The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on October 13, 1996 · Page 59
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 59

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, October 13, 1996
Page 59
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social bonds based on justice and mutual respect. This doesn't mean we have to relinquish our distinctive traditions in what Diana Eck calls "an undifferentiating twilight where all cats are gray." Instead, in a democracy like ours, "we are all invited to be ourselves and yet to be engaged in critical and self- critical encounters with others as persons of faith." Here is the dilemma: America strives to be a home to the world's religions in accordance with the dictates of democracy. Can a pluralistic America avoid the bitter fruits of religion — intolerance, ginal value assigned to religion as a public matter," Sullivan wrote. He also worried about "the reduction of public religious convictions and actions to the realm of 'unconventional' behaviors." He concluded: "What is disconcerting is the lack of knowledge about the historical role of religion in molding personal identities, shaping social identity, generating community and goals, transmitting values, sharpening critical moral sense, challenging the status quo and questioning authority." Officials are not the only people who can be tone- Muslims outnumber Presbyterians in the USA; Hindus and Buddhists are among the top 10 religious groups all three of the monotheistic faiths that trace their origins to Abraham: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. A Hindu took part, too, and a Zen Buddhist. Often we disagreed with each other, and sometimes the more we talked the more we disagreed. But a generosity of spirit prevailed in the circle. While talking about these issues exposed our differences, it also brought us closer together — people who, for the most part, had been strangers. Sometimes we discovered that, in spite of our differences, we shared our deepest values with people Religious attendance: Percentage of people who attended church or synagogue in the previous seven days " " t *~ "" 42% __40 41 , Source: Gallup Organization ignorance and murderous fanaticism — that have occurred throughout history when faith is used as a wedge to drive people apart? How can I hold my truth to be the truth when so many others see truth so differently? When I put this question to Huston Smith, he answered: "We listen. We listen to what others say about their experience of reality. We listen as alertly as we hope they will listen to us." THE LESSON OF WACO As Smith talked, I remembered the Branch Davidian tragedy in Waco, Texas. Trying to assess in retrospect what went wrong, federal agents acknowledged that one factor contributing to the disaster was their failure to listen to the spiritual language issuing from the compound, garbled as it was. Lawrence Sullivan, director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University, was one of 10 experts asked by the Justice and Treasury departments to review the actions of federal agents. While the Branch Davidians obviously were not typical of American believers, government officials' handling of the crisis "may, in fact, reflect the mar- deaf to religion. When it comes to understanding the role of faith in molding the lives, identity, values and moral sense of its adherents, most of us are religiously illiterate. The resurgence of religion in America, and the arrival on our shores of so many believers of different faiths, will test us. The scholar James Davison Hunter describes democracy as "the hard, tedious, perplexing, messy and seemingly endless task of working through what kind of people we are and what kind of communities we will live in." It requires good listeners. The reward for listening can be great. I know. For much of the past year, in preparing the Genesis series, I have listened to people of different faiths talk about the great stories of the Bible's first book, stories that inspired three enduring world religions and the spiritual, ethical and literary imagination of Western civilization. We were filming the discussion for television, and I wanted a diversity of people from many stations of life and learning. Our time together was notably enriched because we did not come from the same religion but from Next page: Finding God in pop culture who seemed most unlike us. We hear a lot these days about "dialogue and democracy." Concerned about failing voter participation, nasty political campaigns and a declining sense of community, various organizations are convening thinkers and doers to address issues of civic renewal. Religion belongs in that conversation — religion as a wellspring of values reflecting different aspirations for our moral and political order; religion as the exercise of men and women to bring order out of the chaos of their lives; religion as the interpretation of experience itself. At this moment between two centuries, as one millennium gives way to another, we Americans must debate what it means to be a nation. We must decide our identity as a people. How are we to write a new story for ourselves unless we learn to be open about our deepest religious beliefs with people not like us? C3 • ONLINE: Chat live with Bill Movers, 9 p.m. ET Monday, about his new PBS series and religion's effect on contemporary society. America Online keyword: USA WEEKEND. USA WEEKEND • Ocl. 11-13, IV96 8

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