Tuesday, August 03, 2010

It's Not Just Race We Need to Talk About

There's been a lot of talk lately about whether or not recent events demand a much needed national conversation on race. You know, that conversation that we somehow need to keep having but (at least according to some) never get around to? What I don't hear as much of are calls to have a national conversation about religion. You know, that other topic that gets people a little worked up now and again.

If you haven't noticed, where mosques should or should not be allowed is suddenly generating a lot of debate. I believe that this debate has to be viewed in the broader context of the extent to which our country is committed to the ideals of religious freedom and pluralism. It's not just about mosques, it's about whether there is an equal place at the table for all religions in America and not just some of them. For example, some have questioned if there is a religious litmus test for public office.

Listening to the way that some of us are talking about these issues got me thinking again about a dynamic of moral contradiction and moral crisis. The moral contradiction goes like this; we espouse some of the highest ideals of liberty, freedom and equality and then when push comes to shove, when the character of our nation is most tested, we too often find exceptions to these ideals. In other words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal...except for __________." You can fill that blank with any number of groups of people. A popular choice these days appears to be "Muslims". Among the most damaging was filling that blank with "Negroes" when chattel slavery was woven into the fabric a nation founded on freedom. This contradiction created a moral crisis which we continue to struggle with centuries later. Imagine how different our history would have been if that moral contradiction had been rejected rather than accepted. At the very least we might not be hearing calls yet again for a national conversation on race!

I believe that our current struggle with the question of religious minorities in America, particularly Muslims, presents us with another moment when the character of our country is being tested. Will we continue the pattern of moral contradiction and burden future generations with the inevitable moral crises that will ensue, or will we refuse to repeat the past? Will my child grow old in a nation that, in the words of Dr. King, "will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed", or a nation where all religions are equal, but some are more equal than others?

"The body politic may be likened to the human organism. As long as the various members and parts of that organism are coordinated and cooperating in harmony, we have as a result the expression of life in its fullest degree. When these members lack coordination and harmony, we have the reverse, which in the human organism is disease, dissolution, death. Similarly, in the body politic of humanity dissension, discord and warfare are always destructive and inevitably fatal. All created beings are dependent upon peace and coordination, for every contingent and phenomenal being is a composition of distinct elements. As long as there is affinity and cohesion among these constituent elements, strength and life are manifest; but when dissension and repulsion arise among them, disintegration follows." (Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 98)