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Hallo again to all.

'Who are you?' When someone asks that question, how do you answer it? Do you give your name? Your profession? Your ethnic background? Your ancestry? Your religion? This whole concept of identity -- of who you are -- seems at once to be absolutely central but impossibly complicated.

Genocide -- killing people because of who they are -- has been in the news too much in recent years. If part of your identity comes from what you are not, rather than what you are, you can make the leap to believing that by killing people who are not like you, you raise and protect yourself. Racism can be seen as forming unwarranted assumptions about people based on your perception of who they are. The sad lesson of history is that racism has often led to killing, a tentative first step towards genocide.

History shows that people will defend themselves most vigorously when they believe that their identity is being threatened. We've never had the chance to interview someone who is guilty of genocide, to test our hypothesis that it is a culture's overreaction to the sense that another people, by their very existence, somehow threaten its identity. We've known plenty of people who are guilty of racism, and in most cases we've found at the centre of their being a sense that their identity was threatened. 'I am not like those people over there. I am different.' It's just a simple little leap from there to 'By pushing them down, it lifts me up.'

This week's News Centre links to a fascinating interview with six US bishops, conducted by the [US] Public Broadcasting System, PBS. Reading it and re-reading it, closing our eyes to attempt to visualise their saying the things we read, we were struck by the sense that in their conflicts and disagreements, all of these bishops are trying to guard and nurture their identity and that of their flocks. We Anglicans are too peaceful to respond with violence when our identity is threatened, but some of the writing is, as we see it, angry verbal assault.

Returning to our opening premise that most people don't know how to describe their identity, it's not surprising that most don't know how to verbalise their feelings of its being threatened. To parody an old saw, 'I don't know who I am but I know who I'm like.' Many Anglicans will read the transcripts of the conversations with those six bishops and will identify with some of them. All for good, but we suspect that these same Anglicans will also get a sense from another that 'that person is not like me'.

The history of Anglican conflict -- indeed, most religious conflict -- is rich with altercations over symbols of identity. 'I am not the kind of person who tolerates a cross over the altar'. 'I am not the kind of person who tolerates divorce.' 'I am not the kind of person who will sit still while some man marries his dead wife's sister.' 'I am not the kind of person who will tolerate a gay cleric.'

Whatever it is that we are, whatever our identity, part of it is that we believe with our whole hearts that in this godly world, good can diminish evil. Unless we are absolutely certain that something is evil, such as genocide or racism, we believe that our efforts and resources are better spent raising light than making combat with darkness.

See you next week.

Cynthia's signature
Brian's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 23 January 2005


A thin blue line
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