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Have we forgotten our freedom from labels?

March 21, 2011

To my fellow ex-, post-, and former Mormons:

May your life be peaceful and joyful. I hope you do not forget — or fail to realize in the first place — the liberation you achieved from leaving your labels — whatever they may have been — in the church.

Before this liberation, we were held in custody under the label, locked up until that liberation that was to come would be revealed. So, the label was our guardian — providing us with our commandments, a paradigm for orthodoxy, what expectations we should have — until our liberation that we might be justified by our own independence. Independent,  you are now the child of a liberated thought, for all of you who have been liberated have clothed yourself in freedom. There is neither “atheist” nor “theist,” neither “emotional,” “spiritual,” nor “rational,” nor is there “subjective” or “objective,” for you are all independent in liberation. If you are liberated, then you are heirs according to the promise.

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different than a slave, although he owns the entire estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the commandments and expectations and our church and our culture. But when the time had fully come, our liberation came to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Formerly, when you did not know freedom, you were slaves to those who by nature are not free. You were obedient, because you were in a culture of obedience. But now that you know freedom — or rather are known by freedom — how is it that you are turning back to these weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!

Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery.

Mark my words! I, Andrew S, tell you that if you let yourself become “objective” or “rational” or “atheist” or “spiritual” or whatever label you’ve found to the ignoring of your own thoughts, feelings, and inclinations, your freedom will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every person who lets himself be bound by a “label” that he is obligated to obey the whole law — you who are trying to be justified by your obedience to expectations of a label have become alienated from your liberation; you have fallen away from your independence. For through our liberation, we seek by freedom the authenticity for which we hope. And in freedom neither label of “religious” or “secular” has any value.

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from seeking the truth?  That kind of persuasion does not come from an authentic perspective. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to conform to new labels, expectations, and commandments; rather, serve one another humbly in love. If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk freely, and you will not conform to labels. For a label demands what is contrary to freedom, and freedom what is contrary to a label. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are liberated, you are not under a label.

The expectations of labels are obvious: adherence to some outward standard, suppression of conflicting feelings, desires and inclination, setting up of barriers and boundaries, hatred, discord, repression, fits of shame, denial, dissensions, factions and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not be free.

But the fruits of liberation are that you need not fit yourself to an “expectation.” If you find value in religious services, why not seek that value? You are not under the expectation that you must denounce religion wholeheartedly. Even if you do not believe in Mormonism, you have no reason to feel ‘ashamed’ for missing the community. You have no reason to buy into a “label” expectation either that your nostalgia is a residual effect of childhood “brainwashing” or an effect of your “secretly knowing the church to be true.”

What is another example..? In the realm of sexuality research, there has been an interesting phenomenon occasionally witnessed of sexual fluidity. It’s not that the people are choosing to have their orientations, preferences, and tastes shift over their lifetimes, but they find that these orientations do shift.

What is tragic is that many of those people — particularly ones who have “come out” as “gay”, who liberated themselves from a heterosexist label, who liberated themselves from repression and the “closet” — then feel they must “explain” subsequent changes. Are they “betraying” their identity as “homosexuals”? They get cast as traitors both ways as people of opposing “labels” seek to silo the experience into one group. Are they betraying the “in-born” homosexuality side? Are they supporting sexuality as “choice”?

Or are they independent of label?

If we independently discover ourselves gravitating to one thing or another, then so be it. But there’s a difference between doing things out of expectation or pressure to live up to a label and doing things because we direct ourselves to those things.

There’s a difference between obedience to a moral code we haven’t earned, and earning a moral code through painstaking effort, through introspection.

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15 Comments
  1. What can I even say to this? AMEN! May we all try to live up to leaving labels behind.

  2. I feel freer already!

  3. I seek to be labeled as non-labeled. I like the paradox.

    • aren’t good philosophical systems all about paradox? 😀

  4. Val permalink

    I don’t think that adopting a label requires you to conform to anything. Labeling is a good way to identify and seek out like-minded people, especially here on the internet. Googling for people with like-minded viewpoints would be a lot harder if there weren’t labels for them.

    My problem with the labels you list is that they seek to define you in someone else’s terms. I don’t like “atheist” because that is a label that defines me in terms of believing or not believing in something that is not important to me. I do not have a label that indicates I do not believe in leprechauns, why do I need one that says I don’t believe in Allah or Jesus either?

    While atheist, agnostic, ex-mormon, etc. are all accurate to some extent, they all are on someone else’s terms. I proudly label myself a skeptic, because skepticism embodies the values that I value and it gives me a word that helps me seek out people and ideas that I can relate to. I am no less free for embracing a label, no more compelled to behave in a certain way, and certainly not beholden to anyone’s idea of what a skeptic is or is not, not least of which because skepticism is a label defined by the labelers.

    I think that’s the real problem, here. Call me sheeple, but I think labels are fine when the group being labeled has have the power over them. The reason I reject labels like atheism and theism is not because they’re labels, but because they attempt to categorize everything in terms of theistic belief.

    The problem, in my opinion, is not labeling. The problem is a bad selection of labels to choose from.

  5. Val,

    I agree.

    I just think you should also reserve the right to not be skeptical. Which you probably do.

  6. My ‘atheist’ label is descriptive, not prescriptive.

  7. Becky permalink

    Very interesting. 🙂

  8. Seth R. permalink

    I find labels kind of liberating actually.

    • I guess they are liberating in a sense.

      Being an independent individual means having to figure stuff out and toil through your worldview on a line-by-line basis. To have a label, I guess you’re liberated from that.

  9. Seth R. permalink

    Indecision is it’s own form of tyranny. Kind of a “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” concept.

  10. I guess the problem with “falling” for “anything” is more that it represent adopting labels in rapid succession (ooh I like this…no this…no this!)

    Maybe that’s not preferable to being steadfast to one thing, but AGAIN, independence need be neither of these.

    Then again, to distinguish from indecision, I can see how all independence is is something like provisional labeling (rather than a lack).

  11. I’m a mom, a software engineer, an atheist, a humanist, an exmo (or cultural Mormon), a wife, a straight woman, a feminist, an American, an ex-pat, a foreign guest worker, an author, a blogger, a friend, a daughter, etc., etc.

    I don’t think that labels are necessarily always limiting. I especially reject the LDS church leaders’ claim that accepting the label “gay” is somehow “defining yourself by your sexuality.” Using one (accurate) label for yourself does not in any way imply that that label is the sum total of your description. And it’s actually kind of insulting of them to try to liberate people from self-identifying as something they see as bad (“Don’t be so hard on yourself — you’re not really gay!” Blech!!). I doubt the LDS church offer me the same pat on the back if I felt restricted or limited by the label “Mom”.

    That said, I sympathize with the desire to escape from labels sometimes. In fact, you’ve inspired me to write a new post about it: my country, my label.

  12. Generally, I only use labels as they’re given to me. And even then, I’m tempted to discard them, to get a sense of their constraints and what I did to warrant the label. For example, I work in social services, so if I’m called “white,” it’s generally cuz I did something wrong =p. Or if I’m called “young,” it’s to say I’m naive, and so on. (Although I haven’t been labeled these ways for a while now…am I getting old? …) As you know, the whole sexual fluidity thing really puts a damper on my understanding of “gay,” as I can’t tell you how many women I’ve met for whom “bisexual” just isn’t attractive after having been “straight” or “lesbian” for however many years.

    In terms of the Church and “gay,” plenty of Mormons who identify with “same-gender attraction” also identify with the word “gay.” It’s a ONE SYLLABLE word; of course it’ll win against “same-gender attraction.” What were church leaders thinking?

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  1. The Ridiculous and the Sublime – March 21, 2011 « The Ridiculous and the Sublime

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