Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Religion in the Public Square

I just read an interesting article on religion and public life by Ray Pennings.  I think Canada much more than the U.S. has the potential for a sane working out of religion in the public sphere.  I'm clueless as to what it would look like, but I think it will have to do with respecting the other's right to be themselves--even if it includes a God part that is different or even non existent in ourselves.  That is, just because someone uses God language doesn't mean they are condemning or judging others who don't.  Just as those who use, for example, an evolutionary framework do not necessarily have be condemning of those who don't--even though they sometimes are, but it is not necessary and can be overcome by allowing the other to be themselves (i.e. "other").

For conservative or traditional Christians (just as much for Scientists and Atheists) this may seem impossible for, we (I consider my self traditional) would ask, "How can you compromise on what is true?"  In answer to this question, at least for Christians, I can offer a biblical model that may be helpful.  But first I have to deal with a knee-jerk reaction to Old Testament examples.  The Old Testament is full of war and it all couched in god language.  Some naively argue that it is therefore god language that leads to war.  This is naive because in the last hundred years or so more people have been killed in wars in the name of the godless State than in all of the previous wars in the entire history of the world put together.  Human beings fight and kill in the name of whatever they think justifies their killing.  So, please don't go there.  Try to follow my point about how we can get along with people who are other, people who don't share our God (our Science, our Politics, or Atheism, etc.).

In the Old Testament, the Hebrews were the People of God.  When they coexisted with neighbours who were not Hebrews (either because they had conquered or been conquered, or because they were peacefully co-existing), the Hebrews did not expect their Moabite (for example) slave or master or neighbour to eat the same diet or live by the same rules as they did.  There is no judgement or expectation because, well, they have a different god.  My God, the Hebrew would say, is the True and Living God and their god is a false god; but the Moabite probably said the same of the Hebrew.  And so there it stood.  To put it in dualistic language, you might say the Moabites had an excuse to be "wrong" in that they didn't have the "right" God.  In other words they were Moabites so it is okay for them to be Moabites.

If we translate this into our modern framework of "rights," we might say that Buddhists have a right to be Buddhists because they are Buddhist.  I/we don't need to put our Atheist or Christian or Scientistic expectations on them because they are not me/us.  It's okay not to be me.  I may believe that I am right and they are wrong.  I might believe that no one is right and everyone is wrong.  Or (and this is my favourite one) I might believe that everyone is right and therefore those who think someone else is wrong are wrong.  But if I can leave judgement to God (or to Chance or to Science or to Whatever You Think Is Ultimate) and respect the reality of otherness and the responsibility of faithfully living according to the teaching of our God (as Christians), then we might be able to find a place to peacefully coexist.  We might be about to be ourselves and let the other be other.

God's promise to Abraham was that "all nations" would be blessed through him--and God gave him the covenant of circumcision.  It was not a command to go out and circumcise the Moabites.  

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