22 July 2010

Identity & Identity Markers: Who decides 'em?

If someone asks you who you are, the context would very likely play a role in your answer.


Sometimes our first response is to give our name.
Is your name who you are?
It was given to you by parents, possibly after they'd known you for only a matter of minutes and possibly chosen before you were born.

Is your occupation your identity?
What happens when you are made redundant, your position is disestablished or you retire?

In Zimbabwe amongst the Shona people, a father and mother's identity is intimately tied to their children to the point of nearly losing their given names altogether and being called father of- or mother of - , until the grandchildren are born. Then you get a promotion of sorts.

Many traditional cultures introduce themselves by ancestors and geographical markers, naming a mountain, river or famous chief as their point of association.

I was born in to a Methodist home to a family that worked for General Motors for generations. I was born in a corn growing state with an internationally acclaimed speedway nearby and a penchant for basketball. Indiana grows terrific sweet corn and cantaloupe/rock melon/musk melon.

Does that make me a Hoosier Christian who drives a Chevy very fast to ballgames to eat corn and melon?

Many people think going to church makes you a Christian. Years ago Keith Green quipped that going to church didn't make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald's made you a hamburger.

All of this to muse on identity and how it is formed, but it's also to ask about statistics and how they are compiled.

Books are published and websites generated that spout statistics of major religions, minor sects and where these groups are clustered or dispersed.

How can a statistician determine that I am a Christian? By what definition? Is it a self-determined title or tag?

In America I was called a honky. If they were friends calling me that, it was ok. If they were not, my black friends would beat them up. In Zimbabwe I was murungu, only being called munhu when I learned to speak the local language. Fascinating, that. Now I am a Pakeha, a non-Maori living in New Zealand. The beauty is, in NZ my ethnic moniker is commonly capitalised where murungu and honky were not!
The major population groups in New Zealand are now Maori, Pakeha, Pacific, and Asian, and there is a rich diversity of people of other cultures. This is expected to continue to strengthen over the next fifty years. On present trends, half of all New Zealanders will be of Maori, Pacific, and Asian descent by 2051. Many of these people will also be of Pakeha descent. These categories cover over 200 ethnic groups, including more than 60 distinct Asian identities. Moreover, many people are of mixed ethnicity, and this is important in terms of New Zealand 's evolving national identity.
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Massey University religious historian Peter Lineham says the proportion of New Zealanders describing themselves as Christian fell from 90 per cent to 52 per cent in the 50 years to 2006.

A further 5 per cent now follow non-Christian religions and only 32 per cent say they have no religion. NZ Herald

If this trend continues, NZ will have 14 per cent of the population saying they are "Christian" in 2060.


When presented with statistics, discern carefully how they are being used and who compiled them. What are they supposed to be saying and who is saying it? Who is applying the labels and upon what basis?
Thinking is required.
Your response?

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