Faith identities

Last Tuesday Interfaith Scotland run a dialogue event together with Faith in Older People, Marie Curie, Stonewall and Edinburgh Interfaith Chaplaincy about “Identity and Belonging”. There was a very good atmosphere during the event and people of different age groups, different faith and believe, different sex and gender and different nationality shared their thoughts and had intensive discussions about Identity.

In the following I will share some of my thoughts about this theme.


I would say that a lot of the conflicts we have in our modern world are conflicts between different group identities and individual identities.  From outside point of view the conflict in Catalonia in Spain seems to be amongst other things (economic reasons…) between people with a Catalan identity and people with a Spanish identity and a lot of people in between with maybe both identities or other identities such as a European identity. Also the conflicts in the USA between supporters and opponents of Donald Trump seems for me (mainly) to be about the question “what does it mean to be American?” or “What is the “true” American identity?”. These kind of conflicts seem to be typical for our time. Other examples (always with different focus) could be Germany after the refugee crisis, post-Brexit Britain, the question of Scottish independence and discussions about whether to widen or to diminish the European Union.

All of my examples have something in common: They are about national identity/state identities, but this is only because these kind of conflicts seem to be very strong at the moment because of their high media presence. These conflicts are also an important question in the area of Interfaith Dialogue.


On Tuesday evening I held speech at the German Speaking Church in Glasgow about Interfaith dialogue and the work of Interfaith Scotland. One of the question asked during the following discussion was very typical “Isn’t interfaith dialogue about giving up things and producing a kind of “wishi-washi” religion?”. This question is not a bad question, because it refers to the identity of religions involved in interfaith dialogue. People asking this kind of question  would probably say, that there is such as a core identity of their religion, which can’t be giving up and I would assume that a very large majority of believers in all religion would share this opinion. So for a Muslim majority there are things which can’t be giving up without becoming a Non-Muslim in the same way as there are things which can’t be giving up for a Christian majority, a Jewish majority, a Hindu majority, a Buddhist majority and so on. The interesting point here is, that it would be very difficult for all Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, … in their own faith to agree about the things which are building this Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, … identity.

I give an example from my own tradition. If you would randomly ask Christians from all over the world about the core of what it means being a Christian they might answer: “Being a member of the church”, “Being baptized”, “Refer to Jesus as the Lord”, “The trinitarian faith of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, “The command to love your neighbour”, “The belief in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus”, “to belief Jesus is the son of god”, “to go to church”, “to pray the Lord’s Prayer”, “to help others”, “to recognize the pope”, “to read the bible”, “to believe in 7 sacraments”, “to believe in 2 sacraments”, “to live in a Christian country”, “to celebrate Christian festivals”, …

It would be really hard to find one of these answers that all Christians in the world can agree on and in my opinion it is impossible to make them agree on what they mean when they say “referring to Jesus as the son of god” is the core of the Christian identity.

And I would assume it is the same in the other faith traditions.

From my point of view that shows, that it is only possible to build a so called religious identity as long as the core of this identity stays vague enough, so that a certain group of people can agree on it. If the core of a certain faith tradition is this vague the risk of loosing the identity is very little, because there is no single core for the identity. For every individual believer slightly different parts of the faith are important for their faith identity and all large faith identities (“the Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Buddhist/Hindu/… identity”) are in a way theoretical constructs.

For a single individual his or her personal faith identity might change a couple of time during his or her lifetime, but that should normally be not a big problem, because it is a personal decision to agree or disagree to a certain point of view. Identity problems only start, if other people prohibit others to change their point of view, because they consider it as Non-Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Hindu/Buddhist/….

That means identity conflicts become only urgent or dangerous if people feel they have the right to judge about the identity of others.

If you agree or disagree with my thoughts feel free to let me know your opinion – that’s what dialogue is about!


This Blog is out of Date

This is the post excerpt.

There was a satirical article published in the days after the Brexit result was announced with the headline ‘This article is out of date’ – the author was trying to convey that the fallout from Brexit was moving so quickly that there wasn’t enough time between the article being written and printed as more and more unexpected developments were happening in such quick succession.
I’m very conscious that when I write this edition of Interfaith Scotland’s Parliamentary Newsletter that by the time it is read, there will no doubt have been several more unforeseen developments, that may well be viewed as ‘game changers’.
With this in mind, I think it wise to use this newsletter to reflect on what has happened in the last few weeks, and to look at some of the implications.
In brief, Britain as a whole voted marginally to leave the EU. The battle was close and often bitter. There have been accusations on both sides of lies, exaggerations and broken promises. The immediate aftermath has seen a political crisis at the heart of Westminster. The Prime Minister, David Cameron announced that he was not the right person to lead the negotiations for Brexit as he campaigned for Remain in the EU. This led to the Conservative Party having a short fought leadership campaign. After much fall out, and public backstabbing of prospective candidates, Theresa May emerged as the next leader and consequently Prime Minister of the UK.
At the same time, the UK Labour Party have been plunged into a protracted, bitter and very public leadership competition. Essentially the leader (at the time of writing) Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t have the support of his MPs (known as the Parliamentary Labour Party or PLP). However, the Labour Party is a much bigger movement – including MEPs, MSPs, local councillors and the trade union movement. There is speculation that Jeremy was elected because he better represented the broader party’s political desires than many of the Labour MPs. So, there will now be an election contest between two (and perhaps more) to see who will lead the party in the months and years to come. There are rumours that either way could see huge divisions within the party which may prove to be irreconcilable and the party could split – but this remains to be seen.
There is speculation that Theresa May may be forced early in her premiership to call an early UK general election. There are various ways that this could come about, but essentially it would give her the mandate to lead the country with the support of the country. Of course, this is dependant on the Conservative Party winning another majority. Bearing in mind they only managed a majority of 12 MPs last time, this could prove difficult in the post-Brexit context. There is also speculation that in this context, we may see an increase of UKIP MPs – UKIP are a single issue party who campaign for the UK to leave the EU.
There has been some criticism of the fact that Mrs May did not campaign for leave, and as there is no clear definition of what the leave vote actually meant, some feel that Theresa May may choose to put the UK’s Brexit on hold until we have further clarity.
Things get only more complicated when we begin to consider Scotland’s place in this situation. Every region of Scotland voted to remain in the EU, with the overall majority of 62%. As a result of this our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (who was a high profile campaigner across the UK for remaining in the EU) now feels that she has a mandate from the Scottish people to ensure that Scotland is not ‘dragged’ out of the EU against its will.
Ms Sturgeon has said that she will do whatever it takes to make sure that Scotland retains its position with the EU, and although it would be the Scottish Government’s last resort, she has said that the option of an independent Scotland may be the only option. This has of course set alarm bells ringing for many of the Scot’s who voted no in the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014. However, there is a lot of debate about the fact that many people who voted no to leaving in the UK did so as they were told this was the only way to retain membership of the EU.
Since the results of the EU referendum, Nicola Sturgeon and various other high profile Scottish elected members have been building bridges with EU dignitries to try and secure Scotland’s place.
The difficulty with this situation is that there is no precedent, which leaves a lot of uncertainty and question marks. No one knows exactly what the timeline is likely to be. At the time of writing, the next significant step will be when the new UK Prime Minister Theresa May triggers what is know as Article 50. This is the process whereby the UK officially gives notice to the EU that Brexit is happening. This has never happened before, but it is expected that when it does happen it will effectively start a two-year countdown clock to Brexit. However, Mrs May has recently stated that she won’t start this negociation process until there is a UK wide strategy.
So it seems that Scotland will have a seat at the negotiation table in some capacity. However, in the meantime the Scottish Government has started to set out the legislation that would be required for a second referendum on independence (only if ‘all other options’ fail!).

First blog post