Religious Liberty and Holiday Shopping

Religious Liberty and Holiday Shopping December 28, 2019

“Boxing Day at Eaton Center,” 松林 L from Toronto, Canada; Creative Commons

Religious liberty does not suggest that all views are true. Religious liberty does not reject out of hand all views that are considered false or inaccurate by the majority. But what happens to religious liberty if religious truth claims are by default deemed relative, or any religious view I don’t find appealing is rejected out of hand as fake news? Moreover, what happens to religious liberty if only ideas that are deemed useful or expedient are given air time? Such perspectives have surfaced to varying degrees in the past, as noted by Edward Gibbon quoted in the previous entry: “The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.”

At least for the Maccabean Jews (discussed in the same article) and early Christians of antiquity, religious ideas that are deemed equally true and equally false, real or fake based on their appeal, useful or expedient, would not be worth living or dying for. An idea must be true and beneficial to the ultimate well-being of a people for it to have staying power and worth the investment of one’s life, or the sacrifice of one’s life. As far as religious liberty is concerned, it only has real value if it involves the pursuit of ultimate truth, goodness, and beauty, no matter the price tag.

The prior essay, which dealt with Hanukkah and religious liberty, included the quote from Lesslie Newbigin that in the modern western world,

Different religious traditions lose their capacity to be the binding element of societies and become instead mere options for religious consumers to select for their own private reasons, reasons which are not to be argued about. Thus “democratized,” religions enter the marketplace as objects of subjective choices in much the same way as brands of toothpaste and laundry soap.

Reflect upon the products and gifts we purchase and exchange during this holiday season. Are we always looking for the cheapest option, or the most popular brand, no matter the quality? Do we do the same with religion? Now you and I might not ever give our lives for a Christmas or Hanukkah present, but what about a religion or faith tradition? Certainly not one that we would exchange for a cheaper or more popular religious brand of the month, I hope. Hopefully, we would only give our lives for that faith or way that Jesus calls the pearl of great price, which is worth selling all to acquire (Matthew 13:45-46).

Next time you’re out ‘shopping’ for a church or temple or religion during the holiday season and beyond, ask yourself, what am I looking for—ultimate truth that transcends public opinion and that serves as the “binding element” of society, or that which is personally useful and expedient in the short term, no matter the long-term consequences? If use and expedience are the most important traits in making your selection, it probably won’t be too long before you head back to the ‘store’ with the item of purchase and receipt.

The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins will host a conference titled “Religious Liberty—For All” on Saturday, March 14, 2020 at Multnomah University and Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Refer here to the post introducing the conference.

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