“If you label me, you negate all the things I could possibly be.” Correctly or in error, this quote is attributed to Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard. Yes, the human tendency is to quickly identify and classify people; to assign them to a taxonomy chart. Determine where others “belong,” based on their opinions, the place of their birth, the religion to which they are an adherent, or some other pigeon-holing category.
Indeed, it is negating, for once we assign people a proper place – usually outside of our tribe – we don’t have to know, engage, or respect them. We don’t have to recognize that people are incredibly complicated and rarely fall into neat, precise, coherent categories. Life is too messy – and people too multifaceted – for that.
Writing and speaking publicly over the years, I have often experienced this kind of labeling firsthand. A person reads one blog post of mine, comes across a single opinion I shared, or hears me speak for a total of fifteen minutes, and suddenly he or she knows everything about me.
I regularly critique the church, so I am bitter, angry, and interested only in tearing things down; but because I stay in the church, I am complicit in propping up its patriarchy and abuses – or so I have been told. I will join with others of different faiths for the common good (and those with no faith at all), so I have been judged “unfaithful to Christ;” and because I hold resolutely to my personal faith in Jesus, “I am close-minded.”
I believe all persons are made in the image of God, a “pro-life” position. Thus, I am a backward fundamentalist; but because I believe this principle extends beyond a person’s birth – to our enemies, to immigrants, the sick, and those on death row – I am a “social justice warrior who disregards the rule of law.”
Because I believe that systematic bigotry is ever-present, I “am a failure in the eyes of my European ancestors;” and because I support law enforcement, I am pro-tyranny. Because I do not wrap myself in my country’s flag, I am guilty of treason (and should be “sent to Guantanamo Bay” one animated critic told me); and because I reject the power-obsessed, dualism of our politics, I am the “reason nothing changes.”
Because my books are available for purchase, I am a filthy capitalist; and because I believe we should help the poor until it hurts, I am a vile socialist. Because I love the Bible, I am not a serious intellectual thinker; because I embrace the truthfulness of science, I have abandoned my faith.
I could go on ad nauseam, but I feel that is the point: It’s a never-ending sickness. Until we can do unto others as we would have done unto us, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves – which means granting the grace, understanding, and patience we all desire – then the labeling, judging, and negating will continue.
Photo by Jon Tyson
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