recommended listening: Take My Hand by Shawn McDonald
With eyes still groggy she recites the Shema
With hands joined together they say grace
With knees on a rug, for the fifth time in the day, he prays
With a mind made up, you no longer have faith
How extensively does your G-d define you?
What does the symbol you wear around your neck say about you?
Who decides what to label your faith?
Where does religion end and your identity begin?
When do we begin to decide for ourselves?
Why must we be limited?
Whatever spiritual path we take, it shapes us. The religions we are brought up in, the scriptures we read, the discussions we have, all influence our faith. And, as a result, numerous other aspects of our lives. The impact of religion on one's character is immense.
The collaborative online journal, Pulse-Berlin, shed light on this and brought up some interesting ideas. Erin Wilson writes, "It is this search that gives religion its ability to deeply impact our identity: religion offers answers to our most difficult questions."
I agree with Wilson. Religion, in both positive and negative ways, shapes how we define ourselves and look at the world. When someone says they are a Christian, or a Jew, or a Muslim, or an Atheist, all of these labels bring with them countless associations, stereotypes, and nuances. And, the further someone strays from defining themselves in terms of religious affiliation, the more difficult it becomes to relate to them on that level or grasp their values and morals right away.
For example, I have been raised Jewish. I feel strongly connected to my Jewish roots and take pride in my religion. My family has worked hard to fight for religious freedom for my siblings and I. But, to be honest, we aren't really that Jewish at all. We drive on Shabbat, we eat pork, and we occasionally forget to light our Menorah on Hanukkah.
At the same time, I participate actively in the Youth Ministry program at my local Catholic Church and even lead religious retreats. As a result of this, many people question me. People have trouble wrapping their minds around the "hypocrisy" of my faith and spirituality. And, this judgement stretches past simply my faith to judging me as a whole. People see me as a confused hypocrite simply because I have chosen to shift and explore past societal norms for ways to characterize faith and identity.
I by no means share this in order to vent or complain, but rather to illuminate the ever-present correlation between religion and identity. We are defined as our religion by both ourselves and others. But I challenge you to find the strength to stretch past that. You are not simply a label or a line of scripture or a ritual. You are a medley of those things, supplemented by your ideas and experiences.
For further exploration of this topic I have found a plethora of useful and interesting information here.
Religion is essentially the art and the theory of the remaking of man. Man is not a finished creation.