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Identity Through Sub-Groups

People who feel insignificant as individuals can often overcome this sensation as members of sub-groups.  A sub-group can be small enough for individual people to feel they have an identity and standing within the group, yet large enough to carry some collective clout in the broader world.

This function is served by a wide variety of entities.

At one end of the spectrum, there are street gangs.

Basque and Quebecois and other ethnic separatist movements also serve this function.

So does Islamic fundamentalism—which, not coincidentally, tends to be strongest where Islamic people feel the most demeaned in comparison to Westerners.

We therefore shouldn’t be all that surprised to see the principle at work in more familiar domestic sub-groups that are organized, like Islamic fundamentalism, around belief systems—i.e., some of our most successful contemporary churches.

A prominent message in front of one of a large new-style church near my home that features lavish audiovisual presentations and rock-style music put it very directly:  “What is your place in the world?

This church offers people a wealth of interest groups and activities to become involved with, and thereby achieve a sense of connection.  At the same time that they feel less anonymous and small, people are immersing themselves in a higher purpose, which makes them feel less like mere blobs of protoplasm and id.

For the musically talented, churches help fill a chronic and growing shortage of live venues that they can perform in, and achieve some measure of recognition.

Churches also enable people to express a sense of solidarity with traditional values.  Among other things, churches can be a bulwark against the prevailing winds of the still-radical idea that we should all become “persons,” rather than men or women.  It is probably not coincidental that when you look at which churches are growing and which are shrinking, it is the "person-oriented" ones that tend to be in decline, and the ones that believe in natural gender that are ascendant.

Finally, when they vote together, church members can feel themselves bringing formidable power to bear on the larger social order—mere spectator-consumers no more.