Love Beyond Labels

Love Beyond Labels April 18, 2019

You can’t really love the Homeless until you love Debbie or Steve [who happen to be homeless].

You can’t really say you love the LGBTQ community until you love Scott or Hannah or Jasmine [who happen to be Gay, Trans and Lesbian].

You can’t really love Muslims until you love Usha, or Ibrahim [who are Muslims].

You can’t really love any group of people as long as you only see them as an anonymous collective that sits behind a label.

And that’s the point. As long as we relate to Muslims, Lesbians, Homeless, Refugees, etc. as categories, we will never come to see them as human beings who – like us – are worthy of love, respect, compassion, dignity and human rights.

Even once you do know these people intimately, you cannot easily continue to refer to their groups in such broad strokes as “Muslims” or “Homeless” or “Transgender”, or any other label without realizing that all of the people in that group are not the same.

We usually only notice this when we hear someone refer to our particular group in this way in order to make a broad-brush generalization about us. We bristle instinctively. We are quick to cry foul. We shout at our TVs or curse at our laptops – “We’re not all the same!”

So, whenever we feel tempted to say things like “All Homeless people are lazy” or “All Muslims hate our freedoms” or “All Refugees are dangerous criminals”, etc. we have to stop ourselves and realize that this is only possible to say if you don’t actually know anyone in one of those groups.

Because once you actually know someone who is Homeless, you cannot ever again agree with the statement “All Homeless people are lazy” because the one’s you know aren’t all lazy. Many of them work harder than you and I work. They are doing all they can to survive every single day.

And once you actually know someone who is Muslim, you cannot ever again sit quietly while someone says “All Muslims hate our freedoms” or suggests that they all want to kill Christians and impose Sharia Law. Because the Muslims you’ve met are kind, sincere, loving and very, very “normal” people who – other than their religion – are exactly like you and me.

Therefore, let’s try to meet people who are not like us. Let’s try to see them as they are – human beings who are members of the same human race. Let’s learn to love those who are different, and to see Christ in them, realizing that we are all part of one family, under God our Father; the One in whom we all live and move and have our being.

Until we can learn to love without labels, we will never learn to love as Christ commanded us to love.


Join me this summer at one of these upcoming events:

*El Paso, TX – May 19 “United We Stand”

*Costa Mesa, CA – June 22 “United We Stand”

*Hot Springs, NC – July 11-14 “Wild Goose Festival”

Want Keith to come speak at your church or in your home town? Learn more HERE

Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure.

His new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.

He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” with a Foreword by Greg Boyd.

Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • KontraDiction

    Yes! That’s exactly what I find happening in my own life. Once you’re friends with someone, you know them as a person, not a category place-holder. So many labels can be broken down this way, and we become able to truly love others, even if they’re “others”.

  • R/R 2016

    Labeling is an essential activity of the mind, by which we ontologize and ultimately make meaning of our world. The task is not to avoid generalizations but to make sound generalizations that are both true to the reality of things and true to their linguistic form.

    “Until we can learn to love without labels, we will never learn to love as Christ commanded us to love.”

    That’s just dumb.

  • Brain science is clear that when we “other” someone, it enables us to allow others to hurt them and dehumanize them. This is how genocide is possible. Re-think your response.

  • R/R 2016

    Right. It’s so clear that to other others will enable others to harm others. Brilliant.

    Ontology is its own science, Keith. You’re conflating the core qualities of taxonomy with an ad hoc subaltern phenomenology. Labels are not inherently immoral but necessary to making mental maps of the world. “Christian” is a label, which is to say a category of being for one who posseses its core properties. Again, the task is not to quit labels, but to find the right labels, which requires more analysis than just wishing all our distinctions away and calling it love.

    But maybe instead of telling me to re-think things, you could do the hard work to convince me?

    Edit: In fact, I would argue that love is not possible without first “othering” an entity extraneous to my self. Whatchoo think, hm?

  • I’d start with Galatians, in general, but obviously specifically the latter part of Galatians 3.

  • R/R 2016

    Thanks, Jim. You mean the letter in which Paul is writing to persons to whom he gives the geo-social label “Galatian”, the ecclesial “brethren”, and the theological “sons of God” and “Abraham’s seed” (3:26; 29)? I just want to make sure before I start chasing prooftexts for logically untenable assertions.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    “Ontologize” doesn’t mean “categorising things” – ontology is the study of what it means for something to exist and the nature of existence. No generalisation is “sound” or “true to the reality of things” for each and every member of a particular class of people (which is the point of the article) and I’m not even sure what “true to its linguistic form” could possibly mean in the context.
    If I were to be critical of Keith’s article it would be because it is stating what should be blindingly obvious – that you can’t love a person whilst treating them as an instance of a generic class rather than as an individual with their own unique characteristics.

  • R/R 2016

    It’s comments like these that make Patheos a real pleasure.

    “In ontology, the different kinds or ways of being are called categories of being; or simply categories. To investigate the categories of being is to determine the most fundamental and the broadest classes of entities.”

    “The concept of an ontological category is central to metaphysics.”

    “First, while Aristotle used language as a clue to ontological categories, and Kant treated concepts as the route to categories of objects of possible cognition, Husserl explicitly distinguished categories of meanings from categories of objects, and attempted to draw out the law-like correlations between categories of each sort (Smith 2007, 139ff.).”

    Applied ontology “builds on philosophy, cognitive science, linguistics and logic”.

    “Ontologies focus on:
    meaning of terms,
    nature and structure of a domain.”

    There’s more if you’d like. If a category is not true to the reality of a thing or to the linguistic or logical form of a thing, either that thing does not constitute the core properties of the category/ kind / class type, or the category is not useful for the purposes of ontology. It is also possible to love a thing both in spite of its ontological category and because of its category. For example, it’s no less true or less real to say I love a woman (category) who is a spouse (category) who is a mother (category) of my children than it is to say I love a person (which is itself a category) whose name is K. My relationship, and thus the condition or quality of my affection, is bound up with her category of being.

    You’re welcome.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    You really should avoid using big words you don’t understand.
    Ontology includes the study of how categories work, what it means for a thing to be in a particular category (e.g. whether this describes a real property of a thing, or is only a convenient label) and the study of the processes etc of categorisation. It does not mean the actual assigning of particular things to categories – if you are too stupid or lazy to understand the difference between doing a thing and studying how a thing is done, stick to less complicated topics.
    BTW an ontological category is a categorisation of ways in which things exist, such existing as a quantity rather than quality, or an idea rather than a thing, it is not a category of different types of things: “woman”, “spouse”, “person” etc are not ontological categories and your assertion that they are is a further indication that you haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about.
    Returning to Keith’s argument, it asserts nominalism – his point is that the descriptive labels by which we categorise people are indeed simply labels and you can’t claim to love “Muslims” or “the homeless” as a group because these are just descriptive labels and you can’t love a label. At best you are purporting to love your own mental image of a member of that group, rather than any actual living person, and you can’t love an actual living person until you love them as that person rather than as an abstract example of a particular class of people, since again what you would be loving is your mental concept of what a member of that group is like, not the actual person in front of you.
    Nothing you have said so far indicates you have even understood what Keith’s article says, let alone puts forward any coherent argument against it.

  • R/R 2016

    You understand that a “categorisation” is an assignment to a category, right? Aristotle’s ontology assigns things to ten top-level categories, which were subject to further enumeration and distinction. Building an ontology, whether implicitly or as an applied science, effectively assigns instances of kinds to their kinds. You get this, right? Because if not, I can use small words and provide you such assignments using TopBraid or Prolog language format.

    Here’s an OWL-based ontology restricted to the human family domain in which “wife”, “woman”, and “mother” are provided as class types. Note: OWL denotes categories as “classes”. See the primer provided at the bottom link.

    Then we can move on to your clumsy use of “concept”, “actual”, “person” and “love”.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    Providing links to articles on a completely different subject you don’t understand either isn’t an argument.

  • R/R 2016

    That’s because there’s a difference between support for an argument and the content of an argument, Iain. What about “categorisation” and applied science (to include semantic web ontologies) don’t you understand? Or are those wurds too big for muh brane?

  • Iain Lovejoy

    What about robotics and the reproductive cycle of the fruit fly? They have about the same relevance to anything else anyone but you are talking about. If you don’t understand a topic, don’t just splurge lots of big words about something completely different in a failed attempt to look less dumb.

  • R/R 2016

    Let me get this straight. Your reaction to a discussion of ontology is “big words”. My reaction is the philosophy is necessary, its application is documented, and hey, I’ve written some of those. Yet I’m the one who is attempting “to look less dumb”?

    I just can’t contend. Your language is so compelling.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    Yeah. You are “discussing” (= posting multiple irrelevant links to) the process of categorising terms in technical fields. You have yet to in any coherent way explain why, or how it relates to the article you commented on as “dumb”.

  • R/R 2016

    Then you’re either dishonest or illiterate. But let’s make things simple for you: Is there a distinction between loving your neighbor and loving your pet?

  • Iain Lovejoy

    Nope. Not interested. If you can’t string a rational argument together I see no point in answering stupid questions.

  • R/R 2016

    Should’ve known. Words are too big, terms are too technical, and now questions are too stupid. You must be a lot of fun at parties.

    Keith: “Until we can learn to love without labels, we will never learn to love as Christ commanded us to love.”

    Me: We love both in spite of labels and because of labels. Labels are necessary and useful for building an o-word and capturing basic assumptions about the nature and structure of the world. It’s because of labels that I can fundamentally define right behavior towards a person as opposed to right behavior towards a cow. The task is therefore not to eschew labels, but to find the right labels.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    It would have been nice if you had actually started by setting out your disagreement rather than spewing irrelevant technical jargon from a different discipline. I notice you still can’t quite avoid doing this, but at least you now make some kind of sense.
    You don’t quite grasp what Keith is saying, and also don’t quite grasp what love actually is, or what Christianity asserts should be your approach to other people. You are also not quite getting (ironically given you bang on about ontology) a key ontological distinction between an essence and an attribute.
    The basic problem you have, which Keith identifies in his article, is that to assume there is a definition of “right behaviour” towards a person based on whatever category of person you think it is correct to put them in is inevitably to behave wrongly towards them. People (Keith’s point is) do not have a fundamental category to be put in, only infinitely varying attributes. You can’t use people’s various attributes to produce a comprehensive ontology (since you like that word) of classifying people that sets out how you should behave towards people in each category, because ultimately each person is in a unique category of one.
    Your suggested approach fails not only through its sheer impossibility, but also because it is not what you should be about in the first place. If you are concerned to do the right thing and follow the required “rules” in relating to someone you are not loving them: to love someone is to desire their good for its own sake and act to serve them accordingly, not acting in compliance some external-defined rule-structure imposed on you based on what category of person they are.

  • R/R 2016

    Lol! Dude. I just restated several things I said throughout our conversation. At least we’re getting somewhere.

    You have no idea what you’re talking about when you refer to attributes in the context of ontology. Attributes are not “infinitely varying”. Attributes, or properties, provide the object-relation statements that a kind or instance must have (essential) or can have (non-essential) and maintain its core definition. I can provide support, but you have this lingering aversion to source links and the technical.

    You’re greatly overstating what Keith has written. Keith is saying that you can’t experience the individual and also judge the universal (“…you cannot ever again agree with the statement…because the one’s you know…”). He ultimately sees labels, which he really should define, as barriers to love and to a relationship “like Christ” (who instructed us to love our “neighbor”, which is itself a label).

    You can’t say people don’t have a category “to be put in” and then say they belong in a category “of one” (whatever that means). Not only is this utterly self-contradictory, but it reinforces my point that the task is to imagine new labels and not quit labels entirely. Thanks for that.

    “What Chrstianity asserts *should* be your approach to other people” is not to desire good for its own sake. You just made Kant roll in his grave.

    Now let’s take a crack at this little gem:

    “…you can’t love a person whilst treating them as an instance of a generic class rather than as an individual with their own unique characteristics.”

    (1) You have no command over another’s love. (2) My love for my wife is because she’s my wife. Her relationship to me is defined by her being an instance of the class:wife; subclassOf:spouse; etc. I do not love her as a brother because she is not a brother. She is due an ontological primacy as an object in relation to my general capacity for love.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    I had thought for a short moment you were making sense, but plainly not. You seem to have problems distinguishing between ontology as a philosophical discipline (which you plainly have no knowledge or understanding of and seem unable even to understand that it exists) and the use of the word “ontology” as a borrow-word in a completely different discipline in relation to the production of data classification for technical fields. You don’t seem to be able to grasp either that these are two different things or that the latter is completely irrelevant to the subject being discussed.
    If you object to the discussion of what it means to love someone and the best way of doing so as “command over someone else’s love” on what basis are you making any assertions on this at all, in particular describing someone else’s opinion on the matter as “dumb”? Either this is a valid topic for discussion or it isn’t. It isn’t a valid topic for discussion only so long as no-one disagrees with you.
    I don’t recognise your description of “love” at all. I have no idea what you think of as “love” but am at a complete loss as to understand (if this is your genuine thought at all) how I could think I loved my wife if l loved her because she was an example of the relationship category “wife”, as I loved her before she was my wife (it’s why I married her) I wouldn’t love her if she ceased to be my wife and my feelings for her would not be transferrable to whichever person fitted that category at any given time. If my feelings to her were of that nature they would be entirely different to anything I would describe as “love”.
    If what you are saying is true, you are the poster boy for the problem Keith is identifying. My wife is not defined by being a “spouse, subcategory wife” in the same way as a car is a “motor vehicle, subcategory, car” since she is also “klutz, subcategory: hopeless at riding a bike”, and also in the category “Nigerian heritage, sub category born in UK, sub-sub category brought up in Nigeria” and also the category “singer, sub category amateur, sub-sub category soul singer” etc etc etc. If I “loved” her principally because she was my wife I would not regard that as “love”, because it would refer to me thinking I ought to behave in an apparently loving fashion towards her because I am married to her and / or my enjoying the benefits of having her as a wife, neither of these being “love” in a sense I would recognise. This, to my mind, refers to valuing the inherent good of a person as a good in itself and desiring their good as, again, valuable in itself, not as either a perceived imposed obligation or as quid pro quo for benefits received.
    I hope you are actually trolling me, or just being obtuse to try and win an argument, but if you genuinely don’t understand this concept, I pity you, as you are incapable of genuine love. If you want to understand it, try and think of what you want for yourself, of what you regard as good and worthwhile for you, and the nature of those things and how they make you feel. Now try and imagine (if you can) feeling similarly about these things being had by others, or occurring generally without reference to you. Imagine (this may be difficult) being even more motivated that another person might have them than you should. This is what I (and most people) refer to as “love” and the desire of the good for others unrelated to your own good is what is meant by “loving your neighbour as yourself”.

  • R/R 2016

    Ontology is not data classification but knowledge representation. Data classification is a repository to make data items available for input. OWL and other semantic web standards are useful for effectively “doing” ontology because it provides a formal language for ontology capture. You still can’t seem to grasp ontology as an “applied science” (this does not make its science exclusive to its philosophy – sheesh), and you really don’t have to keep telling me that my use of ontology doesn’t make sense to you. It’s very obvious.

    I’ve made my assertion that labels are not in and of themselves barriers to love, but are necessary, useful, and subject to a uniquely Christian re-imagination. I don’t have the energy to repeat myself. Even to say all persons should exist categorically under the label “of one” assumes the utility of a label that establishes the lexical and logical boundaries for what constitutes and does not constitute a person. To refuse the use of labels and then effectively use a label is dumb. Like, really dumb.

    re: Trolling: You replied to me, dude. Understanding the import of loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s self is not possible without first recognizing the conditions of Self and Other-ness and affording to the latter a due ontology primacy.

    I don’t really care if you pity me. I’m very much okay not meeting your definition. And special pleading and bandwagon appeal (what you or “most people” believe has no command over my thinking, thank you) aren’t convincing modes of argument.

  • soter phile

    you said: Until we can learn to love without labels, we will never learn to love as Christ commanded us to love.

    Keith, you do realize Christ used labels, right?

    Never mind that language itself is a series of labeling ideas with words.
    Nor that semantics will not solve the problem of sin.