The “Life Sentence” of a Religious Label

Two Catholics, a Baptists, a Lutheran, and a Jew were sitting in a lunch room discussing religion… this is no joke…

When I offered up no faith of my own, the eldest of the group balled me up in her aged little eyes and asked me what I was?

“Er… I… um…”

Aghast, frightened stares from the woman — furrowed, suspicious brows from the men.

“Hm?” She cut in. Then soothingly, “Come on,” her tone quickly changing to that of a kindergarten teacher. “What church did you go to when you were a boy.”

Talk about being painted into a bizarre religious corner. It’s like being asked, do you still masturbate in the closet? So I just said it, “Well, I guess you could say I was raised Catholic.”

“So you’re Catholic then!” she quipped triumphantly, and then turned away from me and into another conversation so quickly that to object would have been a glaring social faux-pas on my part.

Anyway, the point is — what is this obsession with meaningless religious labels? I am no more Cathoilc than I am Sikh or Zoroastrian, but apparently believing in anything even remotely “Catholic” is not required to be one.

It’s not the first time I’ve come across unreasonable attachments to religious labels, people adopt them for all sorts of reasons that have little to do with the existence or nature of the creator of the universe.

But I still don’t get it. I mean, some labels we are unavoidably fixed to — our gender, the nation of our birth — but others we absolutely choose. Those that we choose we should take some responsibility for.

Most of us would not sign our name without taking at least a cursory glance at the contract, especially when the contract language is as severe as that in the Bible or Koran. And if we were so inclined, couldn’t we continue to draw inspiration from the teachings of Christ or Mohammed without being a Christian or a Muslim — just as someone can gain knowledge from Descartes without being a Cartesian?

I can express my enjoyment of Mozart without being a Mozartian, drink my favorite coffee without being a Starbuckster, and drive comfortably to work in a car that I love without ever referring to myself as Volkswaginian or Mazdite. Some people tell me they are “Christian” because of the great impact Jesus Christ has had a on our culture and society — but then wouldn’t they equally be Platonists, Euclideans, Pasteurians, and Gutenbergens?

These religious labels are nonsense in my opinion, they only hide what is really in one’s heart, covering it up with some iron-age label that includes prejudices, taboos, and rituals important only to a desert tribe trying to survive in a hostile world.


6 Responses

  1. “What are we then if we have the constant obligation to make ourselves what we are if our mode of being is having the obligation to be what we are? Let us consider this waiter in the cafe. His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid. He bends forward a little too eagerly; his voice, his eyes express an interest a little too solicitous for the order of the customer. Finally there he returns, trying to imitate in his walk the inflexible stiffness of some kind of automaton while carrying his tray with the recklessness of a tight-rope-walker by putting it in a perpetually unstable, perpetually broken equilibrium which he perpetually re-establishes by a light movement of the arm and hand. All his behavior seems to us a game. He applies himself to changing his movements as if they were mechanisms, the one regulating the other; his gestures and even his voice seems to be mechanisms; he gives himself the quickness and pitiless rapidity of things. He is playing, he is amusing himself. But what is he playing? We need not watch long before we can explain it: he is playing at being a waiter in a cafe. There is nothing there to surprise us.”

  2. the thing about religion is that every human wants to belong to a group of like minded individuals. if a label can be placed on you, you can be identified as either a like-minded friend, a different-minded enemy, or a possibility of the two. this is true in all forms of communication and interests. without placing labels we leave even more of our ‘world’ unknown than it already is. even though religion and labels have their annoyances, i would prefer the elder christ-touting, barren wombed, troops supporting, privately chain-smoking old cat-loving spinster grill me on what religion i back than not talk to me at all. at least then, i can label her.

  3. I think though, the problem lies in that — one, labels can be completely inaccurate, — two, labels can create divisions where there are none. For example, two people may both think there are “many paths to God”, that worshipping neither Jesus’s or Mohammed’s words is necessary for “salvation”… and yet, one may “be” a Muslim and the other a Christian… the labels obscure what is common between them and create “different-minded enemies” out of nothing at all…

  4. right, i knew you would take that stance and it’s very appropriate for your blog…the question of truth. the only reason truth is important is so that we as humans can create an accurate opinion. we do the same with labels, so i find them valid. it’s up to you to what opinion is chosen.

  5. Best answer: “I’m a Jedi.”

    Second-best: “It’s my hot body, I do what I want!”

  6. What if everyone is right? Seriously, how can anyone believe in one answer when there are millions of people in various camps of belief, so strong that they would kill for it, literally.

    I think to be labeled and to believe is because we are avoiding what we fear the most. That is it. Thats all there is and nothing will save us from our selves. To be completely responsible for your life is daunting and labels are like protection from what we fear, being alone.

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