Religious thought can take many a deviant and radical path during it's development, rejection, or incorporation into general life. Jesus is the greatest known acting religious radical in that he challenged the corruption and foolishness of the existing religious and social structures of his time. Jesus is also in the makeup of many political and social radicals who were brought up with understandings of the Christian religion. The American Hippie movement was based in the teachings and life of Jesus, where rejection of war, challenges to the existing and corrupt social structures, and the ideals of living in communities where all are accepted were famously made.
Religious thought can become radicalized when the religious organization begins to dive into secular areas of life and to attempts to impose changes upon society as a whole. Churches are always centers of community life, and can easily become centers of community political action. Churches conduct more than the religious business of a community as they establish programs for the needy, for improving the religious standings of those who are in jail or prison, and as the leaders preach and discuss political and secular goings on in the general society.
Religion does not live in a vacuum and the events in general society challenge the religious to come to acceptance, protest the acceptance, or demand the changes that meet their constructs of right and wrong. The issues of abortion, consuming mood altering substances, sexual freedom, moral education that is being taught in schools, and the government as a whole are of concern to the religions which must exist within social frameworks and under the rule of laws.
Radicalism can be defined as those public and political beliefs and actions which go far beyond the norms and values of a religion, or a society. Violence, terrorism, racial and ethnic hatred, corrupt actions, conspiracies to do harm to the government, conspiracies to control the government, calls for pogroms and attacks against members of other religions, and anything that seeks to impose religious values on personal, governmental or secular matters is of concern to those who have seen what radical religious behavior can lead to.
The Jonestown Massacre was one of the most horrific examples of the development, acceptance and execution of both radical and deviant religious thought by those who professed to follow the teachings of Jesus.
The unique nature of religious radicalism lies in the true belief in matters of a supernatural or spiritual nature. The belief that divine, overwhelmingly superior power, supports the radical religious agenda adds a powerful element of self perceived infallibility and protection against harm. The belief in some form of earthly or eternal reward that is based on perceived divine or religious understandings encourages radical thought and action that can be suicidal, destructive or deadly in nature, since the individual is led to believe that any action that they carry out is good.
Radicals who do not believe in a divine entity or in eternal life operate on a far different basis than those who believe that they are entitled to reward or will receive a reward for their actions.
Some radical religious thought may be simple, benign or even beneficial processes that help a church to get with the times. Ending the Latin mass, making the "joyful noise" with rock, jazz, and modern music and dance, and using new technologies to expand church services and rituals to larger audiences, are examples of ideas that were once considered to be extremely radical. Thus, the concept of radicalism in religious thought changes, adapts, disrupts, is rejected, or evolves into new traditions.