Race and Religion

April 3, 2013

When I created this blog my intention was to write about a variety of topics. I realise a successful blog should have a focus or a purpose but I’ve never been too concerned with the number of people who read my posts (which is just as well really)! As it happens, almost all of my recent posts have related to running and more specifically, my running. Race reports, training updates, even stats about my running, have all featured. This post, therefore, is something of a departure. Today I’m tackling the lighthearted, jolly and uncontroversial topic of, er, race and religion.

To be more specific, I’m having a moan about the term “race and religion”. I really don’t like the way they are lumped together. As an aside, I’m going to assume that we all have a sufficiently similar understanding of the definition of each of “race” and “religion”. Religion, I think is straightforward, race is less so. An exact, unambiguous definition of “race” is beyond the scope of this frivolous post!

Typically, “race and religion” are discussed as a pair in the context of discrimination or bigotry. But what about gender, sexuality, age, class, politics, weight or even hair colour? By and large, these fall into two categories. Those where we are born into a particular group such as race, gender and sexuality, and those where we make a choice such as religion, politics and, I would argue, weight.

I was born white, male and heterosexual, I’m still white, male and heterosexual, and I always will be white, male and heterosexual. I choose to be atheist, socialist and a healthy weight, and once upon a time, I was none of those things. I used to vote Liberal Democrat, I used to be overweight and, crucially, I used to be Jewish. However, in the eyes of many, I am a “lapsed Jew” or a “non-practicing Jew”. This is nonsense! If I converted to Islam or Catholicism, would I be considered a “non practicing Jew” by most people?  I think not. I’d be an ex-Jew, just as I am now. In fact, Jewish law dictates that if you are born a Jew you remain a Jew for life. Which is just one reason I choose not to be Jewish!

It’s not that I’m ashamed of my background or up-bringing, I’m not. It’s just that I happen not to believe that eating bacon is sinful, nor that God handed two stones with ten commandments written them to a fella called Moses on a mountain, nor, for that matter, that God exists. To belong to a religion, you must choose to do so, you must believe in its teachings and you must worship the relevant God or Gods. Particularly with the more established religions, however, many people just don’t see it that way, agreeing with Jewish law that you are saddled with your so-called “birth” religion for life, regardless of your beliefs.

I feel the ubiquity of the term “race and religion” contributes to this way of thinking. So, lets’s stop talking about “race and religion”. If we need to pair two horrible sources of discrimination together, let’s pick two that are more similar. Two that are dictated by genetics, two where minorities have long been mistreated, and two where diversity in each has been of huge value to society and culture. Let’s start talking about “race and sexuality”.

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