My thoughts drift to the scene from Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, as Maximus stands in the gladiatorial arena after a victory shouting to the watching masses “I do not entertain.” While the Gladiator can make the argument that he fights simply to survive, the obvious truth is that he most certainly entertains.
Today, in the aftermath of yesterday’s elections, political analysts are scrambling to explain why one candidate lost and another won. Their answer: extremism. In the mind set of most political pundits, “extremism” is a sure way to lose an election. But is extremism accurately defined? In almost every case, the accusation of being ‘way out there’ deserves an immediate riled response of “I am not extreme!” but the truth is that this defense carries no more weight than that of Maximus, and will be listened to just as little.
According to Merriam-Webster’s, ‘extremism’ is “belief in and support for ideas that are very far from what most people consider correct or reasonable.” But how is this term used in American Politics? Candidate A says hot, but candidate B says cold. Fifty-one percent agree with A, forty-nine percent with B. Therefore, Candidate B is an extremist. Obviously, this is not in keeping with the definition of extremism. The term ‘extremism’ would be more accurate if Candidate A suggested a raise in taxes but Candidate B suggested that the government should give every citizen one million dollars. “Most people” would agree that the US government does not have sufficient funds for such a policy. This would indeed be an extreme suggestion.
In the real world, though, to declare a large minority as extreme is, well, extreme! For instance, in one election yesterday, the losing candidate was labeled as ‘too extreme.’ Yet, that election was decided by less than one percent. In another election, a candidate was said to have won because he was not extreme, obviously because he won by nearly twenty percent of the vote. Does this mean that the forty percent who voted against him are extreme? An extreme position, by definition, should be seen as incorrect by ‘most people,’ but sixty percent is far from ‘most.’ The truth is that very few political positions are as ‘extreme’ as they are labeled. To the victor go the spoils, allowing the victor to declare the loser as ‘extreme,’ even if they receive forty-nine percent of the vote.
So why does no one listen to claims of “I am not extreme!” Simple: They are extreme! If candidate A say hot, and candidate B says cold, and candidate A wins a simple majority, everyone should agree that, by definition, candidate B is not extreme. However, if what candidate B declares is so countercultural and so antithetical to human nature, candidate B will be declared, and quite accurately, as extreme.
The truth of the matter is that culture is not determined by a simple majority. Instead, culture is often determined by a vocal minority that has a majority of the influence. When this minority is opposed, even by a majority, such opinions are labeled as extreme. And, to point out the obvious, the vocal minority in American culture is largely anti-Bible and pro-whatever feels good and is good for me. When someone, politician or otherwise, begins suggesting Biblical Judeo-Christian values, it is viewed as extreme. This should come as no surprise seeing as Jesus Christ said Christians would be viewed as such.
The same was seen in the early church when it was declared ‘extreme’ by the vocal minority–the Roman government. When that vocal minority excepted Christianity officially under Constantine, the label of extremism dissipated. Sadly, so did Christianity’s prioritizing of scripture over politics. The history of the early church in Rome shows the dangers of being more political than scriptural. In the US, the goal of politicians is to be moderate enough to win an election. Being culturally extreme, even if not statistically or by definition extreme, can cost one victory in an election.
Sadly, many in Christianity, regardless of political party, allow their adherence to Biblical ethics and morality to slip in order to be less extreme and more electable. But Christians must hold to scripture, even if it means being labeled as extreme. It may mean that Christians win fewer elections, but that did not seem to bother the early Christians in Rome as they headed to their deaths in the arena. If being Biblical in one’s view of ethics and morality means bearing the label of ‘extreme,’ even when statistically a large portion of the US population agrees and only labeled as such because it disagrees with the vocal minority, then being ‘extreme’ is a label that should be carried with pride.