By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
E pluribus unum: That’s Latin for Out of many, one. It was the U.S. national motto until 1956, when it was replaced by In God we trust. In the wake of the November election, we need to ask ourselves, are we still a nation committed to being out of many, one, or are we just a nation of many? And in a pluralistic democracy, what does it mean to trust in God?
The U.S. is a religious nation. Most Americans claim to be Christians, and Christianity, like Islam, has resisted reconciliation with other religions. Each claims to be the one true faith to attract members, and the worldly power of each religion is based on the number of its members.
In an increasingly pluralistic world, such religious exclusivism causes hate and violence; and in democracies where fundamental human rights are necessary to protect minorities from the tyranny of a religious majority, religion can be an obstacle to human rights and justice.
For religions to be compatible with democracy, human rights and justice in pluralistic nations, they must promote a politics of reconciliation. This has not happened where Christians and Muslims have been a majority, and the jury is out on Jews in Israel.
Second generation evangelical Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Franklin Graham mobilized their followers to elect Donald Trump to be their President, and Trump’s national security advisor has referred to Muslims as “evil people.” In Islamic nations Muslims continue to deny the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech with apostasy and blasphemy laws. And in Israel, democracy is jeopardized by continuing violence with Palestinians, who may soon become a majority.
The will of God is to reconcile and redeem all humanity as one in spirit, while the will of Satan is to divide and conquer. But in the great cosmic battle between good and evil, Satan does a convincing imitation of God, and does his best work in the church, mosque and in politics.
Radical right movements are casting a dark shadow over the world. They are supported by religious zealots who have mistaken Satan’s hate and divisive powers for the powers of God. They represent a dire challenge for both our religion and politics.
Religions function as moral buffers to popular demagogues who seek to undermine civil liberties in democracies. Fareed Zakaria cited Alexis de Tocqueville in noting that religious groups can be a buffer against authoritarianism by “weakening the moral empire of the majority” and protecting minorities against a tyranny of the majority. But it should be noted that de Tocqueville saw religion as both a polarizing and reconciling force in Democracy in America.
There is hope that Judaism, Christianity and Islam can mitigate against religious polarization and promote a politics of reconciliation in America and around the world. The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves—including those of other races and religions—is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. That love command provides a theological foundation for a politics of reconciliation.
Kathleen Parker got it right when she said it’s hard to think about a Happy New Year after Trump has released a malevolent spirit upon the land; and its especially hard for Christians since evangelical Christians made Trump’s election possible. Even so, let’s make e pluribus unum a New Year’s resolution in both our faith and our politics. We need to resist the divisive power of hate and violence with a politics of reconciliation, but never concede to the evil forces that seek to divide and conquer us.
Fareed Zakaria has noted that democracy in America and around the world is being corrupted by forces that oppose liberty in law. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/america-is-becoming-a-land-of-less-liberty/2016/12/29/2a91744c-ce09-11e6-a747-d03044780a02_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
In his tour of America in 1834, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that religion is a two-edged sword in democracy: While Christians “readily espouse the cause of human liberty as the source of all moral greatness,” and “will not refuse to acknowledge that all citizens are equal in the eye of the law, …religion is entangled in those institutions that democracy assails, and is not infrequently brought to reject the equality it loves and to curse that cause of liberty as a foe.” De Tocqueville noted that secular citizens are skeptical of religion in politics but know “that liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” See De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, The Cooperative Publication Society and the Colonial Press, 1900, p 12.
On Kathleen Parker’s commentary on Trump has released a malevolent spirit upon the land, Happy New Year!, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-has-released-a-malevolent-spirit-upon-the-land-happy-new-year/2016/12/27/f6aa37b2-cc6a-11e6-b8a2-8c2a61b0436f_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
On the rise of the malevolent spirit of populist demagoguery in Hungary and around the world, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/i-watched-a-populist-leader-rise-in-my-country-and-that-is-why-i-am-genuinely-worried-for-america/2016/12/27/6b4cf632-cc65-11e6-b8a2-8c2a61b0436f_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
On Trump’s coming war with Islam, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/trumps-coming-war-against-islam/2016/12/11/edf3241c-bd60-11e6-91ee-1adddfe36cbe_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1.
On irreconcilable differences on matters of faith and politics, see Franklin Graham’s assertion that God assured the election of Donald Trump at http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article121729539.html.
On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims, see http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/2015/01/jesus-meets-muhammad-is-there-common.html.
On religion and human rights, see http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/2015/02/religion-and-human-rights.html.
On a fundamental problem with religion, see http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/2015/05/a-fundamental-problem-with-religion.html.
On the need for a politics of reconciliation in a polarized democracy, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/10/the-need-for-politics-of-reconciliation.html.
On religion and a politics of reconciliation based on shared values, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/11/religion-and-politics-of-reconciliation.html.
On irreconcilable differences and the demise of democracy, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/11/irreconcilable-differences-and-demise.html.
On religion and reconciliation following an apocalyptic election, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/11/religion-and-reconciliation-after.html.
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