(5 minute read)
I’m stepping away from tech this week to tackle a life post. This may be one of the most important pieces I’ve written and it should leave you with something to think over.
I’m going to start with a logical and hopefully unbiased look at why we are who we are, then pose a very difficult question and finally wrap up.
As we journey through life from conception onwards, our personal identity is constantly developing, and in many cases, outwith our actual control. At conception, we are given the genetic fingerprints from both our parents and their ancestral lines giving us many predetermined traits. Before birth, we have already gained identities such as our nationality, gender, sexuality, skin tint, race, tribe, class, family name, and handedness. And for many of us, there is no doubt that identities like religion or lack of religious beliefs are already predetermined for us by our own parents and community.
As we grow and learn as children in our family and in our particular community, further identities are added such as forenames, language, accent, dialect, beliefs, traditions, creed, rituals, heritage, dress, dance, music, well/poorly educated, privileged/deprived, prejudice, food we eat/won’t eat, sports we play, sports teams we support, height, weight, and age. Even after we reach adulthood, we build on all these with further identities such as third level education, marital status, work profession, income level, political persuasion, criminal record, flag/country we identify with.
I think you can see from this that we actually have little control over the many identities that make us who we are. Some identities are genetically determined and many others are instilled in us by our parents and community and unfortunately introduce a bias when we view others with different identities. The identities mould us into who we are and they set for us a way of life. Have a look through these identities, or labels, and I’m sure you can easily see your own position on each of these. The labels can influence how we know or perceive others, how we form bonds with others, or how others know us or perceive us. We may be subconsciously labelled by others and even incorrectly labelled by them. Some mightn’t even be aware they are labelling us. And of course, we’re labelling others all the time subconsciously, and perhaps incorrectly.
Identities can be divisive to the point that people may be prepared to fight and die for them. For example, on the one hand defending your country or your flag, and on they other hand attacking or persecuting others because they have different identities. We see this all too clearly today globally, but it has happened throughout history and regrettably will continue to happen.
So here’s the difficult question I promised. If so much of who we are is governed by our family environment, community and upbringing, can we rightly conclude that our own different identities including traditions, rituals and religion, are ‘correct’ when we haven’t actually carefully chosen them in an unbiased fashion? As I have discussed, we are preconditioned to believe that our religion, or lack of it, is the ‘correct’ way of life. Yet strangely, we somehow don’t consider anyone else’s religious identity to be ‘correct’, only our own. Why? Because we’re comfortable with our religion and it’s shared by our family, friends and community.
But crucially, I must logically conclude that if I had been brought up in a different religion in a different community, then that religion would probably feel ‘correct’ to me. Crucial because this logically implies that either all religions are ‘correct’ or there is not ‘correct’ religion, just the religion you are familiar with. I do accept that people are converted between religions but for the vast majority of religious people, you are born and bred into a religion and for that reason it seems ‘correct’.
Let’s look at it another way. If there was a way to be brought up without biased identities being imposed on us, without being ‘born and bred’ into a particular religion, then we would be free to think through and make fair, unbiased, reasoned judgments on things like religion, dogma, beliefs, and traditions. But that’s not quite how religion works. Because of the punishment/reward thinking at the heart of religion, parents are understandably under some pressure to bring children up in their own religion, and on our part, once we have been brought up in one religion, we may fear the consequences of renouncing it.
Have a look again at all your different identities. Is religion among them? Is yours the ‘correct’ religion? Are you sure? Try to put yourself in the position where your parents and community have a different faith. How would you feel then? Like me, when you think this through, you may also come to the most important decision you’ve made.
I hope to explore this whole topic further in a future post.
Photo credit: Scott Cresswell – Just a face in the crowd