Religion as a matter of identity

Last night I was doing work around the house and had the tv on as I heard an interview with Reza Aslan. Aslan is a professor of religion at UC Riverside. I found his statement so intriguing and thought provoking, I stopped rewound it several times and wrote it down. Here it is:

The thing about religion that people have to understand is that it is far more a matter of identity than it is just a matter of beliefs and practices. I mean, those things are important, but when you say “I am a Jew,” “I’m a Muslim,” “I’m a Christian” you are making an identity statement far more so than a statement of the things you believe. I mean, let me put it this way: 7 out of 10 Americans call themselves Christian. 7 out of 10 Americans. Think about that for a minute. 7 out of 10 Americans. 7 out of 10 Americans. That means that 7 out of 10 Americans go to church on Sunday, or 7 out of 10 Americans read the Bible on a regular basis, or that 7 out of 10 Americans can tell you anything about Jesus other than he was born in a manger and died on a cross. No! Of course not! The vast majority of that 70% when they say “I am a Christian” they’re making a statement of their identity that includes their nationality, their ethnicity, their world view, their politics, all of those things are wrapped up. And so religion is about who you are as a person as much as it is about what you believe and the rituals you practice.

This is nothing new to me. I’ve argued this point for some time now. However, he says it in a much more concise and illustrated way than I have ever been able to say it. My only addendum is that when you look at the current confluence of politics with “Christian” identity in our society, you see why so many progressive and liberal people are hesitant to identity openly as Christian because it is identified with conservatism. Unfortunately, until progressive and liberal Christians are able to reclaim their own label from the conservatives, this may remain an issue for some years to come.