On the Subject of Labeling

Since coming to Oasis, I’ve been asked by some long-time friends, “What’s the deal with this Oasis thing of yours?” often accompanied by a slight rolling of the eyes. I’m never offended since I’ve even asked the same question of myself.

Raised Christian Fundamentalist, I finished college with a minor in Bible Studies, a degree which left me an unbeliever. I fled college to the Army where I eventually landed in Turkey. True to myself, I made an attempt at studying Islam (Note “attempt”).

After the military I moved to Chicago and, on meeting my first boyfriend who was a former priest, I undertook Catechism classes until the Father teaching the class threw me out (sort of, he was polite). It seems that I brought too many theological queries to a class of people who were only there so they could marry a Catholic.

Next was the adventure of Evangelicalism and speaking in tongues. My unfortunate encounter with Glossolalia was a thoroughly creepy experience, which would take hours to explain.

Finally despairing of my efforts to connect with a Religion of the Book, (I haven’t mentioned an on-going flirtation with Judaism, the Quakers and the Unitarians), I landed on the Eastern Shores of Buddhism and eventually Taoism.

A real turning point in my life happened when I realized that perhaps it wasn’t me failing to connect with a spiritual path; rather it’s been a spiritual path failing to connect with me. I just don’t think I’ve ever been equipped for the hike.

So after ensuing years of non-interest in things organized (other than the Democratic Party…if you can call that organized), I have landed in the camp of Oasis and “Freethinking.”. However, labeling myself a “freethinker” in a world that labels, defines, and codifies our reality into “truths and absolutes” comes with its own limitations.

One of my favorite jokes from my childhood had to do a series of signs that were encountered along roadways in the American South in the 1940s and 1950s (that’s pre-Interstate for some of you). One of those was advertising the product “Hadacol,” a patented formula billing itself as an elixir for most ills. It was 15% alcohol and, for Southern folk, apparently did the job.

The joke went like this: “Do you know why they call it Hadacol?”

Drum roll please…“Because they hadda call it something.” I guess you had to have been there, but to my 12-year old mine it was hilarious and somewhat akin to “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?”

That pretty well sums up what I feel about all labels on the human condition. They help us communicate with each other, sort of, but shouldn’t be taken too seriously because they tend to come with divergent meanings according to who is listening and who is speaking. I’ve long felt that an appropriate response to any label is, “What do you mean by that?” since labels, like the human condition, can change with more understanding, new discovery, and time, as well as ignorance.

Another favorite story of mine came from a college friend, Carol, while we were both studying at a Christian school in West Texas.

Carol laughingly approached me on campus one day to tell me what had just transpired in her life. The Dean of Women had summoned her to her office and on her arrival queried, “Carol, how are your morals?” Let me clarify that Carol was from Los Angeles, a totally foreign concept under the high skies of West Texas back then. That alone made her suspicious to the inquiring minds at Abilene Christian.

What was amusing my friend, and then me once I heard her answer, was that, with a very sincere face she had replied, “Oh, Dean, thank you for asking. I find morals convenient, quite convenient.”

So it goes with labels. To some I meet, if they ask, according to the situation, I may label myself a freethinker or atheist. To others, I’m an agnostic, or Buddhist, or Taoist (I tend to favor that one since no one has a clue what it is), or I just say, “I don’t believe very much.” It doesn’t matter what I say, most people are going to hear what they want to hear and label me according to their own interpretations anyway. I’m sure that some of my friends have even thought, “There he goes again.”

Nowadays, when asked about Oasis, I just say “It’s not a religious group and I like the people there.” Can there be a better reason for attending?

The older I’ve become, the more I take the attitude that what someone thinks of me and what I do is none of my business anyway; so who cares what I label myself or my activities. Anyone really wanting to become acquainted with me will find that my labels can be flexible, and like my friend Carol with her morals, sometimes they are just plain convenient.