Flashback to a year ago. I was creeping down the 10 freeway, indifferent to the usual landscape of my commute. So when I spotted a bumper sticker with a peculiar mixture of religious symbols spelling “coexist,” my overactive imagination quickly envisioned people of different backgrounds and religions singing songs in perfect harmony and buying the world a Coke. It was a nice diversion.
Nowadays the popular sign makes its appearance more frequently, and not just on bumper stickers but also shirts, banners—even as tattoos. The motivation behind the emblem is to “promote peace and social justice,” but it can instead evoke some pretty gnarly verbal wars.
First, let’s take a look at which worldviews are represented in at least one particular variation of the popular sticker. The emblem’s originator lists the symbol’s meanings as follows:
C = Islam
O = Peace
E = Male/Female [equality]
X = Judaism
I = Wicca/Pagan also The Bab/Bah’ai
S = Taoism/Confucianism
T = Christianity
Most people understand that these perspectives represent contrasting ideas about God (or whether one exists) and about the world around us. How, then, can people rationally justify the “coexist” movement? Is the hope of these worldviews (and their respective believers) melding into one so appealing that it’s worth overlooking what distinguishes them?
Here’s how RTB scholars respond to this controversial issue:
- The world’s religions hold fundamentally different perspectives on such core ideas as the nature of God, the cosmos, humankind, and salvation (thus, they don’t agree).
- All attempts to reduce religions to a common theme only distort them and eliminate their distinctive appeal (thus, they can’t be homogenized).
- The fundamentally different beliefs among the religions remain logically contradictory and irreconcilable (thus, they can’t all be true).
Does this mean “resist coexist” stickers should start popping up on cars? Not necessarily. Here’s where semantics (and Samples) comes into play. RTB philosopher/theologian Kenneth Samples comments:
I think the concept behind “coexist” tells us that believers (people) should be distinct from their beliefs. Diverse ideas, of course, have to be carefully analyzed, and logic tells us that we should be intolerant of ideas that are confused or contradictory. Yet at the same time we can be tolerant of the people who hold these beliefs.
In other words, tolerance of diverse religious expression (social pluralism) should not be confused with the view that all religions lead to God (religious pluralism).
So the next time you see someone sporting a “coexist” message on their person or belongings, spark up a conversation and ask questions. Maybe, if you’re lucky, they’ll buy you a Coke.
Where do you stand on the “coexist” issue? Let your voice be heard and you might win yourself an autographed copy of Kenneth Samples’ book A World of Difference.
Here’s how: Leave a comment by Friday, September 10. We’ll draw three names at random and notify winners via email by Monday, September 13. Ready, set, go!
For more on religious pluralism and world religions, see A World of Difference (specifically chapters 12–13),“Thinking Biblically about the World’s Religions,” and “Christian Truth-Claims and Other Religions.” Also check out the following topics on RTB’s website: religious pluralism, world religions and cults, and worldviews.