You are assigned a religion at birth, probably based on your parents’ religion which was assigned to them at birth. Your religion is recorded on your birth certificate and identity card. If the faith you wish to base your life on doesn’t match the religion on your identity card you have a problem. If you wish to marry someone of a different religion you have a problem. One of you needs to ‘convert’ or else your children may have an even greater problem. It’s easy enough to convert from Christianity to Islam. However, to convert from Islam to Christianity is illegal in some countries and very difficult in others.
You may figure that you can manage even if your stated religion is Islam, while the faith you base your life on is Christianity. But this will have repercussions further down the line. If the ID cards of you and your spouse say that you are Muslims (even if you are practicing Christians), your children are also recorded as Muslims and are treated by the State as such, even if you have raised them as Christians.
This is a liminal stairwell of a different type, where official religion meets lifestyle faith. What are your options as these two painfully commingle?
Official religion vs lifestyle faith
This post is based on one on the Lausanne website by Jonathan Andrews, ‘Living as a Christian, registered as a Muslim?’ Andrews’ article is itself an introduction to a book he has written entitled Identity Crisis: Religious Registration in the Middle East (available here). The article concludes with a brief paragraph headed ‘What is the way through?’ – a question which he does not answer. He simply encourages ‘people of all faiths and none to seek authentic local solutions that will benefit all’.
What is the way forward? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.
I have a passport, a social security card, a driving license and other documents that record who I am. None of them ask my religion. I have social media accounts, some of which give me the option of stating my ‘religious views’ and ‘political views’. The whole notion of having an official ‘religion’ with which you are born strikes me as somewhat antiquated, especially in this day and age of polycentrism, hyphenation and liminality where routes are at least as common as roots.
What is religion?
What is religion? The Internet offers many definitions. Wikipedia kicks off with,
Religion is a cultural system of behaviours and practices, world views, sacred texts, holy places, ethics and social organisation that relate humanity to what an anthropologist has called “an order of existence”.
Religion, then, is a ‘cultural system’, the ingredients of which include ‘behaviours and practices’, ‘world views’, ‘sacred texts’, etc. It is a cultural system that provides ‘an order of existence’. Sounds workable if you stay in your small corner and I stay in mine. But the moment we take a journey out of our small corner (that is, leave the sub-culture into which we were born) such rigid labels cannot work.
Following Jesus without religion
I was born into a Baptist Church: I have it on good authority that I attended regularly even before I was born. But I would refuse to label myself a Baptist. In one of the social media sites referenced above I call myself (under ‘religious views’) a follower of Jesus. My spiritual pilgrimage has taken me through a whole range of denominations, and one thing this has taught me is to distinguish the peripheral from the central. What is central is loving God and following Jesus. St Paul summarises this as ‘knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Phil. 3.8) Everything else is pretty much peripheral. Or as St Paul puts it, ‘everything else is a whole load of rubbish’.
Let’s just drop the notion of religion as something separate from culture. Give me the freedom to follow Jesus (or Mohammed, or the teachings of the Bible, or the teachings of the Qu’ran, or the Buddha, or Joseph Smith, or… I trust you get the point) – to follow Christ Jesus my Lord within whatever culture or cultures I am part – which may or may not be the same as the culture I was born into. More than that, to find ways of expressing my faith within that culture, for every culture can and should be a vehicle for knowing God.