Why I No Longer Claim A Label-Based Religious Identity
And I encourage others to ditch their label, too.
I grew up in an ultra-Christian household. When I say “ultra,” I don’t mean frequent church visits and the usual traditional Christian family rituals—I mean full immersion.
“Full immersion” by my definition is this: when it came to Christianity, my family was all in. From the ages of pre-school til 10th grade, I was homeschooled. My homeschooling curriculum revolved around the faith: every subject was either tinged with Christian reference or fully and unwaveringly based on the Bible. Lunch breaks were spent listening to or watching sermons by Christian pastors, or enjoying educational books and audio tapes that were—you guessed it—Christian-themed. Every discussion revolved around or returned to God, Jesus, grace, salvation, the Rapture, sin or any number of religious topics. Every meal and family gathering was punctuated with prayer, ensuring that no morsel was ever taken for granted.
In addition to attending a brick-and-mortar church, my family also “hosted” church several times a week, listening to more sermons, conducting Bible studies, reading aloud, and dancing and singing to Christian worship music. Over the years, my family traveled locally and across the country to attend Christian conventions, seeking prayer, insight, and healing.
As I became an adult, I quickly gained perspective on the echo-chamber of religiosity that had been my home for the majority of my youth. In studying other religions and getting to know people outside of “the faith,” I learned that there were many beautiful, meaningful ways of life and schools of thought outside of the Christian mentality, and, free to explore, I finally found my own. Yet, I could never bring myself to define it, even with the wealth of spiritual and religious labels available to us today that can categorize just about any religious, spiritual, or philosophical stance.
Labels create room for hypocrisy.
Growing up immersed in any labeled belief system has this downfall—once a group claims to practice or own a series of values and beliefs, they are expected to uphold those values and beliefs.
Growing up in a Christian world exposed me to all sorts of religious tenets that were held in the highest regard. As a child raised in the faith, I was expected to comply with all of them, and unquestioningly, I did. Adhering to the Christian doctrine became increasingly more difficult, however, as I matured and could no longer ignore the hypocrisy rampant within the Christian community. While the public image of the faith advocated one message, the private lives of Christians I knew often exhibited another entirely. Of course, this contradiction was routinely ignored in the church (thanks to the convenient piece of doctrine about forgiveness and falling short of perfection), but it could not be unnoticed by me, a keen and observant child.
Once we label ourselves as something, we become a walking, talking representation of that thing. To take on a label is to take on a mantle, a mission, and the world’s perception—and it is not something to be taken lightly. In my own life, I’ve witnessed individuals take on the label of Christianity without realizing that their behavior subsequently becomes the number-one influencing factor regarding the public’s perception of their faith.
Hypocritical Christians poisoned me against Christianity for years, until I finally developed the ability to disassociate the Christian from the Christ. For this reason, I believe that letting one’s behavior exemplify the fruits of their character and faith—not their label—is the best way to honor their belief system, whatever that might be.
Labels precede preaching and virtue-signaling.
Anyone familiar with Christianity knows that in most denominations, preaching is the bread-and-butter of spreading the good word to believers and non-believers alike. One doesn’t have to be a pastor to be a preacher—in fact, members of my own family took proselytizing very seriously, eager to convert anyone from the Jehovah’s Witness at the door to the boutique-store clerk.
I eventually learned that the louder someone is preaching, the quieter their faith—often those who needed to “virtue-signal” their intense connection to the Divine were trying to convince themselves of it, more than anything. It goes without saying that this is not a “good look” for any religion or spiritual belief. When the loudest advocates for a belief system are those who are actively (and often unconsciously) sowing dissension, judgement, and holier-than-thou implications, this dishonors the belief system and leaches power from the individual’s personal, private practice.
Labels divide people into two categories—us, and them.
Growing up in the Christian world, I was constantly aware of two factions—Christians, and non-Christians. I had been taught that while non-Christians could be “nice” people, they were fundamentally flawed because of their rejection of God’s love. It was important not to associate with individuals whose own disbelief could “weaken your faith,” and thus, my community was comprised of Christians: the “us” group.
Labels are great for categorizing, and that’s why we use them. A file folder labeled “tax documents” will probably help me find my tax documents, if, of course, I’m an organized person. Labels do not actually state truths, they just state functions, or “supposed to’s.” The accuracy of a label is completely contingent on whether many other factors (often unseen) are aligned, and the same is true of Christians and any other religious or spiritual belief system.
In the context of Christianity, as a youngster I thought everyone labeled “Christian” was safe, well-intentioned, and adherent to their value-system. As an adult who has since garnered life experience and been forced to grapple with nuance, I now know that a label doesn’t imply the truth about anyone—it merely points to what they believe or hope themselves to be.
A label makes you think you’re something—and you’re not.
Christian. Catholic. Witch. New-ager. “Spiritual.” Buddhist. Yogi.
What do all of these labels have in common?
They all make you think that you’re “that,” whatever “that” is—and you’re not.
You’re an ever-changing, ever-dynamic being. One day you may believe you’re a “this,” and another day you may feel like a “that.” It happens every time someone converts to one religion, then converts to another, then abandons that belief system, then reconverts…
Even in this modern age, people still have a massive problem with change, and they embrace absolutes as a way of resisting the uncertainty that is inseparable from this life experience. Labeling ourselves one way or another isn’t going to make us what we are—it has no power to do that. What makes us who and what we are is how honestly we practice our values, and how synchronously our actions align with our intentions.
Everything else is just fluff.