KC's deep religious roots: 2-28-12
Some interracial change: 3-1-12

Defining faith's adherents: 2-29-12

When is it proper and accurate to call someone a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim? Or a Whatever?


It's intriguing that this question has come to my attention twice in recent days.

The first instance was one of religious scholar Martin E. Marty's "Sightings" columns, which carried this headline: "What Are the Jews?" (Normally that column is online, but for some reason it hasn't been posted yet. When it gets online I'll update this posting with a link to it.)

Marty was writing about a recent piece in Commonweal magazine by Jewish scholar Jon D. Levenson of Harvard University. It's a piece called "What Are They: Modernity and Jewish Self-Understanding." (The link to the piece will give you only the beginning. It's available online just to Commonweal subscribers.)

Levenson argues that almost no matter how you define Jews -- whether religious adherents or members of a particular race or nationality -- you wind up being only partly (if at all) right.

A similar point was made about Christians by Presbyterian writer and blogger Nancy Werking Poling in this piece.

Muslims have told me that all it takes to be a Muslim is to publicly declare that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's prophet and then to commit to living by the five pillars of Islam.

But just as some Jews and Christians argue about who really is a Jew and a Christian, so some Muslims argue about who is a true Muslim -- especially after 9/11, when people claiming to be Muslims wildly violated the religion's tenets.

I don't have a slick and easy answer for how to tell whether one is a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, a Hindu or an adherent of any other religion. In some ways, I think it's a matter of self-definition, and yet that can wind up being too sloppy.

All I'm sure about is that those who insist they know whether someone else is a member of the faith they claim seem arrogant and are often wrong.

(I shot the photo here today of an interfaith display at the Botanic Gardens in Denver.)

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The Republican Party may well nominate a Mormon this year as its presidential candidate, but as this interesting Salt Lake City Tribune piece points out, the GOP began its life as almost virulently anti-Mormon. Yes, but surely that's the only thing a national political party ever got wrong, correct?

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P.S.: This Sunday, Shinnyo-en, a Japanese Buddhist denomination, is hosting an interfaith fire and water ceremony at the the Gallmann Africa Conservancy in Kenya, as part of the 10th anniversary conference of the Global Peace Initiative of Women. If you're interested in dropping in on this event online, it will be live-streamed at http://dcs.unon.org/global-peace-initiative-of-women


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