Religious Pluralism Here To Stay In Our Nation

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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
There are two mosques in the Fox River Valley. There,s a synagogue in Appleton and a modest Sikh temple, too. There are Hindus and Buddhists living around us and you may be one of them. Now and then, I bump into a colorful atheist or engage in a conversation with a sincere agnostic.

I teach world religions at the college level. Most of my students are not Bible-toting Christians, but all of them are aware of religious pluralism. They're aware that today we have a smorgasbord of religious and non-religious options to choose from.

Pluralism is inevitable in a democracy. Religious pluralism is nothing new, although it has become more complex as the demographics of America have changed. I think this is one reason why so many Americans are struggling to come to terms with Islam.

In the 19th century, it was the influx of Catholics and Jews. Both groups endured prejudice and bigotry before finally being assimilated into the broader American culture. Hinduism made inroads into segments of America in the early 20th century.

And who can forget the '60s and '70s with the hippies and the Hari Krishnas at airports, handing out flowers? Along with Vietnam, we had young people sitting in rooms lit with red lightbulbs and meditating while smoking pot.

America is familiar with waves of immigrants and waves of new and different religions coming in. Somehow, we've managed to absorb them all and still retain our American identity. This is not so much a Christian identity as a democratic identity.

Yes, Christianity was the major religious influence shaping our democratic values. But the main influence behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution was the enlightenment, based on reason, liberty for all and human rights. This led inevitably to the formation of an open society that includes religious freedom.

In America, we aren't content with mere religious tolerance. We stand for religious freedom without being persecuted for our beliefs or having our rights trampled upon. In America, people are also free to not be religious.
Now it's Islam's turn to be assimilated into American culture. But there are serious issues. First, there is the painful memory of 9/11. I would guess that most Americans cannot think of Islam without remembering 9/11.

Islam is seen through lens of the World Trade Center going down and the craziness of Muslim fanatics. So there are prejudices and distortions regarding Islam that many Americans need to work through.

Another problem is with American Muslims themselves, especially the immigrants. They, too, need a wake-up call. This is America, not Iraq or Yemen or Saudi Arabia. We do things differently here. So if you want to be an American, accept the fact that your religion is merely one religion among others. And remember that democracy is what we're about, not theocracy.

Overall, the religious people in the Fox Valley behave themselves very well. Certainly, prejudice exists along with ignorance and misinformation. But I doubt if our local mosques are training centers for terrorists. I don't think the Jews among us are going to march down College Avenue promoting Zionism.

The Hindus and Sikhs aren't causing any problems. No atheists are burning Bibles. And it's illegal for Hari Krishnas or other religious groups to pester us at Outagamie County airport.

So far, so good.
Brad McIntyre: pcletters@

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