I am not one of these people who thinks all labels should remain on cans. Labels help us define what it is we are looking at. As a voter if I am inclined to look at political challenges from a certain perspective, be that from the assumption that government can and should collectively address our challenges I will generally find myself within a worldview that is in most areas of policy consistent across the board. Therefore I will look for a candidate or leader or party that espouses that point of view. Likewise if I am a libertarian who believes less government and more personal choice makes every decision better I too will find myself looking for a candidate, leader or party that is likely to support what it is I am looking for.
The same is true for church, most people in their search for a church are looking for a place that is friendly, has programs they want, where the preacher is offering a message they can relate to. BUT there is no doubt that the values that a church espouses in its ministry, its preaching, its outreach, fall into a framework can be considered “progressive” or “liberal” or “traditional” or “conservative” or “evangelical” or “catholic”.
There is nothing wrong grouping together points of view and perspective to find a way to reference our experience and our perspective. It helps us to better understand how we see the world and form solidarity with others who share our view. But that does not mean that using labels to help us understand the world we live in should be an excuse for ignoring or vilifying those of different views. Just because I tend to fall into the liberal mindset does not mean I can’t learn from people with different ideas or appreciate that what they offer can in many cases assist people my liberal ideas cannot reach.
That is also part of the reason I find the way we talk about faith or lack of faith so problematic. Just because a person calls her/himself a Christian does not really help the listener to know what s/he is suggesting about how the world can be understood. One Christian can say that their God is manifest in everything the way it is, that this God of providence makes the world as it is, for a reason, and that our response as humans is to accept the status quo as God’s intent and then try to discern why the world has come to be this way. These Christians spend less time trying to change the world and more time trying to understand why God has done what God has done and what this means for us. Other Christians, like me, see the world as a place waiting for me as a believer to engage and offer Christ-like love and compassion to make it more just. In this mindset the world is unfolding but what is cannot be necessarily attributed to God’s intent. God leaves some freedom to humanity for the way things turn out to be. Therefore in this type of Christian world-view there is a high premium on getting involved and making a difference.
Likewise I know atheists who believe that there is no deity and therefore no reason to believe that any kind of moral compulsion or directive is in effect. This assertion frees them to be “strong” and move forward in a way they deem to be self-revealing. But I know many, many more atheists with very strong moral compasses who believe that there is a basic “humanness” that brings out the best in us and that we owe one another, as fellow humans, that consideration and care.
Put simply telling people you are a Christian or an Atheist or any type of political or religious label is not enough. There is always the need for more definition and clarity.