Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.
As a kid, I refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Oh, I’d put my hand over my heart while the teacher was watching, I’d even mouth the lyrics to my favorite Billy Joel song as a way to disguise the nature of my mutiny. But I refused to say the words, “One nation, under God.”
It wasn’t a lack of love for the United States. I am a product of my Midwestern upbringing, thoroughly American with all of the wonders and warts that implies – a McDonald’s breakfast was the height of excitement, Disney World was a place that I idolized, and I truly believed that if I worked hard, I could do anything.
It also wasn’t a lack of love of God. I was raised in the United Methodist Church, where my entire family attended weekly. I knew all the stories and songs, and while I didn’t comprehend the awesome, encompassing nature of it, I understood that Jesus loved me. (After all, the Bible told me so.)
However, the truth is that even as a child, I was deeply skeptical of the idea that America was ONE nation, under ONE God. When I was nine, my family drove from my suburban Ohio home to Florida (yes, to Disney World), and on the trip I remember thinking that I had no idea what it was like to live in the Application Mountains. (I also had no idea that they were actually named the Appalachian Mountains.) As I’ve grown and traveled, that idea has stayed with me – my life in Central Ohio is different than that of a farmer in Kansas, a student in California, or a retiree in Florida. What’s more, the world is so much more than America, and the inevitable differences only increase.
My God is also different than other people’s God. As I learn more about faith in both academic and spiritual ways, I’ve studied the world’s religions. I know that my childhood friend’s Bat Mitzvah was more than a fun party, that being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints is different than being a member of the Baptist church down the street. I now realize that there are deeply religious people in this world who have no concept of God at all.
I do not understand a lot of these things, but I really want to try. The great experiment of America and society in general is still underway. Whether you think it is dying a slow death or is a resounding success, understanding it in a cohesive way matters. I believe that the world is God’s first and best creation – the world with all of its variety and incoherence. It is the gift of a benevolent creator. In trying to understand more than my tiny corner of it, I am responding to this amazing gift in the only way I know how: with openness, love, and an unquenchable thirst to know more.