religious pluralism

Why John Lennon's 'Imagine' Is Actually Not That Great of a Song

Emka74 /

Photo via Emka74 /

I never liked “Imagine.” I am not the only Jewish teacher who feels this way.

“Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too.”

Lennon was saying: Let’s get rid of nations; let’s get rid of religion; let’s get rid of the idea that there is something above me that is worth dying for, and that might even be worth killing for.

Let’s get rid of the passions that help us transcend ourselves. Maybe that’s why the melody of “Imagine” is so subdued — almost like sleepwalking.

“Imagine” is a dream, and not a very good one.

Duke Reverses Decision to Allow Muslim Call to Prayer

Photo via Erini Barker / Flickr / RNS

Duke Chapel sits at the heart of the Gothic-style campus in Durham, N.C. Photo via Erini Barker / Flickr / RNS

Officials at Duke University abruptly dropped plans to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer from the iconic bell tower of Duke Chapel after online protests led by evangelist Franklin Graham and unspecified security threats.

The decision on Jan. 15 came one day before the “adhan,” or traditional call to prayer, was to be broadcast from the heart of campus in Durham, N.C.

Michael Schoenfeld, a Duke vice president for public affairs and government relations, said in a statement the school remains committed to “fostering an inclusive, tolerant, and welcoming campus” for all students but “it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”

Schoenfeld said campus officials were aware of several security threats but declined to elaborate.

Graham, who leads his father’s Billy Graham Evangelistic Association from the other end of the state, in Charlotte, said the call to prayer includes the words “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” which was shouted by Islamist militants during last week’s deadly attacks across Paris.

“As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism,” he said on his Facebook page.

On Scripture: Faith in New Places

Frontpage /

Stained glass window at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Frontpage /

In the aftermath of violence, a deep-seated illness of broken minds and spirits, a possibility toward healing always exists. The vicious anti-Semitic attack on a northern New Jersey synagogue exemplifies this possibility. Violence – religious intolerance – was not to have the last word, nor was forgiveness to be blindly shared. A searching for truth was to be engaged. This searching began in the blurring of demarcation lines between different faiths.

Dear Christians: Relax. There’s No War on Our Faith

Photo: National Christmas Tree, © Robert Crow /

Photo: National Christmas Tree, © Robert Crow /

I sat behind a couple of folks on a plane to Seattle this morning who were discussing their distress about a so-called war on Christmas.

“Memorial Day is a holiday,” said the man in a santa hat with disgust. “July 4th and Thanksgiving are holidays. Christmas is, well, Christmas!”

“Absolutely,” nodded the woman next to him. “It’s just more evidence of this war against Christmas.”

On the way off the plane, a flight attendant made the grave mistake of wishing the man happy holidays. He stopped the line of outgoing traffic behind him (including me) to correct her. She demurred, looked toward her feet and smiled sheepishly.

We Christians have a long and storied history of playing the martyr, whether there’s actually anyone persecuting us or not.

The Eclipse of the Airport Chapel

© Christoffer Hansen Vika  /

Photo: Prayer room sign at Sydney airport, © Christoffer Hansen Vika /

The San Francisco International Airport has a yoga room, but no chapel. At least that’s what it looked like, when I was there a couple of weeks ago at six o’clock in the morning: The Yoga Room was obviously a point of pride, with extensive signage along the concourse, but there was no indication that there might be other kinds of religious — excuse me, spiritual — spaces.

It turns out that SFO does, in fact, have a chapel, though it is tucked away in the International Terminal, and is known as “The Berman Reflection Room,” which, as an entry on cites, “provides a center for quite self-reflection and meditation.”

Assorted photographs from Flickr, if they can be trusted, depict the space as not much different than an airport gate, with carpet, lines of chairs and window-walls of glass, plus what appears to be a vestigial Chuppah-type structure, and some potted plants. (The website for a group called the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, incidentally, laments that it was asked to raise funds for the Berman Reflection Room, but not allowed to conduct any “programming” there.)

If the cliché that all trends move eastward from California stands, then the idea of airport chapels and other incidental religious spaces would appear to be in eclipse.

Which would be too bad, for I’ve always loved sighting the airport-chapel logo out of the corner of my eye, skidding my beat-up suitcase across the concourse, and entering a hushed space of—well, exactly what?

Ad Campaign Calls on Christians to 'Love Your Neighbors' of All Faiths

Sojourners billboard in Joplin, Mo. Photo by Rev. Jill Cameron Michel

Sojourners billboard in Joplin, Mo. Photo by Rev. Jill Cameron Michel

In early August, a mosque in Joplin, Mo., burned to the ground. It was the second fire that damaged the facility this summer — the first, determined to be arson. In light of this attack and others like it across the country — including the heinous shooting at a Sikh gurudwara outside of Milwaukee that killed six worshippers — Sojourners called on our community to help us get the word out that we are called to love our neighbors. All of them. 

The response was overwhelming. As a result of generous contributions, Sojourners not only took out an ad in The Joplin Globe, but also erected billboards with the same message, both in Joplin and in Oak Creek, Wis., three blocks from the Sikh gurudwara. 

The message is simple. "Love your Muslim neighbors." "Love your Sikh neighbors."

It's not radical in language, but it is a radical love that Jesus extends to us and asks us to show others. 

Report Highlights Islam’s Global Diversity

RNS photo by Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian

Portland's largest mosque, the Islamic Center of Portland, draws diverse Muslims. RNS photo by Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian

Nearly all Muslims can agree on the basic beliefs of Islam: There is one God, Muhammad is God’s prophet, Muslims should fast during the holy month of Ramadan, and give alms to the poor.

Yet beyond these central pillars of the faith, Muslims worldwide vastly differ as religious convictions are shaped by cultural and social contexts, according to a new report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity” draws on 38,000 face-to-face interviews in 39 countries, and finds that Muslims differ sharply over questions of faith like who counts as a Muslim and what spiritual practices are acceptable.

With 1.6 billion adherents, Islam is the world’s second-largest religion, behind Christianity, and accounts for one-quarter of the world’s population.

Chaplains Say More Prisoners Switching Religions

Prisoner clutch Bible, Steven Frame,

Prisoner clutch Bible, Steven Frame,

Religious conversions are on the rise in American prisons, according to a recent national survey of chaplains by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

A majority of 730 chaplains surveyed say that inmates are switching religions a lot (26 percent) or some (51 percent, and the largest gains are Muslim (51 percent), Protestant (47 percent) and pagan or earth-based religions (34 percent).

But it is difficult to determine prisoners' motivations for converting, according to Cary Funk, senior researcher for the Pew Forum.

“Some of the switching may be short-lived,” Funk said, adding that it is unclear whether the conversions are based on authentic beliefs or access to certain privileges such as special food or religious holidays.

Rule No. 1 of Interfaith Relations: Faith is Required

Did Jesus ever withhold love or healing for fear that he would give up too much of himself?

Did Jesus ever worry that the nature of God would change if he ate at certain tables, or touched certain kinds of people?

Of course not.

The Bible tells us that Jesus continually stepped out of the normative comfort zones of his day to extend his message of radical reconciliation.

I realized that my hesitation to embrace all people interested in an interfaith vision was mostly about my own fear, my own lack of faith. There was nothing Christ-like about it.