God's Politics

God's Politics


Tony Jones: Three Choices in Pluralism

posted by gp_intern

Last week, I caused a bit of a dust-up by wondering aloud about Mitt Romney’s LDS faith, including an admittance of my own ignorance about particular practices and beliefs therein. It seems to me that Romney has been less that forthcoming about his commitment to LDS beliefs and practices, and he will be compelled, as the presidential race goes forward, to honestly confront those questions: Is he a “high priest” in the LDS church? Does he consider the words of Prophet Gordon Hinckley inspired and infallible? Private concerns these are not, particularly for a presidential candidate.

However, I’m more interested today in responding to the criticism of my last post. Faithful Progressive (FP) repeatedly castigated me for referring to the sacred undergarments worn by many Mormons, calling me everything from “bigoted” to “immature.” While I am predisposed not to respond to anonymous criticism, I will make an exception in this case, for I think the difference between me and FP points out a major philosophical difference.

Call it globalization, postmodernism, or a “flat world,” we live in a radically pluralized society, and it is only becoming more so. As the U.S. pluralizes, we become increasingly aware of the “otherness” of those around us. The Other looks, talks, and worships differently than I do. And, case in point, we’ve got a woman, an African-American, and a Mormon as leading contenders in a presidential race, a situation unthinkable just 50 years ago.

We face three choices when confronting our increasingly pluralized society. The first is the traditional conservative response, alternatively called ethnocentrism or fundamentalism. Proponents of this tactic build walls, both figuratively and literally, between themselves and the Other. Whether it be the attempt to move millions of evangelicals to South Carolina, or to found a Roman Catholic town in Florida, the desire to “conserve” a previous state of affairs leads to cultural withdrawal at its most innocent (see M. Night Shyamalan’s movie, The Village, for a disturbing portrayal of retreatism), and to purgings and pogroms at its most dire (Fox TV’s 24 is dealing with these pressures this season).

Just the opposite is the traditional liberal response to radical pluralism. FP and other liberals posit that we secularize. That is, he wants us to avoid talking about some of the very core practices and beliefs that differentiate us in an attempt to keep the peace. But arbitrary rules that attempt to avoid offense end up gutting the heart from real, robust conversations about the beliefs that many of us deeply hold and about the practices that guide our very lives. Sen. Obama, in his otherwise excellent speech to Sojourners last June, fell into this trap himself when he said, “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values.” By my lights, the ecumenical and inter-faith movements of the 20th century were failures for just this reason: they endeavored to have lowest-common-denominator conversations, and thus talked about things that weren’t of much interest to anyone.

The third, and I believe superior strategy for public conversation about religion, is the truly postmodern one: recognize the difference of the Other, even as you are robustly and distinctly yourself. To enter inter-religious dialogue, I’ve got to grow a thicker skin, for I need to be ready to answer penetrating, and even prickly questions about what I believe and how I practice it. I can neither be hypersensitive about what I’m asked, nor should I be expected to walk on eggshells when talking to others.

On the very day last week that I was receiving e-mails from FP demanding that I apologize to Mormons, I went to dinner with a bunch of friends. We all had black smudges on our foreheads, and we were compelled to describe to our waiter the increasingly foreign practice of the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. Likewise, I will unashamedly ask a Sikh man next to me on a plane why he ties his beard over his head and covers it in a turban, a Hindu woman why she wears a dot on her forehead, an orthodox Jew why he wears tassels, an old-order Mennonite woman why she covers her head, or a Mormon the reason for the sacred undergarments.

Over the past year, I’ve had the good fortune to make friends with some rabbis who gather under the auspices of Synagogue 3000. In our inter-faith dialogues, we have committed to speak candidly and frankly about what we believe, and not to shy away from asking each other difficult and pointed questions. We’ve endeavored to always give one another the benefit of the doubt, to think, “I assume he’s asking that question out of love and a desire to understand me better,” rather than, “I assume he is mocking my deeply held faith.” This very assumption has led to some of the most enlightening conversation – and some of the most moving worship! – in which I have ever been involved.

Pluralism demands a new tack. Various “centrisms” are disastrous, and secularization is a dead end. The vast majority of human beings are deeply faithful, and as we come into closer contact with one another, we’re sure to get bruised and even cut occasionally. But we need to grow thicker skins if we are going to live together in something approaching harmony and peace. Better understanding comes from asking the hard questions, not from placing some questions off-limits.


Tony Jones is the National Coordinator for Emergent Village.



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Mark P

posted February 26, 2007 at 9:39 pm


In the future, ***please*** distinguish between “neo-conservative” and traditional conservative. You described the neo-conservative response, which differs GREATLY from a more classicly conservative response. Classical conservatives are not antiquarians; they do not withdraw from society and do not engage in purges or violent cleansings. They do recognize that millenia of human existence has passed before us, that minds far greater than ours have long wrestled with the questions of life, and they seek to maximize the gain one can receive from that great background. A true conservatives seeks to conserve the BEST of the past (not ALL of the past, and not the past simply because it IS the past) while slowly incorporating the best of the present (slowly because conservatives recognize that innovation and revolution generally lead to instability and bloodshed). Classical conservatives DO NOT subscribe to ethnocentrism and decry fudamentalism and inflexible ideology. They are dogmatic in the best sense of the word (which is to say, they are convicted that certains things are true, but remain far more flexible than fundamentalists or neo-cons). I fear that your three options has completely and utterly left the truly traditional conservative response out in the cold… and, to be honest, I’d say that while traditional conservatism has some serious disagreements with your third so-called “postmodern” response, it is still more likely to be — at least in appearances — closest to the third approach. Listen and learn with a discerning mind before you even consider acting. When you do act, do so prudently — never recklessly. The traditional conservative sees that human action generally strikes some chord of truth. Being a Christian humanist, the traditional conservative then works to discern the truth from the falsehood, sanctifying what is true and good in Christ while dismissing the falsity (though doing so carefully so as to not lose the baby along with the bathwater, if you will). The difference, of course, is that the traditional conservative always moves beyond listening to critiquing and examining with an ear for truth. The weakness of traditional conservatism is that traditional conservatives often have difficulty moving from critique to solution, from perceiving problems and errors in a society to offering a means to solve those mistakes.



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carl copas

posted February 26, 2007 at 10:24 pm


Mark P, I agree with you. The “traditional conservative response” as sketched by Jones is a caricature that doesn’t do justice to the many permutations of “conservatism.” And I speak as someone whose politics are very far to the Left.



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Wolverine

posted February 26, 2007 at 10:41 pm


Once again, out comes the “neocon” slur. Mark, do you have any idea what a “neo-conservative” is? Or what distinguishes neocons from the rest of the right? Neoconservatives are generally liberals who converted to conservatism; a few of the founders had even been marxists at some point. Beyond that, their main contribution has been less a matter of devotion to tradition than the use of social science. Most Christian conservatives are more of the “paleocon” school, although, to be honest, “neocon” methods are accepted throughout the right today. Which is why the Heritage Foundation, to give but one example, has a “Center for Data Analysis”. The left would gain immensely in its understanding of its opponents if it were to drop this “neocon” fixation. Wolverine



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Wolverine

posted February 26, 2007 at 10:53 pm


Meanwhile, Tony Jones cites, as conclusive proof of conservatism’s inability to deal with the other, the attempt by some crank to get Christians to move to South Carolina. Total movement: 20 persons, equal to 0.0005% of the state’s population. Exodus it ain’t Then there’s Tom Monaghan’s plans to build a Catholic community in Florida. This is a bit more serious, if only because Monaghan (the founder of Dominos Pizza) has some money to throw around. But at bottom Ave Maria is basically the creation of one, albeit very wealthy, man. Whether it’ll turn out the way he plans is anybody’s guess. Wolverine



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kevin s.

posted February 27, 2007 at 12:08 am


I don’t think you are allowed to post here unless you take a dig at Conservatives, or at least George W. Bush, so I’ll let that slide. At any rate, I like that Tony Jones is not apologizing. There is no compelling need to do so. And he makes a compelling point that “centrisms” are useless. By being expected to embrace each other’s faith, we are expected to compromise our own. Once we have done that, we are left with a faithless discussion.



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Mark P

posted February 27, 2007 at 12:49 am


carl: I appreciate your response, especially given your position :) Wolverine: I see neoconservatism as typically merging some aspects of modern liberal ideology (i/e Keynesian economics) into the Republican platform. Due to the neocon tendency towards a somewhat nationalist view of patriotism, I tend to think his analysis of the (neo)con response to be somewhat accurate, especially given the Bush administration’s spin on neoconservatism. Or, if you don’t accept Bush as a neocon, his own particular breed or strain of conservatism which I, perhaps unfairly, lumped in with neoconservatism.



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ZenDoctorMan

posted February 27, 2007 at 1:50 am


Kevin S: “I don’t think you are allowed to post here unless you take a dig at Conservatives, or at least George W. Bush, so I’ll let that slide.” Sure you are. You post here all the time and you’re a Bush lackey. What are you talking about?



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kevin s.

posted February 27, 2007 at 3:05 am


“Sure you are. You post here all the time and you’re a Bush lackey. What are you talking about?” a) I am not a Bush lackey. I am a conservative who often diasgrees with the president. b) I was referring to those who post, not those who comment, which was pretty obvious from the context, though I’m sure you feel better for getting the lackey comment in.Which leads me to this… “Or, if you don’t accept Bush as a neocon, his own particular breed or strain of conservatism which I, perhaps unfairly, lumped in with neoconservatism.” Bush’s spin on neoconservatism seems perilously close to populism, by my lights. However, it has nothing to do with “retreatism” (which is in quotes because it has been misused here). The idea that Bush can be ethnocentric while employing such diverse cabinets is ridiculous.



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Faithful Progressive

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:16 am


Thanks for your reply. I posted a fairly long response here: There Are More than Three Approaches to Pluralism: Response to Tony Jones. I don’t think Tony is in anyway “Post Modern” in his failure to recognize that he is part of the dominant religious group and that it’s simply not nice for those with this power to question the practices of those who are not in the majority group. He ignores utterly that his post DID give offense to Mormon readers.He also grossly mistates my position, I am not a simple-minded secularist and neither is Sen. Obama. Read my repsonse to see how wrong he is about both of us (great company as far as I’m concerened!) As far as being anonymous–I have reasons that are worthy of respect not ridicule, my choice is based upon important ethical considerations–and if it was good enough for the authors of the Federalist Papers its good enough for me. Finally, just so it’s clear–Tony e-mailed me first. I did not have his e-mail, and I only replied to his e-mail to me. I’m glad he did contact me, and that we have had this dialogue. FP



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Mike Hayes

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:23 am


I suggest three “rules” for this blog (not just this topic, but all topics):(1) be brief when expressing ideology; and, (2) be detailed when describing personal experiences; and, (3) put a sock in it when you feel inclined to “rant”. In my view…



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Mark P

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:45 am


I personally reject all three of your criteria: First, I am not an ideologue and do not subscribe to an ideology. The very idea of ideology is abhorrent to me, though I must confess that I occasionally find myself trying to force my dogmatic orthodoxy into an ideology — God protect me from such. Second, it seems to me that you’re working from your own premises to create your guidelines — that the individual’s perspective and his experiences matter more than the truth because, in your view, experience and perspective ARE truth. (correct me if I mischaracterized you) Third, some things merit rants. Maybe not this post or some of the others, and I will strive to be more concise… but sometimes it is necessary.



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Joseph T

posted February 27, 2007 at 5:35 am


I appreciated Marks description of traditional conservatism. Reminds me of Lewis or Chesterton or Solzhienitsen.I came from a liberal Irish Catholic Family. When I was in high school my best friend was protestant, conservative, leaned Republican,and like me, liked to laugh at everyone and all isms. His father was a committed Republican, opposed involvement in overseas war(VietNam)and all imperial aspirations and made as good a case for conservatism as I heard until maybe Francis Schaeffer. I think this kind of conservatism is very rare anymore.I personally see Wendell Berry as the last conservative American Philosopher.Either that or the first of a golden age. I don’t accept the premise that the neo Cons were once liberals. Some were radical leftists and Troskyites. I have never met an American Trotskyite and I know a lot of liberals. Nary a Trotskyite among them. People do change but usually radicals stay radical, darwinians stay darwinian,moralists stay moralistic, the hopeful stay hopeful. Many “died in the wool” conservatives have gone progressive too. The thing about the politics of self government is that it involves either compromise to make agreeable change within a conservative body of core values or the tyranny of the Majority. While I like Tony’s insistence on honesty and listening and a certain good humored thickness of skin, there are many improvements possible for America and that’s where Mr. Obama’s pursuit of shared values and goals comes in. I don’t want religion specific values to guide my multi cultural country any more than I want to give up the form of faith community I am part of. Your ideas are a tried and true way to build trust in a pluralistic gathering. Few questions should be off limits. But beyond trust comes shared decision making and that means the possibility of some members sharing or losing power.This is a dicier proposition and it is why coalitions and parties form, and why the deepest changes come from a core of shared values, and some compromise where improvement is possible.



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Elmo

posted February 27, 2007 at 11:43 am


Mike, I’d like to add one rule to your set: Don’t say “In my view…” at the end of every post. You’re killin’ me, Smalls.



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Alicia

posted February 27, 2007 at 3:02 pm


Andrew Sullivan’s book, “The Conservative Soul” offers an excellent definition of the kind of conservatism I personally feel everyone should consider and try and learn from. As someone who was raised in a liberal household and who spent years “left of center” I find myself more interested in conservative ideas than in liberal ideas at the present time.Particularly now that the “Conservative Movement” is coming apart, there are a lot of really interesting books and ideas out there, many of whom’s authors have blogs on this website.



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Brian

posted February 27, 2007 at 3:50 pm


I won’t take a stab at the discussion regarding dicephering various methods of defining “conservative”, BUT … I will say that I am happy to see that Tony Jones added something constructive to the Sojourners blog!! Yeah! And to boot, he even criticized Senator Obama, something I imagine is a bigg no-no around these parts.



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Bristlecone77

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:39 pm


Tom Jones, The greatest way to deal with this is to focus on the many more ways we are similar than we are different. In short, there is no Other. There is only Us. And the “Us” is all inclusive. We are all one.



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Harry Garcia

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:52 pm


Jones writes, “increasingly foreign practice of the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday” Um … have you ever been to a catholic parish? Every year my friend all catholics do it. There is around 2.1 billion Christians in the world, over half are Catholic…increasingly foreign? I think not



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Elmo

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:55 pm


Bristlecone, To say that “there is no other. There is only Us” is like pretending all flavors of pudding are the same. Sure they all have milk and…well, whatever else goes into pudding, but they are, in fact, different. And there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that We’re all human and as such we have the same basic needs of safety and love and all, and we all have desires. They just manifest themselves differently. If there were no “Other”, we’d always understand each other’s meaning, and never take offense where none was intended. We’d never be able to wonder at another culture, and we’d lose all appreciation for our own. the differences in human language, culture, and expression are beautiful, and pretending that “we are all one” devalues that.



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Daniel

posted February 27, 2007 at 6:31 pm


I like the original post, a very lucid account of the way I essentially see things. I believe in constitutional democracy and in freedom, I think we need to make the world safe for differences to g on existing.



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bob c

posted February 27, 2007 at 7:04 pm


What a wise posting, Tony – and what surreal comments it seem to elicit. Arguing over the differences between vanilla bean, french vanilla or cherry vanilla has always struck me as such a modern trap. Let’s focus on the precision of langauge to define boundaries & differences. I’ve always admired Henri Nouwen and his witness to living in a world that is not monochromatic. He suggests that what emerges from the biblical foundations and the cries of humanity is a hospitality that, if it is to be true to our identity, is obligatory for Christians, part of our vocation. For Nouwen, such hospitality invites strangers to a new relationship in which each person can listen with attention and care to the other’s voice as well as his or her own voice, each allowing the other to be “sensitive and obedient to their own stories” without trying to convert or coerce or own the other, for that is the opposite of hospitality. Living in a foundry of pluralism (the SF bay area), I must confess that too often fall far short of hospitality, swallowing the hard questions as I “respect” or even “tolerate”. Thanks for the insights & observations, Tony.



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Daniel

posted February 27, 2007 at 7:21 pm


I fail to see how Tony’s third option is objectionable from either a conservative or a postmodern slant. A proper postmodern response would simply say that any absolute claims are dangerous. And since it is nable to explain why danger is bad (since that would be an absolute claim) it ultimately offers literally no alternative but the frustration ‘hell is other people.’ No wonder. But Faithful Progressive’s reply differs from this markedly. I’d like to applaud both the tone and content of his response (I assume FP’s a ‘he!’). But I think a comparison favors Tony.FP’s reply makes two essential truth claims: we are probably all wrong and we should tolerate each other on that account. In the wake of this foundation from William James, Kierkegaard, and Hans Kung, FP lays out a fourth option for dealing with pluralism. It sounds just like Tony’s – we live side by side and respec each others’ differing responses to the numinous, always committed to humility and tolerance and respect of the human person.And, in fact, these sources differ from Tony’s approach in only one respect: they would not make truth claims about the spiritual and actually believe them. In other words, it’s okay to be Buddhist as long as you don’t seriously think Buddhism is uniquely true or even that you understand what it is. Tolerance here means taht we are first committed to the fact that we are probably wrong. I do not mean this in a condescending way – this is the way I myself live my life. I am 100% sure my thoughts and words do not capture the reality of THE spiritual truth.But such a mystical position allows for only half of humanity. As Maslow points out in Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences the mystics and ecclesiastics have different personality types. It is not possible for an ecclesiastic to access this level of psychological flexibility. Ecclesiastics outnumber mystics in the world at the moment, (although Huston Smith and de Chardin have led me to believe there is a movement toward integrated psyches that is essentialy a new surge in mysticism).Given this fact of life, George Lindbeck took Kierkegaard, James, and Kung and combined them with Wittgenstein, Geertz, and others to come up with his proposal for dealing with pluralism (laid out in The Nature of Doctrine): religions are language games and doctrines are regulative for a given community. Because language determines how we experience life, no community can effectively be evaulated by someone from a dissimilar community. We can share our different experiences, commit to our own values, find universals, debate and embrace differences, all in the commitment to the basic human spiritual journey – or we can fight to the death in the event their community is bent on eliminating ours, etc. At the same time, we can retain a firm commitment to the life within boundaries that may be contrived and fallible without the constant uncertainty of seeing them as such. In other words, what Tony said. But I believe his approach is superior to that offered by Faithful Progressive for the very reason that it allows us to take ourselves a little more seriously, to name our faith and have a community with richness of depth without losing the kind of community context in which humans wer made to live. DIY religion offers no alternative to forming communities and keeping us involved. This approach shows up twice in God’s Politics. First, Wallis fondly recalls the jail cell debate between Brian McLaren and Michael Lerner over the status of Jesus’ divinity. The openness and commitment to life together underlying that discussion created the space for these differences to remain public and retained the opportunity for understanding and cooperation to take place. Second, Wallis recalls seeing Desmond Tutu draw strength from the Resurrectin to face down armed apartheid soldiers. As Jim said, would a metaphorical Resurrection would have been enough to give Tutu the strength he needed?



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Daniel

posted February 27, 2007 at 7:23 pm


Sorry, I forgot to add that I see this as the basic alternative offered by Mark P as the conservative position. I don’t see that Tony has left it out, in fact I can’t find any differences at all.



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Faithful Progressive

posted February 27, 2007 at 7:33 pm


Bob C, etc: Many folks in the LDS Mormon community obviously felt differently. IE this Commenter that Ryan Beiler also noted: “As a Mormon and a liberal I was disappointed in Tony Jones’ comments. I can appreciate that some Mormon thought is “out of the mainstream” but one should keep in that the fundamental belief of Mormonism is in Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer. Tony is right; he is ignorant of Mormonism. But ignorance should in thoughtful Christian people motivate an effort at greater understanding instead of disrespect.” Unfortunately, both you and Tony ignore the fact that his tone WAS disrespectful and, well, immature. If Tony had really wanted to enter into the sincere dialogue you describe he would have acknowledged that he insulted people–his failure to do so speaks volumes. I have no reason to pick a fight with Tony or his fellow Emergent Villagers. I have great respect for Brian McLaren shown with Tony here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_McLaren However, I do think its a bit silly and disingenuous for him to say “my response is Post Modern and yours is secularization.” That’s a problem I see in the Emergent Post Modern religious Movement generally–it sometimes seems to mean whatever is a convenient truth at the time, rather than standing for a core set of approaches to an issue. Whatever it does mean, I hope it does not mean that dominant religious groups have the right to ignore the pain they cause to others in their too flippant approach to dialogue… Al Gore said: “It s the combination of narcissism and nihilism that really defines postmodernism.” I don’t go that far at all. I think it has interesting and exciting possibilities– in literature and in religion. I have contributed to a couple of literary journals on the meaning of post-modernism. I love the work of ultimate post-modernist poet Fernando Pessoa. etc etc I am not anti-Emergent or anti-Post Modern in any sense. However, Gore is right that there is a danger of narcissism or ubjectivity to the point of solipsism. ie. “It’s ok for me to ignore your pain and ignore power relationships–code: you’re LDS marginal and I’m not–because I believe in being frank– even if it causes you pain.” I don’t think that’s a very good approach at all to either pluralism or dialogue. Tony should still apologize for the obvious offense he has given, in my opinion. FP



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Mark P

posted February 27, 2007 at 8:55 pm


“I appreciated Marks description of traditional conservatism. Reminds me of Lewis or Chesterton or Solzhienitsen.” That’s one the biggest compliments paid me in a long time. “In short, there is no Other. There is only Us.” In short, we are the Borg. Resistance is futile. :) To paraphrase John Piper, “Unity in diversity is more God-honoring than uniformity.” “it’s okay to be Buddhist as long as you don’t seriously think Buddhism is uniquely true or even that you understand what it is.” Oh life with your colorful surprises. It’s like the part in one of the Dan Brown novels (Angels and Demons or the Da Vinci Code — they sort of blend together in the mind) where his character basically says, “Look, I don’t hate Christians…. so long as they aren’t really convicted of the truth of what they believe.” If you don’t believe in Buddhism, don’t be a damn Buddhist. Sure, we’re all gonna be wrong in some areas. Our responsibility is not to be perfect; rather, it’s to seek the truth and get as close to it as possible. Your thoughts say, “Look, finding the truth is hard, so just give up.” “It is not possible for an ecclesiastic to access this level of psychological flexibility.” And, dare I be so bold, it’s not possible for the logically minded to be satisfied with such silly spinelessness. “no community can effectively be evaulated by someone from a dissimilar community.” Interestingly enough, I believe it was Paul Elmer More who argued the exact opposite point — that one cannot truly evaluate his own culture without ceasing to be a part of it. “I don’t see that Tony has left it out, in fact I can’t find any differences at all.” Oh, you know, the whole problem of an absolute truth that can, to an extent, be understood and grasped by humanity. It’s lovely to understand one another, but you can’t stop there.



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Dan S.

posted February 27, 2007 at 9:06 pm


FP’s points about relative power in their original post -see also Ryan Beiler’s new post here – are, I think, very to the point. (They also can be applied to, for example, the Wallis/Kos dustup a bit ago). And like Ryan kinda points out, it’s a lot easier to don a thicker skin when you’re not in much of a position to get hurt. It’s a shame, because when he wasn’t going on about undergarments, it was a pretty good article. There’s a big difference between ‘what kind of undies?!’ and ‘Are they a fundy?’, with the second question being at least an imperfect proxy re: other issues, including what I would gloss as a) can they probably function in a reality-based capacity? (Not that it’s a definitive answer, either way!) Anyway, I don’t recognize what Jones describes as the “traditional liberal response,” although it’s possible I’m young enough that what I view as the traditional liberal response – an attempt at authentic multiculturalism, even if it often degrades to a shallow ‘heroes and holidays’ – is more or less his postmodern one. I mean, to “unashamedly ask a Sikh man next to me on a plane why he ties his beard over his head and covers it in a turban, a Hindu woman why she wears a dot on her forehead . . .” etc. doesn’t seem at all unusual, daring, or out of line, presuming, of course, that’s it’s done with basic courtesy and some sense of propriety and social awareness/skills – ie, there’s a time and a place for everything: randomly cornering strangers on a flight (Sikhs on a plane?) to grill them about traditional customs might not be appropriate – or might be fine, depending on person and situation; some folks will be more than happy to explain, but others perhaps less so. Actually knowing them helps, as does a conducive setting – note that Jones mentions making friends “with some rabbis who gather under the auspices of Synagogue 3000″ – that is, specifically committed to and involved into these kinds of conversations. Which is not to say that one should approach this issue as a minefield – just use basic common sense, and check that the person you’re talking to actually wants to be involved in such a conversation. (The intercultural equivalent to what my wife always tells me about making sure that they actually want to talk about whatever subject I’m cheerfully burbling about – social skills? what are those?)Also, be careful about situations where folks get ‘put on stage’ as the sole representatives of their people/religion/race, etc. And I really don’t understand why “secularization is a dead end,” as he claims, although the term has been so pushed and pulled as to probably require either a moratorium or specific in-text definitions. After all, when Obama talks about how “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values,” I understand him (correctly or not) to be referring mainly to the political arena – in no way ruling out the kind of deep iinter-faith dialogue Jones describes. These are very different landscapes, and very different kinds of conversations, no?



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Dan S.

posted February 27, 2007 at 9:22 pm


Mark paraphrasing Dan Brown character: “Look, I don’t hate Christians…. so long as they aren’t really convicted of the truth of what they believe.” *Snort!* Definitely not trying to make fun of all-too easy errors stemming from quick typing and semantic slippage – I’m the last one to talk! – but “convicted” (for convinced?)is marvelous here. (Or was that intentional? Even better, if so). But – hmm. . . see for instance Keats’ idea of negative capacity.



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Mark P

posted February 27, 2007 at 10:34 pm


The double entendre is intentional, and I mean both senses of conviction. You can be convicted and then you can be convicted, after all.



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Bristlecone77

posted February 27, 2007 at 10:42 pm


Elmo, The belief in the otherness of people who have differences is the beginning and the end of all prejudice, fear and hatred. These fears need to be faced or there will never be peace on Earth. We have a choice: To heal our fears of each other and take each other as “brothers” or to end in the blood bath of annihilating each other for our differences. We seem to be heading for the latter. Is that a future you want?



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Payshun

posted February 27, 2007 at 11:15 pm


Bristlecone77 The belief in the otherness of people can also be a place of healing, transformation, restoration and humility. THere is nothng wrong w/ being the other if anything being the other can be quite a blessing. What makes the future you are talking about is this culture’s inability to deal w/ the “others” in its’ midst. Instead of embracing otherness, this culture wants to appear righteous. If you doubt that look at how the LGBTQ community is treated, better yet the urban poor, the homeless, the outcast, the broken. You are right about one thing. We must see the humanity in each person but I think a more nuanced view is available too. We can see the universal humanity of each person and yet celebrate and love the “other” culture as our own. p



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Bristlecone77

posted February 28, 2007 at 12:49 am


Thank you for your explanation, Payshun. I stand corrected. It breaks my heart to see how we treat anyone that is different. But what you said is full of compassion and wisdom. Thank you.



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Ramon

posted February 28, 2007 at 1:00 am


Jones blog reminds me of what John Paul II said regarding inter-faith exchanges. He held that any meaningful dialogue had to rest on the individuals actually believing what they proclaimed. To have a meaningful exchange means to speak from beliefs that we hold as true. As a Catholic, I hold that God is triune, and that Jesus is both God and man. I do not believe that Jesus was merely an angel, or one of many gods. It is only when I understand what my belief means to me, that I can respectfully share it with another. If, I am to really be in dialogue with a person of another faith, then I best know and live the faith I profess. There can be no genuine dialogue without a genuine faith. At the same time, I must also be ready to be enriched by the gift the other person offers. I must be ready to be moved and inspired to go beyond the definitions and comfortable boundaries I have created for myself. I have to let go of the labels I have created, or that have been created for me. This is the challenge of Faith. To speak from a center, while not fearing to move beyond it. Pax, Ramon http://www.PhilTeach.com



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Bren

posted February 28, 2007 at 3:00 am


Is the purpose of this conversation to focus on Otherness, to increase the sense of difference of THE OTHER from me, or to discover what values, customs, culture we share? I understand that Americans feel strongly about whether a person speaks from a conservative or a liberal position, but my experience suggests that we are all more complicated than that; it is more helpful to recognize that we are (certainly, I am) an individual who has some opinions that liberals will identify with and others that conservatives will identify with. I speak to someone who appears or sounds to have an experience different than mine to find out whether my first impression is correct and if yes, to listen deeply–first, to discover what we share. If we begin, and focus solely on the Otherness of that other person, we will only increase our isolation from each other and forget that, despite some differences, we are all children of the one God.



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Mark P

posted February 28, 2007 at 3:15 am


Are we? We’re all image-bearers… but children? I’m not so sure… In any case, I’m less fascinated by how uniform you and I are and more



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Mark P

posted February 28, 2007 at 3:18 am


Oops, accidentally hit publish… Last sentence: I”m less fascinated by how uniform you and I are, and more interested in the differences… finding out how God works to create a glorious unity in Him out of this crazy and beautiful diversity we have…



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Mike Morrell

posted February 28, 2007 at 4:55 am


I like what you said here, Tony, particularly the observation that “By my lights, the ecumenical and inter-faith movements of the 20th century were failures for just this reason: they endeavored to have lowest-common-denominator conversations, and thus talked about things that weren’t of much interest to anyone.” I would much rather have frank conversations with my neighbors about their faith and life than try to stick to milquetoast topics we can all agree on. Now, we might need to apply the “face-test”: If you were face to face with an LDS person you were just getting to know, would you phrase a particular question about their underwear? Maybe, maybe not…knowing you, you might! :)



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Elmo

posted February 28, 2007 at 5:49 am


We’re all human and as such we have the same basic needs of safety and love and all, and we all have desires. They just manifest themselves differently…We’d never be able to wonder at another culture, and we’d lose all appreciation for our own. the differences in human language, culture, and expression are beautiful, and pretending that “we are all one” devalues that. – Elmo THere is nothng wrong w/ being the other if anything being the other can be quite a blessing…We can see the universal humanity of each person and yet celebrate and love the “other” culture as our own. – Payshun These two statements seem very similar, and even make just about the same point. However, when I said the former you lashed out at me and said that the only choice we have is to assimilate or die(Borg, eh?). To the latter you say is full of “compassion and wisdom”. Why? What was the difference? Does acknowledging differences between people groups automatically make one a bigot, afraid of what he doesn’t understand?



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Payshun

posted February 28, 2007 at 7:18 am


Elmo, Not sure about the first one. But the second one, ofcourse not. I can acknowledge that the Han Chinese are different from the Wuigur w/o being a bigot and assuming one is better than the other. I can do the same between evangelicals and contemplatives.p



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curiouser and curiouser...

posted February 28, 2007 at 3:35 pm


There was a Gallup poll published last week that indicated 72% of Americans would vote for a Mormon presidential candidate. This contrasts radically from a Nov. 2006 Rasmussen survey that indicated “Forty-three percent (43%) of American voters say they would never even consider voting for a Mormon Presidential candidate.” And only 45% would ever consider voting for an atheist! This is revealing because it shows how far away from the promise of there not being a “religious test” for public office Americans have gone. It is so sad to see America reneging on its “promises”. Heck, even gay people are more likely to be voted for (at 55%).



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Christopher Kolb

posted February 28, 2007 at 6:25 pm


Tony, thanks for addressing this topic – it’s more imprtant now than ever. I agree with your criticism of Sen. Obama’s comments whole-heartedly. If we are forced to water down our beliefs in order to be able to express them in public, then it is no wonder so many are tempted into the “my way or highway” of religious fundamentalism. The challenge is to be led to a fuller understanding of one’s own beliefs through exchange with other faiths. While it’s probably best not to naively believe there are not mutually exclusive tenets of various faiths, my experience has been that the vast majority of the time an interfaith exchange opens the path to my own beliefs rather than threatens them. It is not always easy to see how, but no one said faith was easy. Thanks again, Tony



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Bill Samuel

posted March 2, 2007 at 2:34 am


I remain unconvinced. The tenor of Tony’s earlier blog entry was that the special underwear that Mormons wear gave him pause in terms of voting for a Mormon. That still seems to me to be petty. Is it more weird than Tony and I having ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday? I don’t know. It’s just different. Regarding asking people from different traditions about things like their underwear or their hair, I think we need to be sensitive as too when and how that is done. I’m afraid what Tony writes doesn’t give me much confidence in his sensitivity. I do agree with Tony that you can lose a lot by lowest common denominator ecumenicism. I think the dialogue is stronger if we are all clear where we stand, while being respectful and truly listening to others.



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Goldspinner

posted March 2, 2007 at 8:37 pm


Kudos, Tony! Thank you for having the courage to address valid concerns in your post. As we say in Mormonspeak, “All is not well in Zion”. For over twenty years, I was a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After five years of living in Utah, I realized that I could no longer accept a belief system that continues to espouse racism as canon and seeks the eventual overthrow of the United States government.A Romney presidency could have serious, far-reaching consequences for members of other faith communities. Central to LDS theology is the belief that all other religious doctrines are false and it is “the only true church on the face of the earth”. No amount of ecumenical activity alters this core tenet of Mormonism.Your questions are valid because the LDS church leadership exerts a great deal of rigid control over the daily activities of individual members. The LDS church is a corporate entity that holds tremendous wealth and political power yet actively discourages internal dissent and external scrutiny. Publicly, the LDS church espouses political neutrality. However, at the behest of church leaders, members have been pressured to contribute to and participate in political activities that were at times extra-legal or unethical. If Mitt Romney were elected, I doubt that he would be capable of maintaining any degree of independence from his ecclesiastical overseers in Salt Lake City. Please continue to seek honest answers. Thank you!



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Paul

posted March 3, 2007 at 7:19 pm


Here, the options for engagement with the world around us (borrowed from Tim Keller) are listed as: un-culture, sub-culture, anti-culture, para-culture and counter-culture. At risk of imposing an interpretation at odds with the author’s intent (not being post-modern, I would regard that as unacceptable!), I suggest the author talks about and rejects sub-culture (where we simply fit in with the world around us, and don’t make waves) and anti-culture (where we become ghettoized). The danger with what the writer recommends is that it is really a post-modern “un-culture” – where in our keenness not to impose culturally or isolate ourselves or alienate the … er, alien, we end up with no distinctives. How do you decide what is Christian, and what isn’t? If it doesn’t matter, then why bother with holiness? How do you decide what is holy, if it isn’t based on what God has revealed? How do you decide what God has revealed, if not on the basis of what he has said? I’d recommend the counter-culture approach. What does this mean in terms of our relationships with other faiths, for example? It means we respect them, and accept that people have the right to hold and practice them, and inherent dignity as human beings, even though we believe in the absolute truth of our faith.



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nofolete

posted March 5, 2007 at 3:47 am


Bit late in the game, but here’s my two cents. In defense of secularism, I think we need the somewhat neutral, open terrain it provides. When I go the the polls I vote my politics, not my religion. While I am personally opposed to unnecessary abortions on religious grounds, I think that when they happen they should be safe and legal. “Emergent postmodern” Christianity, as far as I understand it, attempts to reconcile one’s lifestyle and politics with an extremely malleable version of Pauline Christian doctrine. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping politics and faith separate, to a degree. If I couldn’t do that I’d feel like a complete outcast in the LDS church. Instead I just feel like an oddball. Which I can live with. As for Emergent Postmodern Christianity, all I can say is leave it to evangelicals to latch on to a fading cultural epoch as a means for missionary work. Don’t they know Postmodernism is on its way out? Also, I find it arrogant (and not very postmodern) that Jones should feel that every Sikh, Hindu, Mennonite, and Mormon should have to answer to him personally for their cultural diff rance. It’s almost as bad as fetishizing blacks for their hair, or expecting them to be default cultural ambassadors. I mean, he can read, can’t he? Study is an excellent cure for ignorance. Though I suspect he knows perfectly well the why for the what in all the cases he mentions, and calling attention to people’s peculiarities is simply a way of leveraging his majority status (again not very postmodern) to put people on the defensive, and preach a little Pauline salvation (“Oh, so that’s your hair under there. Wow. So I take it you haven’t been saved then.”). People should answer a call to Christ because the Spirit moved them, not because they were made to feel stupid or weird. I don’t think Jones owes anyone an apology. I just think he’s wrong. And I’ll defend his right to be wrong as strongly as I’ll defend my right to say that he’s wrong. And that’s not a postmodern value, it’s old-school liberalism. But I’m grateful that FP called him out, because his latest post gives me a clearer idea what he’s wrong about.



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