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Theologically engage public issues today

Karen L. Bloomquist

Monday, August 15, 2016

 “Religion” must not be misused as an identity marker or a basis for discrimination

*Two Muslim women are asked to leave an airline, based on the suspicion this was because they were Muslim. A southern France community bans beach attire that “ostentatiously displays a religious affiliation.”

*Some Christians are opposing same-sex marriages, justifying this because of their religious beliefs.

These are examples of how the media and popular culture tends to view “religion” – either as an identity marker or as an excuse for discriminating against others. Rather than a force for reconciling and uniting people, ironically today religion is often viewed as a force that divides people and justifying discrimination, even to the point of violent outbursts against those identified as of another religion.

Certainly religion has long functioned as an identity mark for populations, especially when those ruling specified geographic regions or countries embraced certain religions. Religion continues to function as any identity marker in many places today. Because of where people are from, they are assumed to be affiliated with a particular religion --- Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, etc. How surprised some of my Asian and African theological colleagues were upon hearing that many in the U.S. regularly and often convert from one religion to another. In most areas of world, everyone is assumed to be identifiable with a religion, with no separation between society and religion; all is sacred. It is unheard of that people would identity themselves as agnostic or without any specific religious affiliation, as they increasingly do in some parts of Europe and North America.

And yet in today’s political climate, identifying people on the basis of their religion is occurring in disturbing ways. This has been done in the past regarding Catholics and Jew, and sometimes even today. But most prominently today, the different types of Muslims and how they chose to live out their religious identity is overlooked for the sake of making generalizations and targeting them as “outsiders.” When adherents of a religion embrace this as an aspect of their identity which is lived out as they so choose, this is to be affirmed. However, this become problematic when religion is imposed an identity marker on others, in ways that result in discriminatory attitudes and practices against them.

People of faith must be bolder in publicly speaking out and countering such tendencies. It is fundamental beliefs in the dignity and respect for all persons, on the basis of sacred texts, that calls us to be in solidarity with all persons, regardless of their religious identity, and to oppose discrimination that alarmingly is excused by religious faith. This is more than modern liberal toleration, but is rooted in basic truths of all religious faiths.