By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
It has been said that God’s will is to reconcile and redeem those of all races and religions, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer. It has also been said that Satan does a convincing imitation of God in the church, mosque and in politics. That may explain why exclusivist religions seek to divide and conquer other religions rather than to reconcile with them.
The tendency of competing religions to divide and conquer was an underlying theme of Samuel P. Huntington’s 1993 essay on The Clash of Civilizations which was set in the Balkan conflict. According to Carlos Lozada, “Huntington described civilizations as the broadest and most crucial level of identity, encompassing religion, values, culture and history.”
In Poland, where religion pervades politics, President Trump evoked Huntington’s clash of civilizations when he called on the nations of the West to “…summon the courage and the will to defend our civilization…and to never forget who we are.” Since religions are the source of the ideals that shape the values of civilizations, they can be either a reconciling or divisive force.
Trump has asserted that Muslims don’t share the values of western civilization, but Reza Aslan disagrees. Aslan points out that Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, is not a monolithic religion and that “There is no clash between Islam and American culture. In fact, there is no clash between any religion and any culture because religions are inextricably linked to culture.”
Culture is like a vessel, and religion is like water — it simply takes the shape of whatever vessel you pour it into. And this is why the prosperity gospel — the notion that what Jesus really wants for you is to drive a Bentley — can exist in the United States.
Islam in the United States is an overwhelmingly moderate version of Islam, but more interestingly a highly individualistic form of the religion. Islam is a religion that often advantages the community over the individual, but in the United States, where the culture is rooted in radical individualism, you see a radically individualistic Islam forming.
If Huntington ever suggested that religions are monolithic, history has proven him wrong. Aslan emphasizes that religions are diverse and shaped by culture and politics, just as religions shape culture and politics. That is evident in the American civil religion. It is an amalgamation of Christian and secular values that shape American culture and that are constantly changing.
Just as Christianity and Islam are remarkably diverse, so is the American church. In its myriad and dynamic forms the church plays a formative role in shaping the values of American culture and politics, and all but a few universalist denominations promote exclusivist doctrines that continue to divide believers of different religions rather than reconcile them.
Most Christians are exclusivists who have fostered political polarization along racial and partisan lines. Last year white Christians elected Donald Trump as president and gave the GOP a majority in Congress. Their political priorities conflict with the greatest commandment to love God and to love their neighbors—including their neighbors of other races and religions—as they love themselves. That should be a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Globalization has increased racial and religious diversity around the world, exacerbating religious and political tensions. To avoid a dangerous clash of religion and politics in America and a worldwide clash of civilizations, people of faith must reject religious exclusivism and seek reconciliation with those of other religions rather than seeking to divide and conquer them. That will require more interfaith dialogue and a commitment to share a common word of faith.
On Carlos Lozada’s view of Huntington, a prophet for the Trump era, see
On religion and politics in Poland, where Jesus is king for Poland’s new rulers and where Trump stressed Poland’s religious traditions, see https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-07-18/religion-and-power-reunite-in-modern-poland.
On Reza Aslan’s assertion that There is no divide between Islam and American culture, see https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/07/24/reza-aslan-argues-there-is-no-divide-between-islam-and-american-culture/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=New%20Campaign&utm_term=Flashpoints.
In 1967 Robert N. Bellah defined [American] civil religion as “a collection of beliefs, symbols, and rituals,” drawn from American history and “institutionalized in a collectivity” that function “not as a form of national self-worship but as the subordination of the nation to ethical principles that transcend it in terms of which it should be judged.” See How Trump is reshaping American civil religion at https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-usa/2017/07/11/trump-reshaping-american-civil-religion/. See also, American Civil Religion is Dead, Long Live American Civil Religion, see https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/american-civil-religion-is-dead-long-live-american-civil-religion/.
Related Commentary posted at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/:
(12/8/14) Religion and Reason
(12/15/14): Faith and Freedom
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(2/15/15): Is Religion Good or Evil?
(5/3/15): A Fundamental Problem with Religion
(9/20/15) Politics and Religious Polarization
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(6/18/16): A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All
http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/06/a-politics-of-reconciliation-with.html (8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(11/5/16): Religion, Liberty and Justice at Home and Abroad
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(2/25/17): The Need for a Revolution in Religion and Politics
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(4/29/17): A Wesleyan Alternative for an Irrelevant Church
(5/27/17): Intrafaith Reconciliation as a Prerequisite for Interfaith Reconciliation
(6/24/17): The Evolution of Religion, Politics and Law: Back to the Future? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/06/the-evolution-of-religion-politics-and.html.
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17) Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/8/17): Hell No!