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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Power and Safety of Identity

Overwhelmingly, the power of Jesus in history is that humans identify with him. We know all too well how it is to be filled with good intentions only to have others construe them as the reverse. We can readily identify with the pain this cost him mentally and physically.

If you want to have real power and influence over others, just have them strongly identify with you. There is great safety here, as a helpless baby is made safe by the immensely powerful identity of the parent with the child. A tremendous amount of human behavior can be attributed to the desire and effort to have others identify with us (for, again, that's where safety lies).

The current iPhone 5 craze comes to mind. We want to identify with what is cool, the latest and the greatest. The ultimate thing sought is for people to identify with us. We want to be safely desirable. Those in possession of the device share a common secured and shared identity.

Ideologies strongly embody the power of identity. One reason we react so adversely to those who would challenge our accepted ideologies is the sense of security and safety that comes from sharing a common identity. There is a saying “Not seeing the forest for the trees.” Much more typical is the case of “Not seeing the trees for the forest.” We latch on to the safety of group-think and easily disregard multiple realities that would discount it.

I have heard the universal church of Christ criticized as a type of club. In many ways it is. The common thread is a strongly reinforced and shared social identity. One significant attempt of the mega-church is to make Christ socially cool.

If you ever doubt the strength of identity, consider that our pets have protection from being eaten primarily because we strongly identify with them. The basic drive of vegetarianism is identity with animals. Thus, meat eaters quite consciously scrupulously avoid encountering anything—including facts of treatment or slaughter—that would serve to strengthen identity with the suffering animals.

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