During our lifetime, we have become more tolerant and accepting of people of the Roman Catholic, and Jewish faiths. This present election cycle has, though, disturbed many of us with the questionable criticism of people of the Mormon faith and our Islamic neighbors. Our African American citizens are reminded daily of how the larger community perceives them by how our law enforcement and vigilantes conduct themselves. We often forget our common heritage that is almost inherent in our religious faith. All the three major religions trace their history to Abraham. The story line, traditions, and law may differ and yet at the core, common value systems exist.
We recently celebrated Easter and Passover. Many of us were thrilled to view Pope Benedict XVI on his visit to Mexico and Cuba. His message had a political, social, and economic competent. During the recent Republican presidential primary, some of the candidates tried to maneuver positions to appeal to fundamentalist Protestants and conservative traditionalists of the Roman Catholic faith. Rick Santorum criticized John Kennedy’s explanation of the necessity of a strong separation of church, or religious beliefs, and state.
Although no particular sect or belief should be capable of imposing their peculiar interpretation of our common religious belief on a larger society, we cannot discount both the positive and negative aspects of religious belief in Western civilization. Much of our social media views people of faith and religious belief in a negative light. This is unfortunate. Anti-slavery abolitionists rooted their activities in religious belief. Non-violence was used in India by Hindus but was adopted by African Americans to assert their desire for equality without losing their humanity and dignity. Anti-war protests were often led by clergy. Transformative positive movements have been influenced by the words of Jesus: “I was naked and you clothed me, I was ill and you took care of me, and I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Our common Western civilization is a mixture of Christian, Jewish, and Moslem belief, Greek philosophy, Roman law, scientific inquiry and discoveries, and the influence of the enlightenment philosophers. Christianity brought Jewish moral values to a larger gentile world. Islamic culture allowed scientific inquiry and a continuation of Hellenism when the Christian world discouraged the pursuit of worldly examination. Charitable giving for the widow and orphan became the responsibility of the larger community based on the teach- ing of the three major faiths. Women were empowered in the early Christian communities. The practice of exposing unwanted infants came to an end. Slaves were given a message that all men were equal before Divine Providence.
The book of Exodus gave hope. Rules regarding slavery in the Old Testament were more humane then the slavery practiced on our shores before emancipation. In ancient Rome, Christian influence ended the separation of married slaves, for example.
Our ideas regarding individual rights and responsibility may have been influenced by the religious belief that we will be held accountable for our acts whether slave, worker, or master. Social status has no bearing before Divine Providence.
Scientific development may also have been influenced by religious belief. Many scientific discoveries were made by priests who wanted to explain the design order in the world to better understand the mystery of the unseen power or first mover that directs all life. Our idea that the political order has limitations because we all have inalienable rights, which come from the creator, is a sign of common religious belief.
It is inexcusable for modern politicians to foster and abuse narrow religious doctrine and belief for gain. Many wars, persecutions, genocide, enslavement, misogyny, and violence can be attributed to a narrow religious paradigm.
Our common religious heritage, which includes the non-believer, is one of universal brotherhood, equality for all, dignity for all, and obligation to a larger community while respecting individual rights and responsibilities. Economic justice is also a component of our common heritage. Too often, the religious nature of our political debate is limited to matters of sexual morality. Strong family values must include dignity at work, adequate compensation, and a more equitable distribution of income.