Authentic religious pluralism

Religious Tolerance: Karma, Christ, Whatever?

By , 9/16/11 01:17 PM ET

There was a time in American culture, only a few generations ago, when religious differences were major. Baptists were not Methodists, and both were definitely not Presbyterians. Catholics were absolutely not Protestant, and Protestants doubted that Catholics were even Christians. Jews and Mormons were whole other species. Non-religious Americans were beyond the pale. And Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus were heathen living in faraway places. The problem with that world, we now see, was the destructive bigotry, misunderstanding, conflict and sometimes hatred that went with it. Let us call that world one of sectarian conflict.

We have come in America today to a very different world, which we might call liberal whateverism. This outlook reacts against sectarian conflict by dramatically discounting the claims of religion. The more aggressive side of this view asserts that religion per se is pernicious and should be eliminated or radically privatized. The more accommodating side says religion is fine as a personal lifestyle commodity, but that religious inclinations are ultimately arbitrary and should not be taken too seriously.

I have been studying the lives of American teenagers and emerging adults for the past decade. In our recently published book, “Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood,” my co-authors and I describe the larger world in which liberal whateverism makes sense. Many emerging adults have few considered moral bearings, are devoted to mass consumerism, routinely become intoxicated and engage in casual sexual hook-ups, are civically and politically uninformed and alienated. Our story is not a tirade against “kids these days.” It is about wider, deeper problems in American society and culture — concerns that should trouble liberals and conservatives — which show up in disquieting ways in the lives of youth.

Liberal whateverism was obvious among most of the emerging adults we studied. About 10 percent were militantly atheistic. But the vast majority opted for the more accommodating “whatever” default. Anyone could take religion or leave it. It was an individual “opinion” that didn’t matter much.

Most interesting was the belief of a significant minority in “karma.” This meant to them simply the idea that, in some mysterious way, good and bad people would get what they deserve in this life. Few emerging adults know anything about the religious traditions that seriously teach karma. “Karma” is simply a reminder that they should try to do the right thing and a substitute for anger or revenge against bad people by believing they will soon get their comeuppance. Karma is a way to try to sustain justice in our moral universe without having to appeal to a personal God or a real judgment day.

As a sociologist, I view this belief in karma as socially functional and psychologically therapeutic. But I doubt it works over time. Good and bad people do not always get what they deserve. Sometimes the wicked prosper and horrible things happen to good people. Without a metaphysical view explaining the reality and power of karma, belief in its mysterious capacity to achieve this-worldly justice can easily slide into cynicism. And from most faith perspectives, pop karma is shallow, naïve and perhaps even disrespectful to the religious traditions which teach it. Claiming it as many emerging adults do is somehow like stealing candy from the Bhagavad Gita giftshop.

Is there not a better way for all of us to take religion more seriously without descending into sectarian conflict? That is one of the most important questions of our day.

I think we need to reject both sectarian conflict and liberal whateverism and commit ourselves instead to an authentic pluralism. Genuine pluralism fosters a culture that honors rather than isolates and disparages religious difference. It affirms the right of others to believe and practice their faith, not only in their private lives but also in the public square — while expecting them to allow still others to do the same. Authentic pluralism does not minimize religious differences by saying that “all religions are ultimately the same.” That is false and insipid. Pluralism encourages good conversations and arguments across differences, taking them seriously precisely because they are understood to be about important truths, not merely private “opinions.” It is possible, authentic pluralism insists, to profoundly disagree with others while at the same time respecting, honoring, and perhaps even loving them. Genuine pluralism suspects the multi-cultural regime’s too-easy blanket affirmations of “tolerance” of being patronizing and dismissive. Pluralism, however, also counts atheist Americans as deserving equal public respect, since their beliefs are based as much on a considered faith as are religious views and so should not be automatically denigrated.

We as a society and a culture have much to learn about ourselves from teenagers and emerging adults, both good and bad. One of those things, I believe, is the need to get beyond not only sectarian conflict but also liberal whateverism, to a more respectful and just world of authentic religious pluralism.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christian-smith/religious-tolerance-karma-christ-whatever_b_965072.html or http://huff.to/nurY47 or http://tinyurl.com/6dzgjul

Triptych depicting Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed combining stylised church iconography, by Christina Varga.  http://www.vargagallery.com/VARGATriptych.htm or http://bit.ly/qXzvjp or http://tinyurl.com/5s2z7cj

Related Posts

Be afraid! Well, dear friends, it's a lot worse than we thought...  I was blissfully ignorant about the threat to America until today, when an angry reader o...
This is a good start?   Really?!  A friend of mine wrote me early this morning, clearly angry about some outrageous Facebook flummery she had just been exposed ...
On the wilder shores of American Christianity George W Bush's new 'crusade': converting Jews to Christianity By Andrew Brown, November 14, 2013   Some people think George W Bush did ...
None of this is new The Road to “All Muslims are Terrorists” By Gefilte, 07 July 2011 ... It’s been travelled before. Aside from the fact that real democracies ...
Embracing hysterical paranoia Rand Paul’s strategic Islamophobia By Alex Pareene, Friday, Oct 11, 2013 12:57 PM CDT   For normal Americans, the annual Values Voters Sum...
Original insights Is Religion 'Religulous'? By Kabir Helminski, 07/7/11 10:11 PM ET ... I was having a conversation with Bill Maher the other day -- in my own mi...
Alarmist and deeply hateful Ayaan Hirsi Ali's War By Anthony Alessandrini, Feb 09 2012 ... For a couple of centuries now, we have had to make due with Samuel Johnson’s f...
Patron saint of hate What To Do About Violent Biblical Texts? By Philip Jenkins, 02/ 3/2012  4:11 pm ... Every few weeks, it seems, Islam makes headlines in the U.S...
Gristle in your tea This darling piece, another in the ongoing saga of "reasons to hate Muslims" (Sentinel Record, October 27, 2010, page 25), was a jewel of illogical br...
What immeasurable folly! Shall The Fundamentalists Win? Preached by Harry Emerson Fosdick, May 21, 1922   One could easily let his imagination play over this scene...

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2011/09/16/authentic-religious-pluralism/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.