FRIDAY, 26 NOVEMBER 2004
The problem with religion as identity determinant is that it has to remain constant to maintain credibility in the eyes of the people to whom it grants a religious identity. But in order to remain a relevant determinant of identity, the source of religious symbols (religious texts, institutions like “church”) may have to change – in small increments, but still to such an extent that the source today will be fundamentally different from the source of 500 or 1,000 years ago.
What happens then when someone who employs a particular religion for purpose of identity acquires knowledge and a critical understanding of this fundamental shift? One possibility is that such a person would develop a condition that can be called a crisis of faith.
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Since I have just gotten up and haven’t even had breakfast yet, one may be wondering whether it is a bit early for ideas such as the above. My answer is … apparently not – not if one receives the thought, formulation and all, in your final dream before waking up!
The dream played out at a dinner table with people with whom I did urban missionary work more than a decade ago as well as other contemporaries from high school. While we were eating – in the dining room of the early twentieth-century mansion that served as the headquarters of the organisation, there was one hell of a party going on in the garden. As I was about to take another bite of one of the delicious dishes on my plate, the thought struck …
People with whom I had had close relationships at that time may say that I have betrayed my religious identity. I am of the opinion that I have outgrown my religious identity.
One such a person may respond with calm conviction that one cannot outgrow the truth. I will, equally serene, respond: “I am still committed to know the truth. And I do not need an institutionally-defined identity to know the truth or to pursue it.”
[In many cases, leaders of religious movements claim that they are not changing their religion, they are simply reverting to an earlier, purer form. This explanation ensures that the religion retains credibility as identity determinant, and it also justifies the changes they make to the practical expression of adherence to the religion, or even to aspects of theology, for the very purpose of keeping it relevant to people with different religious needs than people 500 or 1,000 years ago.]