incorrectly? Thanks.

A (fairly boring) story showed up in my Religion News Service RSS titled "Stopping radicals before they start." It caught my eye because of its misuse of the term "radicals." "Radical" is not a synonym for "extremist."[1] "Radical" traces back to the same etymological root as the word--well--"root," as in "getting to the root cause of an issue." "Extreme," on the other hand, means "the utmost" or "the furthest out." It's understandable why some have confused the two terms. After all, the solutions that address the root causes of problems almost invariably seem extreme from within the context of that system.[2] Take this story about a "radical Evangelical." The term "radical" in this case is used very differently. Shane Claiborne argues that the core (i.e. radical) message of the Christian Gospel(s) should inspire some pretty whacky behavior (that some might even describe as "extreme"), but that is not the same as arguing that the faithful should take up arms in a Cosmic War. Violent rhetoric is not core to any religion.[3] Words mean things, and we should take care to keep those meanings precise lest we perpetuate misunderstanding and conflict.


[1] I'm sure you can find several thesauruses that list them as synonyms. They are wrong.

[2] Take poverty, for example. Radical solutions proposed for poverty challenge the very basis of our economy and, thus, seem extreme from the perspective of those of us existing in that economy who may find it difficult to imagine any other kind of system.

[3] More accurately, violence is perhaps central to all religions. For more on this argument, see René Girard's Violence and the Sacred.

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