Interfaith Insight - 2022

Permanent link for "Kindness, a Virtue of Religious Diversity" by David Baak on August 16, 2022

A few weeks ago I asked “Who’s on your list for an Interfaith Leadership Award?”

 A regular reader, Cary, responded with this:

My award suggestion is easy. Ray died three years ago. My father was the most religious person I knew. He was Jewish and followed teachings of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan who taught that Judaism had to reconstruct itself to adapt to changes in society. My father regularly attended our local synagogue. He taught me Torah but more often he simply taught me that the scriptures  of Judaism and every major religion centered on kindness. Love for your neighbor and love for all….

Kindness. How much difference can one person make in the lives of those around them simply, and profoundly, living a life of kindness?

I thought of Ray when I read an article in Religion News Service a couple of weeks ago by Eboo Patel (Interfaith America) and Robert P. Jones (Public Religion Research Institute) that focuses on the current expression of white Christian nationalism and the hatred, violence and danger to democracy that it exhibits. And, Patel and Jones suggest, there is a historical interfaith precedent that can help us “[cling] to our best virtues rather than our worst instincts, our democratic principles rather than our tribal fears.”  

Kindness rather than hatred?

Patel and Jones begin with the January 6 insurrection and the “powerful role that white Christian nationalism played in the attack. Among the insurrectionists there were crosses, Bible verses, ‘Jesus Saves’ signs…intermingled with antisemitic symbols and slogans.”

They suggest that “the scene could be mistaken for a Ku Klux Klan event from a previous era.” That era was the violent time begun in the “red summer” of 1919. Quoting further from their article:

The anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant and anti-Black currents so prevalent in that decade were powered by a white supremacist belief that America was ordained by God as a promised land to be run by white, native-born, Protestant men [and] was commonly legitimated in white Protestant pulpits, evangelical and mainline, South and North.

But, this earlier form of white Christian nationalism was defeated, in part, by a “movement of Catholic, Jewish and Protestant leaders who believed in a more open, inclusive America. …The [CH2] National Conference of Christians and Jews emerged in the late 1920s as a direct response to the KKK and quickly organized a host of interfaith activities across the nation.”

“Perhaps most importantly,” Patel and Jones say, “they offered early 20th century Protestants – in the conjured phrase ‘Judeo-Christian’ – a broader way of understanding the nation and their place in it.” However limited that phrase was – and is – “it redrew white Protestants’ mental maps of America.”

Cary’s father Ray was among the best of us during the time we were a “Judeo-Christian” nation.

Today, however, we need a new way of thinking. The country is very different from that of a hundred years ago, when Jews and Catholics were relatively new in the American religious landscape of the early 20th century. There were very few openly practicing Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or groups other than Jews or Christians in the nation. Now there are many.

For Patel and Jones, this growing diversity and its increased visibility will affect every facet of American life—from shifting traffic patterns because of religious services on Fridays, to vegetarian meals in cafeterias of businesses and schools, and even to religious leaders’ vaccine advice.

The authors believe that “despite its limitations, ‘Judeo-Christian’ did good work” to the end of the century. The term helped move us “beyond a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant America.” And, a recent PRRI survey reports that most Americans embrace the differences. “Fully 7 in 10 Americans say they are proud to live in a religiously diverse nation.”

Patel and Jones conclude:

It’s time to say goodbye to ‘Judeo-Christian’ America. But we can learn from its example – especially the way it creatively expanded our civic and moral imagination – as we write the next chapter in the great history of American religious diversity.”

“Faith is a Bridge to unlock the potential of America’s religious diversity,” claims Interfaith America on its website. We are all part of that diversity and its potential – our response to it will write the narrative of that next chapter. Rather than fighting against each other, attempting to exclude, to divide and to hate, we can work with each other, attempting to expand further our “civic and moral imagination” and to live out our “best virtues,” like kindness.

Cary says this about his father:

My dad believed in Judaism but more importantly believed people of all faiths had common beliefs in dignity, morality, and kindness. Life would be pretty easy if all people followed my father, and just tried to be kind.

We all know people like Ray who have shown us how. Leaders for us to follow.

[email protected]

Posted on Permanent link for "Kindness, a Virtue of Religious Diversity" by David Baak on August 16, 2022.

View all Interfaith Insight - 2022 entries

Page last modified August 16, 2022