4.2.2.3 Assertion of Religious Identity

Religion influences people’s moral values if they have been brought up with it, or have been affected by it.  There is a spectrum of religious awareness and activism:

  • Religion might quietly, even unconsciously, affect someone’s moral attitudes and the way they interact with other people.
  • Some people might be tolerant of other religions, recognising that different views can be equally strongly held, and choose not to assert their own faith – mixing freely with people from any religion, without friction.
  • For some people, religion is an important part of their identity – determining their social networks and giving them a strong sense of belonging to an ethnic group. Codes of practice vary between religions, and between the different sects within a religion, and these variations are important to the groups concerned – as symbols of identity as well as having religious significance.
  • Depending partly on the leadership of a religious group, and on the circumstances surrounding it, some people with a strong sense of religious identity might feel the need to defend themselves against people with different beliefs.
  • They might go further, by trying to convert ‘non-believers’, even using violence in some cases.

Although, as previously noted (4.2.2.2), there are common factors which could provide a basis for mutual respect between religious groups, it is undeniable that religion has often been seen as a divisive force.  Its influence spreads through many other patterns of power, as described next (4.2.2.4).

This is sometimes caused by the exploitation of religion to gain support for political causes, which is a subject for the Political Dimension (6.7.4.2), but it is also because religion is a convenient and sometimes very visible badge of group identity.  As described later in this chapter, any form of social group contains the potential for opposition to other groups (4.4.5.1) and hostility is easily fomented (4.4.5.2).

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