by Jill McFadden
Every morning I get up, brew coffee that I think is delicious, grab one of my favorite granola bars, wash my hair with a very particular type of shampoo, and pick out an outfit from one of the too-many items squeezed into our too-tiny closet.1 I drive to work listening to music that I like. I go to lunch at my favorite café, peruse the menu, and order the entrée that I think looks best. After work I may watch a movie that I pick out myself,2 hang out with people that I enjoy, go where I want to go, or shop where I want to shop.
Each day brings with it a host of choices, and for most of them, I’m free to choose only the options that are pleasing/interesting/ lovely/delicious/entertaining. When I go to Starbucks I can order the venti-skinny-double-shot-no-whip-soy-whatever, and I sense the right to be a little miffed if they don’t get it just right. The truth is, for as much as I complain about doing dishes and sorting laundry, there is almost nothing in my life that I didn’t choose to do because I wanted to do it. My felt identity as someone who can choose—someone who has the right to choose—is probably even more fundamental than I realize.
Enter Sunday morning. It starts similarly to every other day, making choices about breakfast and coffee and clothes. And then I choose to go to church, and I choose which church to go to. Do I feel like a powerful choice-making consumer? Check. But when I come to church something different happens—something that can be uncomfortable, threatening, irritating:
I stop calling the shots.
by Ian McFadden
Today, the UN is going to dub some squirming infant “living human #7,000,000,000.” A) That’s a whole lot of people and, B) I can remember when Adnan Mevic was dubbed the 6 billionth just a few years ago. The world is changing. And one of the changes is the speed at which it is changing. Culture is shifting faster than it has before. One way to see that is to check out a history textbook that’s a couple decades old.
My great aunt is 89 and she’s more alert than I am. She told me last week that when she helps a granddaughter with history homework, she’s pleased to find that history textbooks no longer treat the barbaric displacement of Native Americans as unquestioned manifest destiny. Others are troubled to find that in religious textbooks Christianity no longer enjoys pride of place.
We live in a poly-religious society
Your kids will go to school alongside many friends of other religions; probably already they know more about Islam or Hinduism than you ever learned. And that’s great. It’s helpful and healthy that they develop an informed understanding of other religions. Hopefully they’ll develop friendships with kids of other religions and find some of their stereotypes challenged and their horizons broadened. It could be they’ll wonder or ask you whether Jesus is really that different. Does it really matter whom you launch your prayers toward? After all, the other kids might be better students, better behaved. That was my experience going to school in London where a high percentage of my friends were Muslim or Hindu or Jewish or Sikh. Where their lives looked different than mine, often it seemed for the better. Maybe it didn’t make any difference which god you worshiped so long as you played nicely.
That mindset–let’s call it theological pluralism—is the worldview du jour in the West. And Christians are increasingly enticed to it. Every dolt knows there are tons of smart phones out there. They all have the same basic functions, the same basic purpose. Some are flashier than others. Some cost more than others. Some can respond more thoroughly to verbal questions than most American males. But at the end of the day it is just another smart phone. No one other than a narrow-minded Steve Jobs acolyte is going to insist otherwise. Why should it be any different with religions, with the gods we worship?
Maybe it’s time we recognize that we live in a poly-religious world and stop being so insistent that Jesus is different. Times have changed and so should our theology. These are common thoughts to have in Baltimore today. Our times, though, are not quite as unique as we might think. Religious pluralism, to the extent that we now experience it in our urban centers, might be new in the West, but it isn’t new. Not by a long shot.