Both of my Palestinian guides helped me understand that here in the Holy Land, “religion” is a matter of both faith and culture. Muslims, Jews, and Christians who don’t practice their family’s faith still embrace that tribe or clan as an identity. Even non-practicing Christians wear a cross to indicate their culture (not their faith). And it can be devastating for a young person to marry out of their faith. On the other hand, someone told me, “I’m a Christian. My friends are Muslim. For us, it’s cultural more than religious. When we get old and scared of death, then we become more religious.”
The whole religion vs. culture thing is interesting to me, as there are so many intersections between my Lutheran/Norwegian heritage and the Catholic/Irish or Catholic/Italian or Catholic/Filipino heritage of my friends and loved ones.
In Palestine, where Christians are an important minority, Christians tell me they don’t feel treated like a minority. Among Palestinians, one’s Arab-ness trumps their Christian-ness or Muslim-ness when it comes to identity. But in Israel, Arab Israelis report to really feeling treated as if they’re a minority.