Is faith merely a cultural fixture?

I was telling the pastors in the car the other day that the concept of cultural pluralism was something that the dominators have come up with, and I wasn’t really sure how I fit into it. As a Christian particularly, I feel offended when academics and intellectuals merely “pluralize” me. They have a superior ethic of acceptance and tolerance that can patronize many groups of people and their ideas by simply putting them under that umbrella.

Donald Trump recently entertained a question at a forum about removing all Muslims from the U.S. and tacitly acknowledged the myth that Barack Obama is a Muslim. What a ridiculous question and Trump’s acknowledgement of the question at all is egregious. Nick Kristof, a favorite columnist of mine, agrees with me: “This video is painful to watch. When a questioner asks Trump about getting rid of Muslims, Trump accepts it as a reasonable question… Do you feel the same disgust at this exchange?”

Kristof is known for his own religious tolerance, and he has even defended Evangelicals for their good work. I appreciate when he does that, and I apprentice most things he says. But he is certainly an advocate for faith merely as a social construction or a cultural artifact (two posts about that here and here). To him, faith is something to be tolerated like any of society’s socially constructed categories (think race, gender, class).

Then Ben Carson said on Meet the Press that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.” Same kind of bigotry that Trump tolerated here, coming form another front-running GOP presidential candidate.

And then, perfectly following the script of religious pluralism, Bernie Sanders said he was “very disappointed.” Sanders said, “It took us too long to overcome the prejudice against electing a Catholic or an African-American president,” but he continued and made a deeper point, “People should be elected to office based on their ideas, not their religion or the color of their skin.”

The question then is: Are someone’s ideas at least in part the product of their faith? Or our ideas simply a product of ourselves? Does not someone’s religion influence their ideas? Or is religion simply a sociological category that is merely the result of one’s environment? Is it merely something to be tested?

I sort of felt this way when we were thinking about why we are catholic in Circle of Hope and why we are not the other day. We were thinking together about the good and the not so good about the Catholic faith, and some people got defensive. I appreciate the empathy and understanding. But I wonder if we think that it is prejudicial to criticize the basic ideas of one’s faith because we consider faith simply to be an inevitable part of a culture, and an unchangeable part of an individual.

Kristof and Sanders have this feature of the postmodern ethic. I believe that we patronize those with different ideologies by merely tolerating them. We do this when fear that criticizing them is indeed prejudicial. I’m no defender of Trump or Carson and I disagree explicitly and decidedly about what they are saying. But I wonder how freely we consider, sort through, and test people’s ideas and wonder about their merits. Can we offer someone a real human relationship? Or do we merely categorize them into “good” and “evil” categories? I think that’s too easy and too simplistic.

For one with faith, I actually think you need to test my ideas, not just tolerate them. But more than simply assess whether they are good or bad or wrong or right, I think we need to relate to each other through imperfection. I think the heart of the Gospel is relationship. Jesus came to earth to relate to us personally, and we are doing the same thing. I think that’s why we are a safe place and why you can join us. We are relating to one another in the Body of Christ, working together, not merely tolerating our individuality as we furthered atomized into nothingness. Our faith is a product of revelation, not just a cultural artifact.

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