Sunday, 9 October 2011

Labels Best Avoided

I'll admit something. I've put myself on a dating website for a few weeks past. I won't reveal where. So far I've gained some correspondence. What is interesting about this to this blog is the categories people use in identifying themselves.

It is interesting to see how people relate themselves to race. Race is a construction that is rather narrow, and as DNA evidence of mixing shows, often unsustainbable. So many application forms involve the same myth of clear cut categories. It contributes to recent discussion: that here to get some regularity of measurement dividing lines are established to get one category set against another, but here there is a research argument for undermining (re-researching) the whole business of race. Ethnicity will go further, because it is based on appearance, language, location, group and community identity. The categories are still crude, however, and upset by economic and social class (power and status) and also by patriarchy.

The dating website is also interesting regarding the category of religion. I would say that the most numeric category is No Religion, and then there is quite a bunching who put Spiritual/ New Age. Some of those give that content, but many say no more. There are a variety of Christian categories, and the most populous are Christian/ Catholic and Christian/ Other. It takes something, I think, to go for Christian/ Protestant. My own is a simple Other.

There is no doubt that carrying and expressing a religious preference is a burden. It might suggest someone who attempts to self-organise in an ethical manner, but it also suggests someone who believes in mumbo-jumbo and has joined a group that the potential partner might want to avoid. These days people don't like joining groups, especially ones that demand commitments of the mind as well as time and money.

I am reminded of a new Unitarian minister who has spoken and written of the privilege felt in sharing people's life stories in the context of a congregation. The ministry is justified in pastoral terms with an emphasis on what people say and share. Certainly I have had moments myself in which my stressful situations have been shared (when in an Anglican setting, as it happens). But whilst there are ministers who have this privilege, many ordinary folk simply get on with the stress and do not wish to find such a group or person or share with them the life story so far. They rely on networks of friends, if they have them, or families (if the families have not betrayed them), or perhaps prefer to tackle problems alone. Rites of passage involve a time of wider contact, but it is noticed how many more of these are either avoided or placed elsewhere.

I don't deny the importance of the pastoral contact in a community of for those who seek it. My difficulty with it is where, beyond the meaning-making and the reflection thereof, it becomes the primary purpose of the encounter or even the religious group. The pastoral surely involves a connecting of the collective story and the personal one, even if on a largely unstated or subtle level. This is also, I suggest, an adult pursuit: I'm not convinced on arguments that 'children are the future' simply in terms of activities provided and certainly not in terms of indoctrinating. Children grow up and leave, even if they carry off some sort of deposit of some orientation; this is more about adult meaning and adult problems, hopes and wishes.

The religious groups have every right to seek out those who want to make meaning in a religious and spiritual manner. The pastoral follows on from that, and then if asked for. There is a right to set out the shop window and have the door open. There should be opportunities to browse and perhaps have a drink, but also to walk out again (breakages to be paid for?). Nevertheless, today, many will simply walk by and it is a label to avoid. Despite the surveys that always over emphasise the religious return (because people will give researchers what they think the researchers want), in reality they increasingly stay away and it is a tough world for the organised religious and increasingly a problematic label itself.


Dominic said...

Labels can be hard to avoid and they are an easy/ quick way to get an overview of an individuals opinion on a matter. However it must be remembered that two people with the same lable may have similar views but not the same.

Anonymous said...

You could use this chat up line from Nietzsche:

“Why settle for the last man when you can have the superman?”