Black Label Warning

In reading a book last night for a book tour that doesn’t take place for a couple of months, I was struck by the fact that someone who took the Bible seriously felt it necessary and proper to disparage those he viewed as fundamentalists, regardless of what side they happened to be on. With a term like that, there is often a wide degree of difference between how people view themselves and how others view them. As someone who reads a lot of books from Christian publishers, it is clear that some readers will view themselves as fundamentalists, and such people will often include the five fundamentals that mark this particular group of Christians in strong reaction against tendencies towards doctrinal liberalism, namely a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, the literal nature of the Biblical accounts, the Virgin Birth of Christ, the bodily resurrection and physical return of Christ, and the atonement of Jesus Christ to take our place [1]. Taken just so, there is little I personally find offensive about the term, except that its use by others, particularly those who view themselves outside of fundamentalist camps, view that particular group as being regressive and anti-intellectual, a matter of considerable importance given the high degree of importance I place on my intellectual interests and capacity as part of my own personal identity. In general, though, I do not feel it useful to consider myself either an Evangelical or a Fundamentalist, because my own religious and theological identity springs from a belief in the necessity of returning to apostolic Christianity, rather than merely seeking to preserve early 20th century Protestantism. Most of the time, people are labeled as fundamentalist by others and do not choose the label for themselves. This is problematic however it happens, especially because within my own religious realm I have often been labeled by others as Progressive, seeking to tar me with a leftist perspective, while I do not consider myself to be particularly leftist at all when it comes to my doctrinal beliefs.

In general, I believe we resort to labels because we are lazy and want to be viewed as more clever than we truly are, without taking the time to engage people and deal with them as individuals. Identities that we choose for ourselves emphasize areas of commonality with others, and give us a foundation for working together with others, and having a sense of pleasure enjoying the company of like-minded people. Let us note, though, that such identities, whether or not they are actually appropriate, are those which are freely chosen and also accepted by others. Labels are not like this, though. Instead, they are defined by others and used to group people together who may not particularly want to be grouped together, or who may share something in common but not something that anyone is particularly happy about. In my life, I have been uniformly bothered and offended by the labels that people seeked to place on me, largely because as an eccentric person with major difficulties in social cohesion I have seldom been grouped together with people I would group together by nature. Throughout my lifetime, I have been an oddity when it comes to the sorts of people I have associated with. I have long acted in disregard of expectations to group with people of the same age, gender, or cultural background, seeking instead to group with those that shared my general sensitivity and concern for others, as well as a certain strong level of intellectual interest combined with courtly and polite behavior towards others. Within these general boundaries I have chosen my own groups, but they have seldom been the people that others wanted to lump me with.

A surprisingly large number of posts deal with this concern in an implicit fashion. Earlier today, for example, I received a comment on one of my posts about the snubbing of the Kingston Trio from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The person commenting on the post obviously thought he was being clever by dismissing the band as having a fanbase of twee Rockefeller Republicans, as if that was a bad thing, and that good music had to appeal to a certain hip and cool crowd [2]. Those who know me personally know I’m not a particularly hip or cool person, at least not by design, and that I try to be myself and respect other people for who they are regardless of such superficial considerations as coolness. I took the comment as being far too broad brush in nature, and far too casually dismissive of others simply because of who liked them. Throughout my life I have suffered rather intensely from the snobbery of others, and been teased and insulted rather mercilessly. As a result, I have tended to be particularly compassionate to outsiders, and worked very hard to be warm and welcoming to friendly people as a gatekeeper, as a way of encouraging friendliness from others for others. I find the urge to be dismissive of or hostile towards others as an initial response to be inappropriate and wicked, for though if at times we must defend ourselves against the hostility of others, I am resolutely committed to being peaceable and friendly and civil to the extent that it depends on me, and appreciate others acting the same way themselves.

What are we to do about labels, given that they are an inescapable part of our existence. For one, we can avoid using them ourselves. If we use a term to describe a group of people, let us be sure to imbue those terms with no more meaning than they will fairly and justly allow, and that the terms will simply be descriptive in nature and will not attempt to place others within a box to preclude a greater personal familiarity. For another, let us be considerate of the way that other people prefer to be called, for even if others may be fairly sensitive about the names that others use for them, let us remember that we too are sensitive about certain terms and labels, and that we ought to treat others as we wish to be treated. It may even be necessary at times to show more respect to others than we receive ourselves, as a way of reminding others that we are not kind or considerate to others merely in expectation of a result, or that our treatment of others depends on the treatment that we receive from them, but rather that our behavior springs from our own high and demanding standards of behavior, and that our justice and kindness in behavior ought to disarm every carping criticism and unjust treatment from anyone willing to be persuaded by our good example in difficult conditions. As for the rest, God will be their judge, and will judge them by the standard they judged us. We may therefore have pity and compassion even on our enemies, knowing what fate awaits those who refuse to repent and walk in love [3], not wishing to make that repentance or love any more difficult for others to show than is already the case.

[1] See, for example:

[2] For my feeling on that, see the following:

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Bible, Christianity, Church of God, History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Black Label Warning

  1. Pingback: Where Nobody Ever Goes | Edge Induced Cohesion

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