If we always seek to overly differentiate ourselves from another person or group, we may end up finding that we define ourselves out of existence.
Ever wonder how evil queens are made? I mean, why was the queen so fixated on Snow White's beauty? Why not be content to define herself apart from Snow White? It seems insane for an older woman to compare her beauty with that of a younger woman. It's seems like she was going to lose that battle from beginning. Maybe if she allowed herself to think of her own beauty in the right context, rather than within a foreign context, she might have seen a lot more beauty there instead of the ugliness she saw when attempting to compare apples and oranges. Hatred toward such a compared foe led to her seeking to do anything to get rid of that foe. She just wanted to stand apart from Snow White, but she just destroyed herself in the end. A beautiful woman destroyed, for what? All to fight the possibility of being compared to another that made her look bad.
The planes of 9/11 came crashing into our lives one day while I was attending WTS for my Biblical and Targumic Aramaic class with Dr. Lowery. I entered the main building and met there an unusually large crowd plastered to the tv. That's when I was informed that a plane had hit the first tower, and they still knew little as to what was going on. I left before class started to get home to my wife and son in northern PA. When I finally did, I arrived home to the news that a second plane had hit and that this was an Islamist attack on American. I remember saying to my wife, "This may have been done by Muslims, but Christians are going to pay for it." Since that time, I have seen nothing to discount that prediction. Whenever Islamic fundamentalists are spoken of in the liberal media today, conservative Christians aren't far behind. It's hard for me not to believe that our media's fixation on fundamentalist Islam is largely due to its desire to topple conservative Christianity. I actually wrote a book on Islam when I was nineteen, but scrapped it after realizing that almost no one I spoke to really wanted to read about it. That's all changed now, and not necessarily all for the better, especially for conservative Christians. They're not being compared to something more beautiful. They're being "uglified" with something ugly.
Because of this successful campaign to lump Christians in with Muslims, the church has spent a lot of time, both individually and collectively, trying to differentiate itself from Islam. In fact, there is a widespread attempt to paint conservatives this way so that people shy away from becoming, or staying, conservative Christians.
After all, it's those conservative Christians who are rigid in what they believe like Muslims. It is those reformed Christians who believe in a God who determines things like Allah. It is those evangelicals who want to press their religious opinions, gained from the Bible, in the political sphere just like Muslims do with Sharia law. It's those conservatives who believe that the genders have roles just like those patriarchal and oppressive fundamentalist Muslims do. And it's those conservatives who believe that their Bible is the Word of God, again, just like Muslims treat the Quran. And they believe that homosexuality is wrong too, all those crazy fundamentalists that is. They're the prom queen now being walked onto the dance floor with their
ugly cousin. This caricature is likely due to many a person leaving
conservative Christianity/churches, simply because the caricature has
convinced him or her that conservative organized religion is bad.
Hence, the further you can distinguish yourself from Muslims in our culture, the more enlightened, humble, loving, and harmless our culture thinks you are. You're good to go. But the more like fundamentalist Islam you are, the more primitive, arrogant, hateful, and dangerous you are. Being like Islam in our culture is much like having the religious cooties, and anything one can do to make sure everyone knows that he does not think like that crazy fundamentalist (Muslim or Christian) is a step up for us in this society.
I definitely think that this is why we have seen a rise in works that seek to undermine the inerrancy of Scripture. If you notice, most errantists are concerned with these very issues: jihad, patriarchy, oppressive law codes, sexual conduct, an angry and judgmental God, etc. They never seem to doubt the inerrancy of those passages that present Jesus in terms in which our culture might interpret as more enlightened (i.e., more accommodating to our way of thinking in modern culture).
Although, there were many works concerning holy war in the Bible before, the attempt now to dismiss these passages as "not from God" has increased sevenfold since 9/11. The same goes for a lot of these issues. We can't be like these primitive people and their tribalistic religion. That would be like agreeing to Islam, which we all know to be as bad as agreeing to be a Nazi. You don't want to be a religious Nazi, do you?
The problem is, having studied most of the commonly familiar world religions, one can compare almost all of our ideas, regardless to what worldview you hold today, to those religions in a very disingenuous way, and lump them all together as something undesirable and to be dismissed. In fact, if you want to find similarities with any undesirable group, you can. Nazis believed in the concept of love. Liberals believe in the concept of love. Therefore liberals are to be grouped with Nazis. If every liberal wished to differentiate himself from that picture, he might end up denying love itself.
And that's precisely the problem with differentiating yourself, not due to true differences, but because you don't want to be associated with a particular group. In essence, by arguing this way against conservative Christianity, many Christians have allowed Islam (and liberalism) to determine what a Christian should look like. In essence, Christianity is being defined out of existence.
Just because you have similarities in thought does not mean that you share associations with that group anymore than sharing biological similarities with chimpanzees makes you identical to one. There are important clarifications that differentiate us, and our positions, so that what is important is not that we believe X, Y, and Z like Muslims may, but that we believe Xa, Yb, and Zc as opposed to Muslims who believe Xe, Yf, and Zg. The same goes for any group identity. It is the power of pure dishonest rhetoric that uses the disrepute of one group in an effort to poison the well and ruin the reputation of another that is clearly distinguished from it in important ways.
Hence, when people like Ergun Caner want to paint Calvinism as deterministic like Islam, it is simply dishonest rhetoric. When someone like Lesslie Newbigin wants to paint inerrancy as Muslim, it is simply a long walk on a path of name-calling and ad hominem born from a genetic fallacy. Ironically, here, the genetics are Christian, not Muslim, which seems to be lost on all of these critics. Islam borrowed and edited many Christian ideas it came into contact with, so many ideas held by Muslims are simply biblical ideas (often ones that have been perverted by the religion). Hence, it is not in the overall idea (e.g. sovereignty, holy war, gender roles) that differentiates conservative Christians from Muslims, anymore than it is found in the idea of love held by both Nazis and liberals, but rather it is in the definitions, distinctions within, and applications of these ideas by which we are differentiated from them.
Anyone can speak generically and make some sort of case to lump in one group with another in an effort to undermine any influence the voice of such a group may have in society. But responsible communication and just plain ethical integrity calls us to refrain from this when the similarities are only in name rather than in definition and execution of a general idea. Those outside of conservative Christianity looking in should remember this as well as those within conservative Christianity who find themselves wanting to jettison more conservative aspects due to these social and psychological pressures. If we don't stop this poor line of argumentation, we might find ourselves defined out of existence, either by ourselves or by others who may one day lump us in with some group of low repute. We must avoid doing this, and overreacting by throwing the baby out with the bathwater when others do it to us, because that's how we end up defining ourselves in the wrong context, and come out with a destructive view of ourselves. In essence, that's how evil queens are made.