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Sunday, November 06, 2005

When Diversity Becomes Uniformity

Is America as a whole really interested in diversity? We certainly claim to be since we are, after all, the world’s melting pot. But has the melting pot begun to coagulate its contents into an indiscernible mass? Celebrating diversity seems to be taking on an unviable form.

We began with the idea of displaying our uniqueness openly. This was accompanied by an understanding that respect should be bestowed upon our societies diverse cultures. The problem surfaces when certain segments of the society take offense at various aspects of the cultures of others. Thereafter, this offense is evoked as a cause for some form of censorship. Finally, we become afraid of celebrating diversity for fear of offending anybody and so we end up silencing everybody—this is the point at which diversity becomes uniformity. At this time of year (December) it seems apparent that, out of fear of offense, rather than openly celebrating our particular holidays we are starting to celebrate a non-defined, non-religious specific, faith based holiday season.

There is something inherent within the fabric of America, which is that the majority of its citizens have the majority say. This is made quite obvious when we consider voting—the majority wins. This aspect of America may be due to one of our primary founding documents The Declaration of Independence, which states:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Moreover, The Constitution for the United States of America states:
“We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Thus, the majority will have their will done within the parameters of the allowance for life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, justice, domestic tranquility, a common defense, the general welfare, and the blessings of liberty.

We have stated the above in order to make a point to the following effect. There seems to be a fallacious concept of how we go about celebrating diversity, which states that all things should be equal. In other words, all segments of society aught to have their particularities equally displayed. At this juncture it seems that we have come upon a point that necessitates differentiation. This differentiation being that there is a difference between, on the one hand, the teaching and learning of diversity and on the other, the actual practice of that which we have learned.
For example, we as citizens of America may learn of the manner in which Hanukkah, Christmas, Ramadan or Kwanza are celebrated, but we notice that Christmas is given a more prominent showing. This is simply due to numbers, since more Americans celebrate Christmas than Hanukkah, Ramadan or Kwanza, then Christmas is naturally more prominently in the public eye. If you do not celebrate Christmas and someone says, “Merry Christmas” to you, understand that it is simply a well-intentioned wish for the very best. Another aspect of the fallacious concept of celebrating diversity is to have the minority view forced, as it were, not only to an equal status with the majority but to have it surpass and perhaps overcome it.
For example, in certain states Christmas trees are banned from public displays on city property while Hanukkah menorahs are allowed. The problem with this tactic is that it brings us to the point of all or nothing.

Why not all and why not nothing? On the surface level, all would seem ideal, perhaps a bit too ideal. For instance, a community with no Christians, while perhaps interested in learning about Christmas as an intellectual exercise, may have no interest in displaying Christmas paraphernalia since the community will not be celebrating it. Why not refrain from all public displays of religiosity? Because one of the most important pillars upon which America is based is religious freedom.
The Constitution for the United States of America—Article I states,
“The congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The much misunderstood and abused issue of separation of Church and State is another matter all together. The ultimate solution appears to be acceptance and exercise of viable forms of diversity.

The writer of this article was on an airplane and had a long theological discussion with a Muslim decked out in his traditional regalia. When we discussed theology and he said, “…Muhammad, praise be upon him…,” I did not express offense because I do not follow Muhammad, I simply understood that it is the Muslim manner in which to show respect for their prophet. When we parted ways I took the initiative to say to him, “Salaam Aleikum (peace be unto you).” I did not do so because I too am a Muslim (I am not) I did so because I knew that for him it was culturally appropriate.

Moreover, as a student of comparative religion, my personal library is mostly peppered with books with which I do not agree at all. Moreover, many of my books are specifically designed to get me to see how what I believe, in the realm of religion, is wrong. Thus, I know very well what various religions believe (knowledge of diversity) but I do not follow their various teachings. Willingness to learn, accepting with tolerance, while not actively participating, seems to be well in keeping with a healthy view of diversity. I have my beliefs and others have theirs. We agree on some issues and disagree on others. But the point is that we can learn about each other and not be offended by each other. Moreover, we aught not be offended if we belong to a group which is represented to a lesser degree within American culture.

We may not see the celebrations of the Samaritans as prominently displayed as those of Hindus, nor those of the Hindus as much as those of the Jewish faith, nor those of the Jewish faith as much as those of the Christian faith. We, reiterate, this is simply due to numbers. If America became a nation in which the majority of the population was made up of Samaritans then their celebrations and culture would be more prominent.

A word on being offended: It appears as if we are losing something in having that which makes us distinct referred to as offensive. It causes us to become afraid of diversity and finally causes uniformity. Some things that offend aught to be reacted against. Directly relevant as an example may be exceedingly unprofessional behavior in the workplace. Diversity of culture does not really compute in this regard since we are all bound to follow certain guidelines of professional behavior. However, having someone’s culture, and or, religion openly displayed should, in and of itself, not be cause for offense. Simply stated, sometimes we must remind ourselves that we are adults and should have developed some control over our emotions. Merely proclaiming something to be offensive based on emotionalism/subjectivism does not necessarily make it so.

Celebrate diversity and, as Jesus taught, be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

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