Case #1: In a political blog post dealing with the GOP assertion that Mormonism is a cult, I said that while I didn't think Mormonism was a cult or any better/worse than other religions, I also didn't think they were Christian. I explicitly said this wasn't intended as a judgment in any way (I honestly don't think you need to be any religion - or religious at all - to hold public office!). Rather, it was a factual statement. Christians disagree over how to interpret their holy texts, but they do start from the same canon. That's some similarity.
Case #2: Over at celandineb's blog I recently got into a conversation over what made someone a member of a certain faith community. Basically we were discussing whether there was such a thing as militant atheism. Certainly people kill in the name of religion (the Taliban, al-Qaeda, etc. for Islam; Anders Breivig for Christianity; etc.) But I keep asking in my mind, do such people represent Christianity or Islam or whatever, even if they claim the title? Is a group's belief just determined by what the majority of people claiming the label think?
I can see why you would think that - after all, the numbers and how much noise those numbers make influences what people mean when they use the concepts of Christians or Muslims or whatever. For many Americans, Christianity is connected to anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-feminism. And Islam is often connected to outright misogyny and to terrorism. There was a point when the public opinion changed, so there was a time when people believed one thing, and those people who believed the now-common associations were turning from how the religion was. You could say the same thing for any cultural element. I honestly do not believe that Anders Breivig was a Christian, though I do believe many parts of Christianity are responsible for the rhetoric that let him read our canon that way. Similarly, I don't think the Taliban comment on all Muslims, however they describe themselves, though I do think that it's the Muslims' jobs to safe-guard how their text is interpreted.
Case #3: Just a few days ago, over at my fannish blog I asked whether fanfic was different from speculative fiction, and whether fanfic could be speculative fiction. I had a question lurking at the back of my brain, who gets to decide what specfic is.
In my mind, I keep coming back to this thought: that just claiming a label doesn't give you the right to reshape the idea or identity; that just because you choose a name doesn't mean whatever you do reflects on the group you claim. In philosophical words, identity is an a priori concept, something we relate to rather than shape. At least in part.
This matters deeply to me, because I see things I care about being remade time and again by others. I see the Tea Party remarking how my friends talk about the South. I see the culture wars reshaping what it means to be a Protestant. I see people like Ayn Rand corrupting what people think of when they hear the word Christian. And it feels like bits of who I am is getting taken away, piece by piece. Maybe there's no real change (how much of this is me seeing how people have always viewed things, but never bothered to talk about)? I don't know.
So if I keep banging my head about this, at least you know why!
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