If Religion Is The New Color Line, What’s Next?

Eboo Patel (podcast) continues to get it right: there is a new line of discrimination in America and it is called religion.

Slowly but surely as more data comes out about religious life in America, it is glaringly obvious that there is a new kind of color line in America (and many would argue the world). While the line which once divided and caused great tension and separation was the line of color or/and ethnicity (those these still exist in this era of immigration) the new line is increasingly that of religion.

What does this mean? What are the implications? Namely this: the extremists win.

I mean really, when 53% of Americans say that they have some sort of bias against Muslims it is a problem. Especially when in America, there are more Muslims than Episcopalians.

Now this alone doesn’t demonstrate the presence or even the reality of a new color line in America; however, one need only visit the communities where those of the Muslim or Buddhist faith live to experience the reality of this context. A context which is often shunned or, as was the case in Georgia, disallowed to expand despite growth in worshippers.

If getting to know the people and the context of a religion isn’t an option, then what of reading through the headlines on sites like USA Today, CNN, or otherwise and see the manner with which religion, more than race, is among the top reasons for discrimination or violence against others in contemporary culture. And if you check out the headlines of news services like Fox News, you are sure to find the blatant demonization of Muslims (regardless of nationality).

Again, why does this all matter? Because it fundamentally means that the extremists of every faith are successfully creating divisions among all faiths. Fundamentally, this ought to be simply unacceptable and recognizably problematic for all who seek to live peacefully in a globalized and pluralistic ecology.

So where do we go from here?

For one I think we need to heed the words of Eboo Patel and start to learn the ways in which our religious narratives have more in common than the extremists would have us believe. The only problem is, this means actually learning our personal faith stories as narratives and not just as exegetical soundbytes on a possible ways to include/exclude others.

Second, I think we have to own that religion in pre-liberal ecologies functioned as weapons of colonization (as well as local religious purposes). Therefore, in order to make peace attainable for our age, we must take seriously what Benjamin Weiner had to say when referring to Samir Selmanovic’s newest book It’s Really About God, that: “an obsession with purities of doctrine and identity, he (Selmanovic) argues, renders religions into what he cleverly terms ‘god-management systems,’ preoccupied with contentions of their own supremacy and bereft of the living God.” I find this observation to be very important for thinking about how one negotiates a way towards a culture of religious pluralism that brings with it the history of every colonial past.

Yet, the distance between knowing these things and doing something about them is pretty vast and historically a vacuum which few choose to fill. For this reason, another very important step in not just combating the further growth of the religion line (if you will), but deconstructing it, is by hosting conversation groups and learning parties between religious groups in local communities.

Brian McLaren and Ben Ries got some flack for this last year when celebrating Ramadan with their Muslim friends. But isn’t that a way of knowing and sharing community? And while she hasn’t really had any push back (nor does she deserve it), the brilliant work of Beth Corrie and the Youth Theological Initiative to help young people serve others while learning about each others faith is a rich practice indeed.

At the end of the day, the question for me isn’t really whether or not there is a religion line in America (or the world). The question is: how can we as engaged and responsible people of faith not let the extremists win? The answer I’m afraid lies in the places the extremists get us the most, in our presuppositions, our ignorance, and our unwillingness to risk being known.

Let’s talk. Let’s pray. Let’s do good to another, and for the other in our midst. For God’s sake, let’s love.


4 thoughts on “If Religion Is The New Color Line, What’s Next?

  1. Just wondering: how intimate should said dialogue be? I agree that we can learn to respect others’ religions if we learn about them. I even agree that we can respect the personhood of all (frankly if we are being faithful to our own religion this is a necessity) no matter the differences. But I wonder how much harmony we can work to create? If we agree to love people and respect different beliefs and worldviews doesn’t this imply an understood tension that will always exist? Further, is that really such a bad thing?

  2. Ben- great question.

    But let me clear one thing up: for me this isn’t about the elimination of tension with regards to divergence of belief.

    I’m all about living into the tensions of divergence, but when difference becomes an excuse for disengagement or even persecution of the other, then there is a problem.

    Again, I’m not really about harmonizing religions but about religions being able to live peacefully into their own expressions. As opposed to them all living violently into their differences.

    Make sense?

    Steve- Thanks.


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