Friday, February 11, 2011

"double belonging" in religion

An interesting article by sociologist Peter Berger (he of the classic The Sacred Canopy): "Religious Double Citizenship." The topic: belonging to two distinct religious traditions (Christian-Buddhist, Jewish-Christian, Muslim-Christian, etc.). Berger writes:

What is one to make of all this? Let me first, in the interest of full disclosure, make three observations. As a sociologist, I am not surprised by any of it. I have long been convinced that plurality—the co-existence of different worldviews and value systems in the same society—is an almost inevitable consequence of modernity. I have endlessly written about this. Pluralism—most easily defined as the ideological embrace of plurality—is the most benign response to plurality (as against Balkanization and civil war). As a citizen, I am very much in favor of it. Moreover, as a Christian who likes to dabble in theology, I too believe that religious traditions should be in dialogue with each other and that each can learn from such activity. Thus I am predisposed to be sympathetic with the overall impetus behind the notion of religious double citizenship. However, I am skeptical regarding the syntheses described in Frykholm’s article.

There are two important themes that frequently occur in pluralistic approaches to religious diversity. They also occur here. One is the notion that one can relate to other religious traditions by way of common moral principles and of joint political actions. The other is the notion that commonality can be perceived as a result of comparable mystical experiences. Both notions underemphasize the cognitive aspect of religion. Both notions, I think, are problematic. It is doubtful that most traditions share moral principles. One can reduce morality to some practical recommendations. Buddhists and Christians can agree that one should not kick little old ladies into the gutter. But behind this shared recommendation lie vastly different definitions of reality.

Some of the above claims strike me as, at the very least, controversial, and Berger's advocacy of inclusivism at the very end of the essay seems abrupt, begging to be unpacked. But read the article and judge for yourself. Berger also writes on gay marriage here. Somewhat similar to my own stance, Berger sees himself as a religious liberal and a political conservative (I'd call myself a religious liberal and a political moderate, being skeptical of much that I see and hear in liberal and conservative camps while holding explicitly right- and left-leaning views); he is in favor of same-sex civil unions, is mildly against gay marriage, but also says that his stance is "evolving." (I'm very pro-gay marriage, and have been for years, but I've come around to agreeing that there are civil/legal and religious components in this discussion that need to be kept separate.)

So I'll be reading more of The American Interest with interest. It's where I read the article on Sun Tzu, after all, so it must be a good site.

UPDATE: I deal with the JuBu phenomenon in this old post from 2006. More here.


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