No god but God, Part IV—Pluralism
Series: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV (below)
After immersing in the wide ocean of background presented by Reza Aslan in No god but God, I was ready for his conclusion. The future is pluralism.
Despite the tragedy of September 11 and the subsequent terrorist acts against Western targets throughout the world, despite the clash-of-civilizations mentality that has seized the globe and the clash-of-monotheisms reality underlying it, despite the blatant religious rhetoric throughout the halls of governments, there is one thing that cannot be overemphasized. What is taking place now in the Muslim world is an internal conflict between Muslims, not an external battle between Islam and the West. The West is merely a bystander—an unwary yet complicit casualty of a rivalry that is raging in Islam over who will write the next chapter in its story. … [The] remarkable evolution in Christianity from its inception to its Reformation took fifteen vicious, bloody, and occasionally apocalyptic centuries. Fourteen hundred years of rabid debate over what it means to be a Muslim; of passionate arguments over the interpretation of the Quran and the application if Islamic law; of trying to reconcile a fractured community through appeals to Divine Unity; of tribal feuds, crusades, and world wars—and Islam has finally begun its fifteenth century.
Despite what [American] school children read in their history books, the reality is that the separation of "Church and State" is not so much the foundation of American government as it is the result of a two-hundred-fifty-year secularization process based not upon secularism, but on pluralism. It is pluralism, not secularism, that defines democracy.
Columnist Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek's The Road to Reformation: "What is currently a war of sects [in Islam] must become a war of ideas. First, Islam must make space for differing views about what makes a good Muslim. Then it will be able to take the next step and accept the diversity among religions, each true in its own way."
Each of us may sincerely believe our own faith tradition or teaching is the ultimate truth. After all, why would we follow it if we didn't? But for a society to function and make progress, we each have to make the choice to respect the sincere beliefs of others.
I believe Christian Science is the truth. But I learned long ago the truth of the words in the Quran: "There can be no compulsion in religion." Forcing anyone to adopt Christian Science, which is essentially an internal practice, would be impossible as well as absurd. Forcing anyone to adopt any belief system is possible only in externals. If they haven't embraced the meaning, it's all for nothing and is merely coercion.
It's been my observation that those in society who do hold to a strong faith or belief or even activism or social awareness, whatever form it takes, and then translate their convictions into action, are the primary contributors to the progress our world is making. It doesn't even really seem to matter what the teaching is—if you let any of the world's great teachings shape you and strengthen you to help others, it blesses the world. I'd rather have a society of sincere religionists of all stripes who are actively working to better the world than a forced, 100% obedience to the teaching I happen to follow.
So this becomes the third plank in my prayer agenda about Islam—that those troubled regions begin to see the value of pluralism and can grow to embrace it.
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