Faith Matters: A nation of multiple-choice religions

Faith Matters: A nation of multiple-choice religions

Saturday, December 11, 1999

By DAVID WATERS, Scripps Howard News Service

A friend sent me a "Happy Holidays" card a couple of Decembers ago.

Inside it said, "Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Solemn Ramadan. Joyous Kwanzaa."

Only in America.

When I was a kid, there were only two holidays in December. Christmas and Christmas vacation.

This month, Americans will celebrate the 12 days of Christmas. They also will celebrate the eight days of Jewish Hanukkah, the 40 days of Muslim Ramadan and the seven days of African-American Kwanzaa.

December isn't changing. America is.

In Los Angeles, there are more Buddhists than Lutherans or Episcopalians.

In Chicago, there are more Muslims than Presbyterians or Methodists.

In Memphis, there are more Hindus and Sikhs than Quakers and Unitarians.

America's spiritual holidays no longer are confined to Dec. 25 and one Sunday in spring.

Just last month, Americans celebrated five days of Hindu Diwali and the birthday of Sikhism's founding guru. Baha'is and Shintoists also marked holy days.

Things must have been simpler the last time we approached the millennium.

When the clock strikes 2000, there will be about 270 million people living in America. That was the population of the whole world in 1000. The whole world lives here now.

America isn't a Christian nation. It's a nation of Christians.

It's also a nation of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Shintoists and every other sort of religious adherent, not to mention atheists, agnostics and undecideds.

How we handle that might be our greatest challenge in the next century.

"In the New World of religious diversity, pluralism is not a given but an achievement," Diana Eck, founder of the Pluralism Project, wrote in Harvard magazine a few years ago.

"Pluralism will require not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding. ... In the world into which we now move, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly."


According to my encyclopedia, a society has three choices: Pluralism, anarchism and totalitarianism.

Wish all multiple-choice questions were that easy.

So, this holiday season, don't just "tolerate" the holy days of others. Get to know them. Watch. Ask questions. Participate.

Find out that Christmas isn't just about giving but also about liberation and salvation.

Learn that Ramadan isn't just about fasting but also about compassion and dependence on God.

Ask someone about the seven guiding principles of Kwanzaa which include unity, responsibility and faith.

Tell your all-American kids that Hanukkah isn't the Jewish Christmas.

"What is most inspiring about Hanukkah," historian Thomas Cahill writes in "Desire of the Everlasting Hills," a new book about Jesus, "is that it memorializes the first clear victory in history for freedom of worship."

Now there's something we all can celebrate, and not only in America.

©Copyright 1999, Naples Daily News
Original Story

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