Race and Religion

Man it's hot in Seattle.

I spent a week hanging out with first/second generation Mexican immigrants, Native Americans, and (almost all) white teenagers. Then I listened to Victor Atta-Bafoe talk about the problem in the Anglican Communion, which is of course racial/cultural/ethnic as much as anything. Then I read a Michael Muhammad Knight book about "The Five Percenters", a branch of the Nation of Islam that teaches that the Black man is God and influenced the Wu-Tang Clan, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, Andre 3000 and more (the 5% connection explains why their lyrics all sound crazy. The book's good. You should read it.). So, at Theology Pub last week I wanted to talk about whether religion could really bring people of different races together. And I'm allowed to pick the topics, and so it went.

Being several good Episcopalians there, one of the first things that came up was the power of shared liturgy to bring together people with different backgrounds and beliefs. Being a few good evangelicals, there was also some discussion about the power of shared belief to bring people together. Being several good iconoclasts, there was also discussion of the question of whether 'unity' is really such a great thing - a desirable end in itself.

The answer to the third question is of course key to whether you should care about the first two. And, of course, 'racial unity' probably isn't in itself a necessarily good thing. Unity can be unity around things that aren't desirable, after all. Seems like we're all quite unified in driving the earth into the ground right now. (Sorry, I've also been reading Kurt Vonnegut's "A Man Without a Country", which is quite down on humanity.) On the other hand, not dehumanizing people b/c they're a different color or culture is probably a generally beneficial thing. Christianity has in its Scriptures the kinds of teaching that push towards that view - 'neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free', etc. It also, of course, has the kind of teachings that have encouraged dehumanization based upon belief or behavior (Revelation 21:8, liars go to hell, burn burn burn, and all that...). Same with Islam, Buddhism, The Five Percent Nation, etc. etc. Unity through both belief and liturgy is real, but it is also imperfect and limited to within 'in' groups, and not always clearly 'good'.

It's hot and my mind's hazy so apologies for not covering many bases that the good and kind Theopublicans covered.

Here's my own personal reflection based on life and study and recent books I've read by Ellen Dissanayake and David Sloan Wilson and Jared Diamond and so forth, and I think our general T-Pub conclusion: science and experience confirm that religious practice is itself an instrument of both Unity and Disunity. It breaks up families and creates new ones, it brings together people from around the globe for love and justice, and it allows people to hate and kill people that they don't even know. It cements some relationships and it complicates others. Simple enough - like all human endeavors it can be used for good or for ill. So shut up about 'evildoers', and shut up about 'parasitic God memes'. Beauty and Depravity, religion is for all of us.

I think it's helpful to think in those terms when you're talking about which theology is correct.



Michelle said…
I think that's also a paradox of religion - of christianity in particular as that's what I know - that it's unity naturally "dis-unifies" the believer from something else. Jesus said that he came to turn son against father and mother against daughter (or something to that degree). So by making the choice to become a Christian (or in some cases, a particular kind of Christian) it will naturally set you apart from others - that creates cultural disunity (ie. a Christian living in a Muslin nation). Unity within the church is sadly not as important as it should be. I'm sure there are plenty of arguments as to what it SHOULD be, but just from a shallow perspective, shouldn't we LOOK unified? Any atheist could look at the "church" today and see we are not unified - you've got the Pentecostals over there, the Lutherans here, the Baptists and evangelicals all over the place, the Catholics around the corner, etc, etc, etc. Some commune together, some reject each other, some have completely contrary beliefs, some have too many beliefs. Sadly, there is no unity beyond the fact that just about all ( "just about" because there are plenty of "Christian" churches that don't) claim Jesus as their savior. I guess the question, then, that divides us, would be: Is that enough?
Michelle said…
Oh, and this is Michelle from Theo. Pub :)