Where are you when it’s not a religious holiday?

Among the many things I just loathe is many people’s tendency to label themselves as theists while really being theists of convenience. Christians go to Mass on Christmas and then go on for the other 364 days of the year living their lives as functional atheists. Jews fast on Yom Kippur and attend lavish Seders, and don’t so much as wear skullcaps the rest of the year.
I suppose this ties in to some of the points I’ve made earlier about identity politics. For some people, religion is truly about belief; many of these people are fundamentalists, but by no means all (for example, Hugo Schwyzer is about as fundamentalist as I am). A good way of measuring how many people really are serious about religion is place-of-worship attendance, at least when it comes to monotheistic religions.

In the US, a fifth of the population attends church regularly; we can regard this population as practicing Christian. Another fifth claims to go to church but doesn’t. Two more fifths don’t even say they go to church but still say they’re Christian. Israel has similar figures – about 8% of the population is ultra-Orthodox, 9% more actively practices but is less fundamentalist, and, if I remember correctly, 42% claims to be “traditional” (which generally translates to mainline conservative values).

Members of the nominally religious majority might, on a very abstract level, believe in a god. They certainly have a religious identity, which is why fundamentalism is so successful in the US: if the nominally religious 60% identified with the non-Christian 20% instead and told the fundamentalists to shut up, no politician outside Alabama would dare say, “This is a Christian nation.”

It’s this trend that irks me the most. If you don’t really care about Yahweh enough to practice Judaism, what point is there in self-identifying as Jewish? You can still tell Seder jokes if you want; these moments never go away. No, it’s about constructing your very own ethnic identity, to have your very own “us” and “them.” And that compound of religion and nationalism is what has caused the majority of wars in the last thousand years; god and country dwarf corporate profits when it comes to inflicting misery on people.


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