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People throughout the ages have considered the question of identity: “Who am I?” While people base their identities upon numerous different factors, nationality remains one of the most significant. Indeed, the society in which one finds oneself plays an undeniably gigantic role in shaping his core beliefs and values. However, mere membership in a culture or societal group cannot fully determine one’s identity; the individual must make certain decisions for himself.
In many cultures, people base their identities heavily upon simply being a member of that culture. The Jews provide an especially illuminating example. According to their religion, one is a member of God’s chosen people simply by virtue of being a Jew. Clearly, if a person considers himself to be chosen specifically by a powerful, loving God, his self-conception is altered drastically. Most especially, he is endowed with a supernatural significance which extends beyond that which any fellow man could give him. The Jew also places himself within a rich cultural narrative; he is one of those whom God freed from slavery and brought to the promised land. Undoubtedly, membership in the Jewish heritage has a profound effect on one’s identity.
However, one’s nationality is not nearly sufficient to determine his identity. Particularly, the identity “template” provided by the nation is incomplete. This is seen most easily by examining those countries with widely heterogeneous cultures. For example, despite a Christian majority, Americans hold widely varying religious views. Thus, different people can identify themselves as Americans while giving wildly different answers to core questions, such as the origin and significance of humanity. To return to the example of the Jews, an American Jew who views himself as endowed with divine significance simply cannot have the same self-conception as a irreligious nihilist person, who sees no meaning to life.