A Relgion News Service article about how some American Jews handle the Christmas season is interesting. The perspectives within that faith tradition vary from not observing what is considered a distinctively Christian holiday to exchanging gifts stacked beneath a decorated tree with a Star of David atop.
Many of us American Christians have never known what it is like to be anything other than the dominant faith tradition. And the lessening of such dominance can be threatening.
As religious diversity increases in our nation — even in rural communities, some of us are handling it better than others. I’m always saddened by strident Christian voices that demand preferential treatment based on faulty arguments about America’s founding or the more childish expressions of “mine first.” Or, worse, the ugly denouncement of all faith traditions other than one’s own.
“Religious pluralism” has become a common but confusing term. It is used in a variety of ways.
For some it means that all faiths are equally true. It’s just a matter of personal preference. But I can’t imagine who would make a deep faith commitment to something seen as simply “as good as all others.” That understanding diminishes all faith traditions.
Some use religious pluralism to mean a simple acknowledgement of the many religions that exist in a society — while others add a note of tolerance.
Those of us with deeply held religious beliefs should never be expected to accept the faith tenets of another religion uncritically or to reduce our own beliefs to being no more truthful than what anyone else might believe.
But there is a significant difference between holding firmly to one’s personal beliefs as being more truthful than all others and acting superior to any person who might hold another faith perspective.
Too many American Christians have created a false choice between holding deep faith convictions and being gracious to those of other faiths. And that graciousness requires a firm embrace of the religious freedom that has been the hallmark of the American experience.
So how do we do that?
For one, we show respect for persons of other faith traditions even if we can’t imagine how anyone could believe such stuff. Doing so in no way diminshes our own beliefs.
Two, seeking preferential treatment by the government (at any level) of a dominant faith tradition harms the religious liberty of all of us and implies that our faith needs to be propped up by outside sources. Even a little coercion of faith is too much.
Three, if attributes like love, mercy, grace, hope and joy are in any way central to the religious faith that we claim, let us be sure they show through in the way relate to all persons — in this season and well beyond. Otherwise, people might well assume that the faith we claim to hold so dear and defend so strongly makes no real difference in our lives after all.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.