letters to the editor - 3/23/02

March 25, 2002

Religious diversity is a source of enrichment, not a threat

To the editor:

"There are no smaller packages in this world than people all wrapped up in themselves," writes William Sloane Coffin. This is true not only for individuals but for groups, religious ones in particular.

Narrow-mindedness prevails mightily in our religious camps these days. We either believe or behave, or both, as if the truth we claim is "the whole truth and nothing but the truth," so help us Yahweh, Allah, God, whomever. Such has never been the truth and the truth of this truth is untrue. My guru, St. Paul, helps me say, "I know only in part."

Claims of exclusivity in ethnic, racial and religious debates bring wars like the one we now experience. When people are unable to appreciate, care for, seek understanding of, and tolerate variances among other brothers and sisters, claims and collisions occur of inhumane proportions. Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson's recent rhetoric that all Islam and Muslim citizens are terroristically violent is a near-perfect illustration of this dilemma. One of the great dangers of any religion or ideology is to compare its ideal expression with the less-than-ideal, lived out reality of another religion or ideology.


To compare the saints of one's own faith with deviants of anther's faith is unfair. And this is done every so often. The cross in my church is not the same kind that blazes at Klan rallies or on Jewish or African-American lawns, or at least I would hope. Hate groups that hoist a religious banner to support a bias practice an evil use of religion.

As our world shrinks and we come closer to each other we need more positive religious behaviors. Down through the ages religion has been scarred by evil users. Christianity must face up to a valid critique that it has been an accomplice to practices that were both colonialistic and economically exploitative, just as other groups must face their evil side. Humankind has an evil sameness, alongside a common goodness.

For some, the real culprit of our world's inability to get along is pluralism. Pluralism involves relating to others on the basis of their own self-definition and not ours. Therefore, getting along with differences and variances in others requires abandoning the "privileged position of a single voice" and embracing "a life-style of dialogue," declares observer Michael Kinnamon. Pluralism challenges a major strand in America's rope i.e., individualism. America's Civil War was abut this, as most wars are.

Pluralism extols diversity seeing differences as potential sources of enrichment and not as threat. We are bound together in one family on earth. And . . . we are held together not by sameness of opinion, ideology, or faith perspective. We are not held together by similarities either, but by the simple fact hat we are one.

As we bump into each other across cultural and religious barriers our differences are better known and are of greater importance, lest our identity be swallowed up in a threatening sameness. Once we acknowledge our oneness, pluralism is not a liability but an asset for genuine hope and humanness. And it is at this juncture that the peoples of planet earth now stand. Shall we affirm oneness or shall we continue splintering?

The 9/11/01 tragedy spotlights how out-of-touch humanity is with itself. This event has precipitated great awareness of the world's need to grow closer together, share its common pain, and pursue a unity and oneness that makes community possible. From monologue to dialogue we must now move, sharing with each other the gifts each bring to the table of life. This does not mean or require a dilution of identity or faith perspective but a sharing of the same not for coercive reasons but of rcelebrative (community) purposes.

As s Christian I am defined by Christ whose unbounded compassion joins me with every member of the human race and creation.

Christianity teaches me that God made all of us, that we all belong one to another, and that Christ died to keep us that way.

From this perspective I come to interfaith dialogue not to press my theology on another but to live out the inclusively of love my faith compels. When I am in dialogue with brothers and sisters of non-Christian traditions I am more a follower of Christ than less. Interfaith dialogue, coming together to talk and affirm the oneness we all have in God, is not about the consolidation of religions but about the higher values of peace, tolerance and respect.

The God of my Lord Jesus Christ leads me to tables of dialogue where the "thou" of one meets the "thou" of another, not for purposes of debate or to discern betterment, but to be present to the oneness that is.

When such happens the great virtues of tolerance and respect are advanced and the integrity of one's religion is validated.

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