THE COEXIST CONUNDRUM: Noble Goal or Pie-in-the-Sky Ideology?

Inspired by the “CO-EXIST” photo picked up by Tito Edwards (, I thought I’d repost an article  which was first published about a year ago.  I liked it then– still do!

Can’t we all just get along?

Do you remember Rodney King? He was the African-American who was beaten by Los Angeles police officers after a traffic arrest in 1991. The beating, which was caught on videotape by a bystander—and the subsequent acquittal of the officers involved—enraged the black community in that city and sparked a race riot which played out on television screens across America. Before it was over, more than 7,000 fires had been set, the city had sustained nearly $1 billion in financial losses, and 53 people were dead.

Appearing on television on the third day of the riots, King posed the question we all remember: “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?…. Can we stop… making it horrible for the older people and the kids?”

* * * * *

I was thinking about King’s plaintive appeal as I read about the June 26 initiative “Faith Shared: Uniting in Prayer and Understanding.” Co-sponsored by the Washington-based Interfaith Alliance and Human Rights First, the event is intended to demonstrate respect for Islam, following several anti-Muslim demonstrations at which the Qur’an was burned by anti-Islam protestors.

So next week, leaders of Christian congregations are encouraged to invite Muslim and Jewish clergy into their pulpits during their worship, to read from their sacred texts.


Which is, as one broadcaster stated bluntly, “well-intentioned nonsense.”

It is appropriate and good for delegates from the various faith traditions to meet in symposia, in conferences, in educational sessions, and to contrast and compare their faith traditions. However, this should never occur within the context of a Mass. According to the dictates of canon law, the homily—which is, after all, a part of the great drama of the sacred liturgy—must always refer to the readings of the day, usually the Gospel reading. Only an ordained priest or deacon, not even a lay Catholic, is permitted to preach.

For this reason, and not out of mere obstinacy or disdain for other religions, it is highly inappropriate to allow delegates from other faiths to speak during the Holy Mass.

Now don’t get me wrong: We should certainly be respectful of others’ deeply held religious beliefs. And we should try to learn more about their beliefs, and should build bridges—find points of unity, work together for our common goals. This mutual exchange of ideas, though, is not the “stuff” of Sunday worship; rather, Catholics and Muslims should talk in the public forum or around the dinner table.


One recent example of a very positive interchange between Catholics and Muslims is the West Coast Muslim-Catholic Dialogue which took place in Orange, California, on May 24-25. This twelfth annual meeting brought together representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and three Muslim organizations from the Sunni and Shi’a traditions. Presiding were the bishop of Yakima, Washington, Bishop Carlos Sevilla, and Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of Orange County. The discussion focused on scriptural interpretation.

I learned a lot from reading about this dialogue, and I’m sure the participants learned as well.

  • I learned that according to Sunni Muslims, the two sources of Islam are the Qur’an and the Sunnah/Hadith, which are the “words, deeds and approvals of the Prophet, reported by his companions.
  • I learned that there are two initial forms of interpretation of the Qur’an: tafsir, meaning to explain, elucidate and interpret; and ta’wil, which seeks to return to the original meaning of a word or statement.
  • And I learned that Shi’a Muslims believe that no verse of the Qur’an has been left uninterpreted. One way that the Prophet would explain the Qur’an is through the Qur’an itself—using later verses to explain earlier ones.

But the difference is that this respectful dialogue occurred in an appropriate forum—and did not detract from the efficacy of Christian worship.

* * * * *

You may have seen those bumper stickers which read COEXIST. What, you wonder, are they talking about?!

There’s a somewhat tongue-in-cheek commentary floating around the Internet—I can’t cite the source because it’s been republished all over the place, with only slight variations. It explains the intended meaning of the symbols, and then explains why it makes no sense.

It goes like this:

C = Islam

O = Pacifism

E = Gay Rights

X = Judaism

I = Paganism

S = Taoism

T = Christianity

C wants to kill E, X, T and (by implication) O. If they achieved the world they wanted, I and S would also no longer exist.

O doesn’t allow for effective resistance or defeat of C.

E stands in direct opposition to C, X and T, and accuses those who speak against them of hate speech. Also, they’re trying to edge X and T out of public schools in favor of their own agenda. (They’re afraid C will be offended, so they get less trouble.) E is actually very, very intolerant.

X’s existence is threatened not only by C but also by O, who invariably supports C over X.

I and S are statistically insignificant and are mainly on there to complete the bumper sticker.

T is who the bumper sticker is really arguing against, but poses no threat to any of the others.

Oh, I don’t know—My husband, who is very generous in his evaluations of other people’s motives, considers this patently unfair.

If you laugh, if you find it at all funny, though, that’s because there is an element of truth to it. Despite the best sentiments of the Coexist Foundation and the Interfaith Alliance, not all of the religions of the world really want to be in the same room with one another.

And speaking as a Christian, I believe that my religion has some compelling Truth which cannot be found in other faiths. I’ve gotta say: Not all religions are equal.

I assume that you, if you are a believing Jew or Muslim, believe that your religion offers something unique and is not interchangeable.

I respect you, even like you; but my worship of the God Whom I serve cannot be shared.

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