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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Dangers of Labels

Lots of addicts wrestle with bearing the label of an addict.  It is scary, because it singles us out as different from others.  It allows others to make snap judgments or draw conclusions before even giving us a chance to show who we really are.

Our society loves labels.  The modern scientific mind is all about taxonomy and establishing what category you fit into.  The biggest fights in mental health are over 'identifying' diseases or categorizing behaviors.

We feel like we are more in control when we can quickly slap a label on someone and instantly predict what they will do based on this label.  So, if you have the label of an addict, it is clear what you will do... you will use, right?

If we accept the Christian approach to humanity, there are only two main categories that humanity falls into as created by God: 

Male and Female
Genesis 1:27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Jews and Gentiles
Genesis 18:17-19  The LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him?  No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him."

In the second circumstance, even this division is over come with the 'return of the nations' envisioned by the Prophets, so that the divisions of nationality are overcome.  In the end, only gender seems to be the single enduring categorization of humanity.

Yet, we work overtime to separate ourselves.  We love to differentiate between 'junkie' and 'normie,' 'white' and 'black,' 'gay' and 'straight,' 'saint' and 'sinner,' 'conservative' and 'liberal'...

These are all, for the most part, sinful.  After all, God did not create them... we did.  Man wrote the DSM-IV to describe diseases, God did not.  Yes, there are differences between us, even differences that are significant, but these do not differentiate our humanity.  Our humanity is the same.

But labels separate humans.  They 'create' different kinds of humanity.  Once we begin to accept the reality of these labels, the psychological effects are well-known: we begin to hate and fear the other, while we embrace those who wear our label even if they are evil.

Addiction is not made by God.  It is made by us.  We make ourselves into addicts by our own fallenness and how we react to it.

AA was started as an anonymous group for this reason: the identity of alcoholic is only important within the context of the group.  It should not be worn in the streets.  We should not define who we are as either addicts or non-addicts in terms of our humanity.  To be human is to be completely human, and by this we must realize that all humans are equal participants in humanity.  We are all made in the Image and Likeness of God.

The same is true of 'homosexuality,' which is the latest fashion these days.  God did not create 'homosexuality,' but rather men have.  It certainly is not significant enough for men and women to define themselves by it, yet it is now something by which humans have created these separations and further alienation.

Some people may say, "But, I was born feeling this way.  What am I supposed to do?  This is not fair!"  Ask the kid born without arms and legs about 'fair.'  If he has to struggle with this life, so do we all.  Some people have bigger burdens than others, and so we are confronted with the options to struggling on our own, surrender and let our burdens dominate us, or ask for Divine intervention.

God isn't necessarily going to make legs grow back, or alleviate the temptations of the addict or the attractions of the homosexual.  God's purpose is something greater... our inner transformation that leads to an eternal state beginning in this life and continuing ever onward from here.  It is silly to demand a complete change or utter lifting of what becomes something holy: addiction and homosexuality and all the other manifestations of human brokenness become holy when they become the means by which man unites himself to God.

In Mark 2 and John 5, Jesus Christ tells those he heals to take up their pallets and walk.  Why?  Why not leave it there?

Think about it: if any of us were on the Titanic, and we survived by clinging to a life vest, don't we think that vest would be hanging on our living room wall right now?  Yes, because in it would be the summary of our entire struggle from near death to salvation.  The same is true of the pallet, and more so, because this was the means by which a man encountered God.

If we are afflicted with same-sex attraction or addiction or mental illness or any other condition which separates us from others, then we are confronted with the option of using this as our means by which we are united to God.

And, since all men are called to be united to God, how exactly do our afflictions make us different from anyone else?  

The labels are only important to us ourselves, so that we might understand our own particular route to God.  Whether any one of us is an addict or not only matters if we decide to struggle with it.  because, after all, if we choose not to pay attention to it and just go about doing what we want, why would we care about the label at all?

The only way the label would become important is if we want to use our identity against others.  By embracing the separation, it gives us the right to 'avenge' ourselves and oppress others.  When we no longer see our humanity in the face of someone with a different label, then it is much easier to oppress them.

Know who you are, but do not buy into the world's labels.

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