Religion and Identity

Monday, October 12, 2009
I have a question. It's kind of a stupid question, because I have no experience in this area.

If I'm asked to describe my identity, I usually use such descriptors as "family member," "wife," "mother," "engineer," "veteran," "friend," and "blogger." This is how I see myself, and while I recognize that others certainly won't see me in exactly the same way, I typically don't self-identify in terms of my non-belief. Being an agnostic is certainly part of who I am, and it definitely informs and influences my writing, but it doesn't play a pivotal role in my daily life or offline activities. So that's where I'm coming from, and what has prompted today's question:

How come some people so closely wrap their public identity to their religious belief, while others internalize their faith and simply live their belief?

I know a large number of highly religious people. The ones with whom I'm close typically fall into the latter category. They consider their faith to be a cornerstone of their lives, and their belief quietly informs every aspect of their identity and behavior. But they don't advertise it, telling one and all "I'm Christian (Jewish, Muslim, LDS, Hindu), you know," or framing every discussion, every opinion, every thought in terms of their religious belief. I find people who do that annoying as hell, but that's just me.

What drives these behaviors? What makes some people live their faith and others advertise it? I don't really understand either perspective, being all heathenish and all, but I am curious.

38 comments:

Steve Buchheit said...

As has been said elsewhere, religion (specifically the Judeo/Christian/Muslim religion) is for people afraid of hell, spirituality is for those who have already slogged through it.

Jeri said...

I think advertising their faith is a cornerstone of the evangelical belief system - "go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations".

One of my favorite Christian women - actually, I know two that are this way - are pastors' wives, who prefer NOT to self identify either as a minister's wife or as a Christian because they want real, unvarnished behavior and reactions from those around them. They get so frustrated by the self-censorship that happens once folks know their roles.

John the Scientist said...

As both a believer and a cynic, my first answer is that a large protion of them have nothing else in their lives which can make them feel superior to other people.

They often trot out the "pride" verses from the Bible when talking to / about people who have actual accomplishments.

There's another segment that has been through, or is going through a horrific time in their lives, and has nothing else to keep them sane. They are not the insufferable ones, though.

WendyB_09 said...

Steve B- I believe that definition of spirituality is one I can identify with.

As in been there, done that, burned the tee shirt.

Karl said...

I think a little of what Steve said - fear of what comes after - makes them feel better to talktalktalk about it and hope to get support in it, and some like John said to feel 'better' than others or to fit in because there's no other way to fit in to the place they want to be. Those that already see their place in the big picture don't need to fear or feel superior in order to have a full life and they know that they don't have to fit in to anything or be afraid of what others think or say. Then there's us heathens...

vince said...

I can only speak for some Christians. The ones I have respect for who do this feel that it's the most important thing about them, and therefore will list this first (They see it in the same light as saying they're male, female, 32, etc.)

I like my ex's answer when asked by strangers who she is when she isn't sure about the questioner - "I'm just me."

Jeri said...

Wow. My spinal reflex, when asked "who are you", is still to answer "wife, mother, project manager". I wonder when that will change? If at all? (not sad, just - an interesting fact...)

Random Michelle K said...

Who am I?

I am, who I am.

Regarding religion, in some cases it, self-identifying can tell you something about a person, or perhaps they're looking for something in common.

"I went to Catholic school."
"Oh man, me too! Don't they all have the most horrible uniforms?"

Chris said...

I think it has more to do with the fact that they allow themselves to be identified as X (Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, whatever) and not simply the idividual that they truly are. This happens with all kinds of belief systems, beyond religion. A woman I work with is about as far right, politically, as one can get. She still worships Rush, at a time when the GOP is washing their hands of him. Her life is defined by her politics rather than just by who she is.

MWT said...

I don't think it's just a religion thing. I mean, there are certain other regular commenters on other blogs who frame every opinion through "I'm leaning right..." >.>

I think some people just identify themselves to one or more aspects of their lives as an anchorpoint.

As for me, I never have any idea what to say when someone asks me to describe myself. Usually I try to figure out what context they mean, and then give an answer appropriate to the context.

Janiece said...

All, thanks for your perspectives.

Food for thought...

Unknown said...

Agnostics routinely refer to a lack of intelligent thinking on the part of Christians, and admittedly, ideas such as the dead rising long after their molecules are in use by later generations, and the unprovable concept of an immortal soul and the search for the simple whereabouts of God, lead to Yuri Gagarin stating that he had been in heaven and looked all around for God and saw no sign of Him.
'Techie Worlds' (available at Amazon.com) builds on 'Flatland's ideas about contiguous geometric worlds to show how logical Trinity is, how resurrection, judgment and soul are reasonable in such worlds, and that Christianity is as probable as that simplistic idea of 'only the material world'. Considering not just the testimonies of Wiccans and Satanists, but also miracles such as the dance of the sun at Fatima (witnessed by thousands) it appears that multiple-worlds is more likely. Oh well, the minds of agnostics are not really that open to any belief based on love..
GeorgeRic

Eric said...

Well, George Ric, then I guess I'm glad I'm an atheist and not an agnostic. I believe, as my fellow atheist John Lennon once said, "all you need is love." Well, love and a nicely aged anejo tequila. And a cat. Also a warm fire is nice on cold nights. And a copy of Wish You Were Here, I definitely could not go without having that to listen to. While reading a nice book.

Hmmm. If my gas fireplace wasn't on the fritz, I think I know what I'd be doing tonight. Well, I have the rest of it....

But don't mind me, GeorgeRic: like my fellow atheist, John Lennon, I also believe I'm an eggman and a walrus. And that Yoko Ono is underrated. So, you know, I may not be the sanest unbelieving infidel for you to reference.

::walks away signing "goo goo gajoob..." to himself::

Nathan said...

Yoko Ono is underrated

BLASPHEMER!

Random Michelle K said...

Yoko Ono is underrated

SMITE

Random Michelle K said...

Oh well, the minds of agnostics are not really that open to any belief based on love..

Really?

Janiece said...

Welcome, GeorgeRic. I think.

I confess that I am unsure of your purpose in commenting here. You did not really address the point of the post, i.e., how how does religion tie into self-identity in people of faith. And then you went out of your way to appear confrontational to me as the author of the piece, i.e., "Oh well, the minds of agnostics are not really that open to any belief based on love.." A baseless accusation at best, and pretty damn rude no matter what motivated it.

Since I don't know you from Adam, I can assume one of three things: Your are intentionally trying to pick a fight with me in my on-line home for reasons of your own; you are trying to evangelize your own brand of spirituality for reasons of your own; or you really did not intend to be offensive, but missed the point and don't realize how you sound.

I'm trying to give you the benefit of the doubt by including option 3 in there, you see.

Can you enlighten us as to your purpose?

Fathergoose said...

This is a great question. My thought is that it is the same compulsion that causes the lady in line behind me at the grocery store to randomly start telling me her life story.

Anne C. said...

Great thought-provoking post, Janiece!

And my reaction to GeorgeRic is about the same as Michelle's...
Huh???
One must assume GR doesn't know very many agnostics, nor even what the term means. I tend to think as Eric apparently does -- that he conflates agnostics with atheists. (And even if he did, he'd still be off base on the stereotyping.)

[shrug]

Jack Napier said...

Janiece, I found your question humorously ironic considering you went through all the trouble of creating a blog page devoted to advertising your beliefs or lack of. I am a Christian and do not wish to advertise my stupidity on the web or in any other arena, but God bless free will, right?

Eric said...

Jack, you must be joking right? (Haha--see I get the reference... unless your name really is Jack Napier, in which case: haha--I bet you get that a lot.) But seriously-- (Why so serious? Sorry, wait, that version doesn't have a real name, he just is. Which really makes him a much more frightening character. But I digress....)

Anyway, I don't see the irony here. (It's not ironic, I don't think, just like rain on your wedding day which really isn't ironic either, unless maybe you checked The Weather Channel and they were predicting sun... sorry, sorry--I'm having a hard time focusing for some reason.) As I was saying, it's not really ironic that Janiece asks a perfectly legitimate question on her blog, which isn't focused on her religious beliefs or lack thereof, but on various things that interest her--and which do provide her with an identity that includes the descriptors she sets out in her second paragraph, supra. So, you know, I guess I can't speak to what you find ironic, but I find your finding of irony where none is objectively present to be...

...weird.

Cheers.

Jack Napier said...

You are right, Jack Napier is not my real name, but isn't that what the web is all about, be whomever you want to be. But to answer your response, you kind of answered it yourself and I will paste a portion of your response, "which isn't focused on her religious beliefs or lack thereof, but on various things that interest her--and which do provide her with an identity". People who take the time out of their day to make a blog page or even a simple Myspace or any of those other kinds of websites need their 2 cents to be heard, therefore, are trying to be identified to the world.

I don't have a problem with that, but she seems to have a problem with that when a religious person does it outside the confines of the internet. Does it bother her to see a Jew wearing a yamaka or to see an Indian with the red dot on their forehead suggesting their Hindu faith? I don't know, but I have a pretty good idea.

As I said before I am a Christian and do not go around telling every Tom, Dick or Harry that I meet that I am a Christian, but how are we to coexist with each other if we do not tolerate each others beliefs. I have witnessed more animosity from non-believers towards religious minded people than the other way around, but I can understand why non-believers feel the way they do. The majority of religious people are not very educated, which makes us that are, look equally uneducated. Same goes for non-believers, unfortunately for any non-believers reading this, I have only met uneducated non-believers.

The Mechanicky Gal said...

Well Jack,
Seems like you are just here to stir things up.
Good on you to be a Christian. All are welcome here, to present their POV in a constructive way. I don't think you are accomplishing that, but whatever.
This is apparently, a forum that really doesn't interest you?
There are a lot of blogs/myspace/facebook, what have you, out there. I have found that they are mainly a way for friends who are separated by distance to keep in touch. Nothing more sinister or involved than that.
Janiece is one of the most tolerant, kind, intelligent people that I know, so maybe you should shuffle off to some other blog?

The Mechanicky Gal said...

And Jack? What are your thoughts on pantyhose?

Janiece said...

Welcome, Jack.

I'm unsure how to respond to your comments, primarily because I don't understand what it is you find so offensive.

You are correct in that my choice to have a public persona in the form of this blog does in fact "advertise" my identity (such as it is) to the outside world. That doesn't make me unique in any way, of course, and as I noted above, my lack of belief is a small part of who I am.

Your issue (I think) is your assumption that I have a "problem" with people who "advertise" their religious identity outside of the Internet. You insinuate that it offends me in some way, and that you perception of my imaginary offense somehow advertises me as "stupid."

Does that about cover it?

Well, I can only say, you're wrong. On pretty much every count, actually.

As noted in the post itself, I have a great many friends who are deeply religious. Some of them wear outward symbols of their faith (such as a cross or a kippa) for reasons of their own, and I have no issue with that whatsoever. If my writing implied that I did, then perhaps that's sloppy writing on my part, but it's certainly not how I feel. I made no reference in my entry to external symbols whatsoever.

My question (and my curiousity) was specifically related to individuals who present themselves through their speech as highly relgious. As noted in my post, people whose every thought, every opinion, every comment is advertised as being a part of their spiritual belief. As in, "I don't believe in abortion because my religion tells me it's a sin" or "I think the President is doing a bad job because he doesn't go to Church regularly."

I'll admit that I do find such people annoying. If an individual is unable to defend their opinon on any basis other than religios ones, they have essentially closed any common ground with those who do not have religious beliefs. You say you're a Christian. If you put forth that you disapprove of civil gay marriage on the basis of your religious belief (I'm not implying you do, simply using that as an example), then it's very difficult for us to reach a compromise because you're basing your argument on a non-provable belief system that I do not share. If you disapprove of civil gay marriage on some other grounds, we might be able to have a meaningful conversation about it, because there may be common ground on which we can meet.

It's no coincidence that those who are unable to discuss non-religious matters in other than religious terms are also usually evangelical. That's another topic for another time, but yes, I find evangelical behavior to astoundingly offensive.

So no, Jack, you do not have a good idea about my thoughts on these matters. I have no trouble "tolerating" others' beliefs. In fact, I could make a pretty good case that I embrace them, which is more than you're apparently able to do as it relates to my belief.

As for your incredible assertion about education and belief systems, I have to say that you really should get out more. I know many, many believers who are very well educated (many hang out and comment here, in fact), just as I know many, many non-believers who are well educated (and also hang out and comment here). For me, education and intelligence are the single most common qualities in my friends, both on-line and in person.

So really - don't assume you know me. Seriously.

Jack Napier said...

Dear Mechanicky Gal, your right the majority of this blog site does not interest me, but religious intolerance does. In a manner of speaking, I am commenting to stir things up and that is what Janiece would like to certain extent. These are her words: "Newcomers are welcome here, especially those who disagree with me, but trolling will be met with the Shovel of Doom™."

I believe in a healthy, non-violent debate and I'm sure she does too, so I'm very sorry, but your stuck with me....when it comes to religious debate.

What did you think of my message to Eric? Did it sound retarded? Give me your thoughts. We only learn when we are corrected. And about the pantyhose, I like them on women.

Jack Napier said...

I really do appreciate the time you took to give me a lengthy tongue lashing and perhaps sloppy writing did lead me to believe untrue assumptions about you, however why is it you have a lot of articles which are, "at first glance," anti-religious?

And I was not trying to insinuate you to be uneducated or any other kind of stupid, but I can see where that might have seemed so. So, I do apologize if that is how it came out. Also, for the intolerant comment, that was more for people that I know personally.

Please, get back to me on my question and thanks for the fast response.

Eric said...

Jack, it's actually a bit of an assumption to assume that one blogs out of self-promotion. It may be so, and frequently is so, but there are also those of us who blog for the exercise (in writing or thinking), to communicate with friends and family (e.g. one early function of my blog was to serve as a kind of "a la carte" clearinghouse with things I thought were nifty but didn't necessarily want to fill their e-mailboxes with), or for other purposes. I can't speak to Janiece's motives, but I actually suspect self-advertisement ranks reasonably low on her list of reasons; that is, I think she wants to share her thoughts and opinions with those who are interested, but it's not out of a sense of being driven to "identify" in any particular sense.

But then I'm not really the one to address that. It is her blog, after all.

As for education, religious or otherwise, I find it impossible to resist the urge to pedantically point out that it's generally spelled "yarmulke," though being Hebraic there are several alternate Anglicizations (none of them, however, "yamaka"). It does turn out, surprisingly enough, that "Yamaka" does have religious significance: I googled "yamaka" in the hope that it would prove to be a knock-off motorcycle manufactured in South Korea or somewhere in China, but indeed it turns out to be a book of Buddhist scripture. One learns something new every day.

Jack Napier said...

Indeed one learns something new every day, Eric. Indeed one does. Perhaps you are learning also from me that blogging is promoting widespread stupidity, when it use to be confined solely by phone or in person, but now everyone wants their 15 minutes and many cannot help themselves but to try and attain it. This is not based on any of my Christian beliefs, but on my disbelief on how many people delude themselves and wish to broadcast it to the world. I'm doing it right now, but I at least have the humility to admit it.

Also, I like your use of the word "pedantically", how Peter Griffin of you.

Janiece said...

Jack, I am in fact "anti-religious" to a certain degree. My writing accurately reflects that opinion to a certain degree, and I don't apologize for it.

That does not, however, mean that I am "anti-people of faith." A subtle distinction, to be sure, and somewhat hard to communicate in this essentially asynchronous medium. But it has the virtue of being true.

Also, I would agree that there are many, many avenues for teh stoopid to be disgtributed into the wider world these days. *cough*Fox News*cough

:-)

Random Michelle K said...

why is it you have a lot of articles which are, "at first glance," anti-religious

Why is discussion the fact that Christian privilege exists in the US anti-religious? Why is a discussion of the foolishness of creationism anti-religious? (Just thinking of two past topics off the top of my head.)

Christian privilege in the US does exist. Creationism is foolish. These are not anti-religious statements, they are about how things are.

Jack Napier said...

I couldn't agree more on the Fox news comment, but hey, there was an open market for extremist right-winged news coverage and Fox was just crazy enough to actually air it. Lord knows that ABC, CBS and NBC would never be that crazy.

Either way, I see you have issues with religion and who doesn't really? If it wasn't for all the Christian crazies I have known through-out my life, I wouldn't feel the need to apologize for them to someone like you. Just keep in mind that there is a happy median between Christianity and the world and though it may not seem like it, there are people out there who do not live up to the stereo-type.

I will leave your blog site to search for an extremist atheist site, so I can really get into it with them (not that you are an atheist site). I like to look at it like those teachers who would rather teach the low scoring students instead of the honor students, because a successful outcome in their favor would be more sweet.

Janiece said...

Michelle, I appreciate you sticking up for me, but Jack had a point. I am anti-religious. The fact that Christian privilege and YEC are stupid and wrong no matter who writes about them is exclusive of that fact.

Jack, there are plenty of commenters here (and I have many friends in meat-space) who self-identify as Christian. As I mentioned, the primary criteria on which I base my friendships is not faith, but intelligence, education, and other humanist values. So your admonition to "Just keep in mind that there is a happy median between Christianity and the world and though it may not seem like it, there are people out there who do not live up to the stereo-type." is really wasted on me. You see, I'm already aware that stereotypes are dangerous, and I try hard not to indulge in them, since they signify sloppy thinking.

I might suggest to you that you are the one who appears to be indulging in stereotyping, since you apparently spend at least some portion of your day searching for atheist (or anti-religious, or whatever) sites on which to spread your view of the world. So it might be to your benefit to remember that not all people who do not have faith are "out to get" the Christians. Just their unearned privilege.

Jack Napier said...

Dear Random Michelle K, to say that creationism is foolish is to be as bigoted a statement as to say the Theory of Evolution is foolish. You may think you know how things are, but you would just be setting yourself up for disappointment. I accept the teachings of evolution as much as the teaching of creationism but always come up with the thought that I don't know "Jack". I would rather be pleasantly surprised in the end when I wake up in Heaven , Hell or not at all.

Janiece said...

to say that creationism is foolish is to be as bigoted a statement as to say the Theory of Evolution is foolish.

Jack, please note that the term "creationism" as used by Michelle was in reference to the YEC crowd (i.e., Young Earth Creationism). I know that Michelle used the word in that context because she was talking about my writing, and the I only criticize creationism in the context of the Young Earth whack-jobs.

So in that context, Michelle is not insinuating that people who believe in the science of evolution and those who believe in a creator God are mutually exclusive. There are many, many people of faith who accept the science and reconcile their belief in a creator God by saying (for instance) that evolution is the mechanism by which their creator God created life on this planet.

I don't think you'll find anyone here who has a problem with that belief system. What we do have a problem with is those who would discount proven scientific methodologies by essentially sticking their fingers in their ears and singing "lalala I can't hear you" when their literal interpretation of the bible is contradicted by observable facts.

Those people are foolish, and it's absolutely appropriate to point and laugh at their apparent complete inability to grasp observable reality.

Just as absolute physical evidence would convince me of the existence of a God, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect people of faith to accede to absolute physical evidence when it contradicts their Bible stories.

Eric said...

Jack! I thought you were leaving for an extremist atheist site to perform your missionary work! Say it's not true! Say you're not leaving! Or, if you are, you will send postcards, won't you? Write to us? Bring me a souvenir? Tell us thrilling stories of how it was just you and your hired guide on the veld with your atheist rifle waiting for the herd to gather at the watering hole?

(Oh! He's so brave!)

Janiece said...

::snirk::

mom in northern said...

I am late to this discussio; but I would say that Janiece is not anti religous but rather anti fanatic...she got it at her mothers knee.