Source and function of identity

WEDNESDAY, 19 JANUARY 2005

“Look at how they dress! This is the seventies! Somebody should tell them. It’s no wonder they get pointed at in the streets, if they go around looking like that!”

“Maybe. But they don’t complain about it, do they? They endure everything – mockery, hate, even disgust. That’s the price they’re willing to pay to remain who they are.”

Conversation between a young woman and an elderly Jewish man in reference to ultra-orthodox (Haredi, or more specifically in this case, Hassidic) Jews in Antwerp, 1972 (in the film, Left Luggage).

My question: if “ultra-orthodox Jewishness” is a source of identity in the primary sense of the word, something that enables people to function in a particular environment and at a particular time (albeit in a relatively isolated area, and in clothing that reminds of an earlier time), does it have any more value other than functioning to be an “ultra-orthodox Jew”?

Is that the only function of identity?

And if particular religion is to a greater or lesser extent a determinant of identity, and the value of identity is linked to the functioning of the individual at a particular time and place, what can be said about such extreme sources of identity as Hasidic Judaism or fundamentalist Islam, or a similar version of the Christian religion?

I do not necessarily shoot down the idea of conservative uniformity at all times and in all places, but I would like to once again ask: can a source of identity be wrong? When does religion as an important source and determinant of identity and prescribed consciousness do more harm than good?

[Particular Identity X works well in Particular Place X and at Particular Time X. If Particular Identity X fails to enable the individual to function in a particular environment and at a particular time, the individual should either modify their identity, or move to an environment where that particular identity would be a better fit. If time travel were an option, that could also have been suggested.]

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We need to love. Does this make our love any less sincere?

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