The Cage Stage. That is what we in the Reformed tradition humorously label those who have recently committed themselves to Reformed theology. The joke comes from the all-too-common reality that new adherents to Reformed beliefs tend to be combative, arrogant, and rude. The cage stage is the season when we need to be locked up in a cage, so we don’t harm anyone in our combativeness or make a fool out of ourselves! For some, this season only lasts weeks or months. For others, it can last years or an entire lifetime.
Reformed acolytes are not the only converts who can be bold and brash in their beliefs. Such behavior – what we might call a kind of radicalization – is common across all spectrums of beliefs and subjects. As Jonathan Haidt shows in The Righteous Mind, we are all driven primarily by our intuitive elephants. We are easily ensnared by polarizing ideologies, by values which both “blind and bind” us. Haidt writes,
“Morality binds and blinds. This is not just something that happens to people on the other side. We all get sucked into tribal moral communities. We circle around sacred values and then share post hoc arguments about why we are so right, and they are so wrong. We think the other side is blind to truth, reason, science, and common sense, but in fact everyone goes blind when talking about their sacred objects… We are deeply intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive our strategic reasoning.” (The Righteous Mind, pp. 364-371)
Aggressive, bold followers can be found across all ideologies and belief systems: from democrats to republicans, pro-life to pro-choice, Christian to Muslim, atheist to Jewish, progressive sexual beliefs to historic sexual beliefs, and so on. This radicalization can even progress into violent behaviors, as is often the case in various kinds of terrorism. My purpose here is not to evaluate any of these beliefs at length, but simply to observe that zealous beliefs are common in all places and cultures.