Monday, August 30, 2010

Beyond Exclusivism, Inclusivism, and Pluralism

Diana L. Eck, a professor at Harvard University and the Director of The Pluralism Project there, is the author of Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras (1993, 2003). That book was the subject of the discussion at the Vital Conversations gathering in the Kansas City Northland earlier this month, and I found it to be quite good and helpful.
The subtitle of Eck’s seventh chapter is “Exclusivism, Inclusivism, and Pluralism,” which is the usual tripartite description of Christians’ attitudes toward non-Christian religions. The use of those three terms has become increasingly common since the publication of Alan Race’s seminal book Christians and Religious Pluralism: Patterns in the Christian Theology of Religions in 1983.
Eck (b. 1945) represents many contemporary, non-conservative Christians who understand the development of those positions as follows: (1) For more than 1,900 years the primary position was that of exclusivism: Christianity was thought to be the only true religion. (2) In the twentieth century, a better position, inclusivism, slowly became more and more accepted: Christianity includes all that is true and good in other religions. (3) But in recent decades pluralism has come to be seen as the best position: all the major world religions can be considered equally true, good, or salvific (able to effect salvation).
As those of you who have read my blog postings over the past year may guess, I am not satisfied with this three-fold division, mainly because all three are “isms,” that is, ideological positions. As I have said before, nearly all “isms” are questionable from the stance of Christian faith, mainly because an ‘ism’ usually represents an ideological standpoint, a rival “faith.”
Certainly, religious plurality has to be recognized as a fact in our world, especially here in the United States. But there is a big jump from the recognition of plurality to propounding the position of pluralism. The main problem of pluralism is that it necessitates a relativistic view of truth, another issue I have previously discussed.
So, rather than a position characterized by some “ism,” I suggest that a better way to look at the religious faith of other people is with an attitude or stance characterized by several different adjectives, words such as open, respectful, and dialogical. Of course, an open attitude that is respectful and dialogical may be all that many people mean by pluralism. And that is more or less how Eck ends her chapter on the subject.
In his introduction to Between Relativism and Fundamentalism (2010), a book which he edited, Peter Berger (b. 1929) refers to pluralism as a “less-than-fortunate term” since the “‘ism’ suggests an ideological position.” But he goes on to define pluralism as often used now as simply “a situation in which different ethnic or religious groups co-exist under conditions of civic peace and interact with each other socially” (p. 4).
If that’s what religious pluralism means, I can agree with that. Certainly, that is the kind of society we need. But I still wish there was a better name for that position, and I want to identify with a view that goes beyond exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Is the President a Muslim?

Most of you probably saw or heard the results of the Pew Forum’s poll about the President’s religion. An incredible 18% of all those surveyed and 31% (!) of Republicans surveyed say the President is a Muslim.
On the one hand, we might say, What difference does it make? The nation (and especially all the nay-saying Protestants) found out after the presidential election in 1960 that it doesn’t particularly make a difference if the President is a Roman Catholic. Moreover, the Constitution declares that there is no religious test for public office.
But the fact is, the President is a Christian—in spite of the fact that only 34% of those polled (and only 27% of the Republicans) think so. Comedian Jimmy Kimmel got it right the other day when he said, “A new poll finds that more and more Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim. . . . Which is crazy. Remember . . . during the election, when all anyone could talk about was his crazy friend, Reverend Wright, and how he couldn't be trusted because he belonged to this guy’s church for 20 years? What happened to that?”
Some of my first blog entries were about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who had been Barack Obama’s pastor at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago for twenty years. (To see those postings, click on the “Jeremiah Wright” label on the right.) Do some people really think Obama became a Muslim after (or because) criticism caused him to leave the church where Wright was pastor?
In contrast to Kimmel, political satirist Stephen Colbert made this inane and highly misleading statement the other day: he said the President “endorsed jihad!” and then quoted the President’s statement: “I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan.” Then Colbert said, “You know what? I’ve been wrong, and I owe the President an apology. You’re not a secret Muslim.”
Colbert, of course, was just trying to get a laugh. What worries me is the people who are serious in labeling the President a Muslim. In her August 20 blog posting titled “Are One-Quarter of Americans Freakin’ Morons?” Time senior editor Amy Sullivan points out that “calling Obama a Muslim has become a way for some conservatives to express their distrust of and opposition to him. The idea that ‘Muslim’ is being used as that kind of pejorative shorthand is a disturbing development on its own.” I think that is certainly true.
I am particularly disturbed by the many conservative Christians who seek to denigrate the President by labeling him a Muslim even though they claim to uphold the Ten Commandments, one of which, of course, is “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”
The late senator Daniel Moynihan (1927-2003) made an important point when he famously said that people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Even those who have a negative opinion about the President have the responsibility to get their facts straight about his religion.

Friday, August 20, 2010

In Favor of Park51

Someone asked me a couple of weeks ago, "Are you going to write about the 'Ground Zero Mosque' on your blog?" I said, “Probably not.” But because of the very widespread coverage in the news media and the strong opposition to the project in Manhattan that is officially known as Park51, I decided to write about this controversial issue.
The tipping point came when I read “Building Mosque at Ground Zero is Distasteful.” That op-ed piece, which appeared in last Sunday’s Kansas City Star, is by E. Thomas McClanahan, a member of the Star’s editorial board.
McClanahan wrote that “3,000 Americans were incinerated by Islamic jihadists,” but he did not mention that some of those Americans were also Muslims. And he did not mention that most American Muslims are as dismayed by the crimes of the 9/11 terrorists as are non-Muslim Americans. Nor did he mention that the vast majority of those who will worship at the Manhattan mosque are also anti-terrorist Americans.
McClanahan (gleefully?) points out that there are Muslims opposed to the construction of the “Ground Zero Mosque.” That is but to be expected. When was the last time Christians gave 100% support to any social or political matter? But he failed to point out that the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a nationwide group founded by family members of those killed on 9/11, issued a statement back on May 20 strongly supporting the plans to build the Islamic Cultural Center near the Ground Zero site.
On August 11 at the regular meeting of the Vital Conversations discussion group, we had the privilege of hearing comments by Dr. Abdul Rauf Mir, a medical doctor from Kashmir who has practiced in the Kansas City area for decades and is a naturalized U.S. citizen as well as a devout Muslim.
Dr. Mir (b. 1945) personally knows Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam who is behind the construction of Park51. (I have no explanation for the similarity of their names.) When the sensitivity issue was brought up, Dr. Mir insisted that we should not cater to people’s sensitivities that are based on prejudices. That comment is in line with an August 3 article in Time magazine that referred to the opposition to Park51 as being based “ignorance, bigotry and politics.”
Jim Wallis, leader of the Sojourners community, often says that the answer to bad religion is not “no religion” but “good religion.” Accordingly, can’t we say that the answer to the insidious crimes committed by a few terrorists identified with Islam is a peaceful, tolerant Islamic presence such as is being proposed for Park51?
Jeffrey Goldberg, an American-Israeli journalist who writes for The Atlantic says,
I know Feisal Abdul Rauf. . . . He represents what Bin Laden fears most: a Muslim who believes that it is possible to remain true to the values of Islam and, at the same time, to be a loyal citizen of a Western, non-Muslim country. Bin Laden wants a clash of civilizations; the opponents of the mosque project are giving him what he wants.
Those are words well worth heeding.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Birth Announcement

They didn't send out a birth announcement, as far as I know, but my parents could have after August 15, 1938. That is the day on which I was born, under the sign of Leo according to the Western zodiac. According to the East Asian zodiac, 1938 was the Year of the Tiger, and I have now been around the twelve-year cycle a full six times.
On this my birthday, I am taking this means to announce the birth of my new book, The Limits of Liberalism: A Historical, Theological, and Personal Appraisal of Christian Liberalism (4-L Publications). I am expecting the first box of books from the printer to arrive this week, and soon it will be available from or
This new book has had a long gestation period. I started writing it on October 1, 2005, soon after completing the manuscript for Fed Up with Fundamentalism, which was published in 2007. From the beginning I planned these books as companion volumes, and they are similar in format. Both look at Christian faith from the standpoint of what in the new book I call the “radiant center.”
I am now considering writing another volume directly related to the first two, but one that is shorter and less “academic.” If I do decide to write such a book, I would probably title it The Radiant Center. Maybe I would also use a subtitle such as Affirming the Christian Faith while Avoiding the Errors of Both Fundamentalism and Liberalism. (But this book would be written after the one I am currently working on, Thirty True Things Every Christian Needs to Know Now.)
Obviously, I hope many people will read my new book, and, naturally, I hope that most will read a copy they purchased. If you would like to order The Limits of Liberalism, I will be happy to mail you a copy in exchange for a $17.95 check. (The cover price is $18.95.) For those I can personally hand a copy to, the price is $14.95.
Whether you make a purchase or not, please rejoice with me in the birth of this new book.
Note: Not counting the first tentative posting on July 17 of last year, this is my 100th posting on this blog. I appreciate all of you who have read some, many, or even all of my postings. Over the months ahead I plan to continue making postings about every five days, and I always appreciate comments made either by e-mail or posted directly on the blog. – LKS 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Missouri Voters Have Spoken

In the primary election held a week ago today, Missouri voters overwhelmingly voted Yes on Proposition C. This should be of interest even for those of you who do not live in Missouri, for as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch stated (or maybe overstated) on August 4, “Missouri voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a federal mandate to purchase health insurance, rebuking President Barack Obama's administration and giving Republicans their first political victory in a national campaign to overturn the controversial health care law passed by Congress in March.
I was firmly opposed to Proposition C, but I expected it to be approved. My guess was that maybe 55% would vote Yes; I was sadly surprised and astounded that the approval vote was slightly over 71%. As most people don’t vote in primary elections, that 71% represents fewer than 16% of the registered voters in Missouri (based on 2008 figures). But it also means that fewer than 6.5% of Missouri voters expressed support of a key provision of the healthcare plan passed by the U.S. Congress.
As the news media have correctly pointed out, the Missouri vote is largely symbolic. If federal courts uphold the health-care law (which is likely), it would take precedence over any state law that contradicts it. If federal courts override the Missouri vote (which, again, is likely), there would be no need for states to challenge it. Still, it is clearly a propaganda victory for those who oppose the President and what has come to be dubbed “Obamacare.”
More than 700,000 Missourians don’t have health insurance and the state’s hospitals spent more than $830 million in 2008 providing care for these individuals. For that reason, the Missouri Hospital Association spent $400,000 warning people that voting for Proposition C was against their own best interests. But Missouri voters did not listen. They, apparently, didn’t want the government taking away their “freedom.”
But people now already don’t have the freedom not to buy car insurance, not to wear seat belts, not to use car seats for children, etc. That lack of freedom is considered necessary for the public good. Thus it seems that the opposition to compulsory health insurance is far more political than it is reasonable.
Of course, the main motivation for many voting Yes was probably their fear that they might be required to help provide insurance for the large number of people who do not currently have health insurance. But as I have written on this blog previously, the need for everyone to have some kind of health insurance is the primary reason for favoring the national health care plan.
At the time of the primary election, I made a couple of postings on Facebook encouraging people to vote against Proposition C. One person responded by writing, “Yes = Capitalism; No = Socialism.” It seems to me that it is probably more accurate to say, “Yes = Selfishness; No = Concern for the poor and needy.” But Missouri voters have spoken, and some of us are quite disappointed at what they have said.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Calling for Nuclear Disarmament

It was sixty-five years ago today, just a few minutes past 6 p.m. (CDT), that the first atomic bomb was dropped. Most of the city of Hiroshima was destroyed by “Little Boy,” the nickname for the bomb dropped by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay. By the end of 1945 approximately 140,000 had died because of that one atomic explosion.
Three days later, “Fat Man,” another atomic bomb but with a completely different design was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, and the number of resulting deaths by the end of 1945 was just about half of those who perished in Hiroshima. The number of casualties from the two bombs certainly did not end in 1945.
I still remember the eerie feeling upon arriving in Hiroshima for the first time in 1967 and the terrible sadness in seeing the displays in the peace museum there. (Later, and on several occasions, I visited the peace museum in Nagasaki also.) The picture below is a 180° view of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The “Atomic Dome,” seen in the center left of the image, is the only remaining structure showing the effects of the A-bomb explosion. The original target for the bomb was the "T"-shaped Aioi Bridge seen in the left of the image.
At the ceremony this evening (U.S. time) commemorating the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has said he will appeal for a world without nuclear weapons. Actually, he already addressed the Hiroshima Conference for the Total Abolition of Nuclear Weapons by 2020, a meeting held on July 27-29.
Earlier this year, Catholic Bishop Atsumi Misu of Hiroshima and Mitsuaki Takami, the Catholic archbishop of Nagasaki, publically called on world leaders to reverse the “madness” of the nuclear age by abolishing nuclear weapons. The co-president of Pax Christi International, the Catholic peace group, commented, “The urgent message from the Catholic bishops of two cities devastated by these horrific weapons is a cry that must be heard and heeded.”
At the 2010 Convocation of the Alliance of Baptists, a meeting that ended August 1, there was a call for the U.S. Senate to ratify the new Strategic Arms Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. The latter was adopted by the U.S. General Assembly in 1996, but it must be ratified by 44 nations. The U.S. is one of nine nations that has not yet ratified that treaty which would ban all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military or civilian purposes.
On this 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, this might be a time for many of us to renew our commitment to the work of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America or some similar group working for peace and for nuclear disarmament. By whatever means we choose, I pray that we all can be more actively involved in working for shalom in our world. No More Hiroshima & Nagasaki! (For an eight-minute video with this name, click on this link.)