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Topic: Harmony and Diversity

The Teachings That Divide Us

by Darrel Cline

The teachings that divide us. Is it possible to have a spirit of harmony in a community of religious diversity? The answer to this question depends heavily upon what is most important to the inhabitants of the community. Is community harmony the more important value, or is following religious teaching the more important value?

This question of values is the critical question in every set of relationships, and governs the possibility of harmony within them. For example, the divorce rate reveals that half of the people who marry do so without much thought about what is going to happen when the question of values comes up. The man wants (values) a new piece of machinery (boat, car, truck, tractor, welder, etc., etc.). The woman wants (values) a new set of furnishings for the house. The income of the relationship will not allow for both. Who gets what they want? What does the other person do about it? The divorce rate indicates that, after a series of significant disappointments in the area of values, half of the people who marry decide to split. Obviously harmony cannot exist in the face of deeply held contrary values.

Another illustration comes from the abortion issue. Those who claim that it is their right to abort are heavily into a value system of personal rights. Those who claim it is murder to abort are heavily into a value system of the sanctity of unborn life. These are contrary value systems. Can harmony exist between persons who really buy into the systems? Can the abortionist accept the accusation of murderer without getting bent out of shape and cutting off the relationship? Can the anti-abortionist accept a person he/she considers a murderer as a partner in a harmonious relationship? This is a second rather obvious illustration that harmony cannot exist in the face of deeply held contrary values.

The original question has to do with the possibility of community harmony in the face of religious diversity. There are only three ways harmony can exist in such a setting. First, if no one holds their religious convictions deeply, all can sacrifice those convictions for the sake of community unity. This is popularly called refusing to let doctrines divide us and results in setting aside the lesser valued teachings for the greater valued relational harmony.

Second, if everyone in the community has a deeply held sense of personal status and security that arises from their religious convictions, there can be community unity. This is possible because people who have a deeply held sense of personal worth and security do not get offended when others level accusations at them. For example, if a person is involved in a religion that others in the same community consider a cult, the only way that person can experience real relational harmony with those who level that charge is if that person is unruffled by the charge because he knows deeply within himself that it isn't true, and if those who are leveling the charge are willing to let the conflict rest at the level of verbal accusation, and not take it into the level of punitive aggression. More about this later.

The facts are, however, that options one and two are never the case in any community. Nor is the third. It is that harmony can exist if some of the people are willing to go along with those who have unyielding convictions--i.e. they sacrifice theirs because the others won't. Sooner, or later, they are going to get tired of always being on the loosing end of the relationship.

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This is article #083.
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