One of my mentors once told me that the measure of a religion in a pluralistic society is the breadth and depth of benefits it brings to its non-adherents.

It’s a fascinating thought that has kept sparking new thoughts in my mind for many years.

I suppose the converse of the axiom would be something like this: in a pluralistic society, the disfavor felt toward a religion is proportional to the harm it brings its nonadherents.

As a Christian, I think of Jesus’ parable about the kingdom of God: it is like a mustard seed that grows into a sizable bush in which the birds of the air can nest. Although some have a rather sinister interpretation of the parable, my hunch is that Jesus is referring to Psalm 84, where the psalmist, no doubt inspired by sparrows and swallows nesting in the house of worship, finds the image fitting to his own soul finding rest in God’s presence.

Jesus is saying, I believe, that the reality he is conveying in word in deed – he called it the kingdom of God, but we might call it the love economy of God or the sacred ecosystem of God or the dance or song of God or the dream of God coming true – that reality brings vital and joyful benefits to its nonadherents.

Sadly, I too often see in my own religion tendencies towards self-protection and domination that bring fear, not hope, to nonadherents. And my guess is that others could see similar tendencies in their own faith communities.

In this election year, I suspect that many people will be thinking about personal interest only: what benefits will this or that candidate bring me and my family? Others will think exclusively about the interests of their own interest group – their ethnic, social, partisan, national, or religious in-group: what’s in it for us?

But my hope is that more and more of us, especially those inspired by faith, will be thinking about which candidate brings the most wins, the most benefits, the least harm, to everyone. One of Jesus’ early followers said it like this: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

This otherliness – to borrow a phrase from my friends at offthemap.com – reflects an expansion of primal selfishness to ethical neighborliness, and then from neighborliness to something even more radical … compassion and love to the non-neighbor – the other, the stranger, even the enemy.

For people inclined to follow this way of thinking, additional election season questions would be raised beyond the usual “What’s in it for me or us?” Those questions, I believe, are tremendously important for people of radical faith.

(brianmclaren.net)

More from Beliefnet and our partners
previous posts

Thank you for visiting Progressive Revival. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Faith, Media and Culture Prayer, Plain and Simple Happy Blogging!!!  

Originally appeared on Tikkun Daily Blog Ever since the victory over the dictator of Tunisia and the subsequent uprising in Egypt, my email has been flooded with messages from Jews around the world hoping and praying for the victory of the Egyptian people over their cruel Mubarak regime.              Though a small segment of Jews have responded […]

The attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords and the murder of so many others in Arizona has elicited a number of policy suggestions, from gun control to private protection for elected officials, to banning incitement to violence on websites either directly or more subtly (e.g., Sarah Palin’s putting a bull’s-eye target on Giffords’ congressional district to […]

Christmas and Chanukah share a spiritual message: that it is possible to bring light and hope in a world of darkness, oppression and despair. But whereas Christmas focuses on the birth of a single individual whose life and mission was itself supposed to bring liberation, Chanukah is about a national liberation struggle involving an entire […]