That bumper sticker (☼)

– Coexist.

– It’s showed a surprising shelf life. Anything that widespread that hasn’t gone stale yet must be speaking to something people find important.

– Assume there was some widely accepted symbol for the sort of syncretism or pluralism the sticker is advocating. Say ☼. Could we put ☼ in the bumper sticker (say as the dot at the end of an exclamation point: “Coexist!”)? In one sense, yes, since for all of its irenic aspirations, ☼ is just another absolutism; in another sense no, since this contradicts the very ability of ☼ to make the bumper sticker in the first place.

-☼ makes a totality of which it can’t be a part. It must either be absolute or impossible.

-Can we be syncretistic about governments too? Can we make other bumper stickers that advocate a Communist-Liberarian-Feudal-democratic-Monarchy? Should Glenn Beck, Trotsky and Otto Von Habsberg coexist too?  If they were to coexist, they would have to do so in some definite system. I can’t think of one that wouldn’t end up negating, denying, and even punishing the claims of any two of them.

Ahh, but that makes the division clear: we’d be willing to force a form of government on people, but not a religion. This is one of many ways in which violence is the definitive question we raise about “religion”. Challenge: to find a reason for not forcing a religion on persons that does not apply to forcing a form of government upon them. There are good (though debatable) reasons to argue that one cannot force Christianity on persons, but “religion” is larger than this. 



  1. September 24, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    In response to the challenge:

    I think how one defines religion is key. Basically, one needs a bad definition. If religion is defined down to one’s preferred conceptualization of all that is spiritual (presuming as well a sharp dichotomy between the spiritual and material), then religion becomes purely individualistic and ultimately impotent and indifferent with regards to the world. On the other hand, government is clearly about this world and community organization, thus the preferences of some individuals must be sacrificed for the sake of the common good when it comes to politics. Such an individualistic conception of religion may also be behind government limitation of religious liberty in some cases.

    Understood in this way, ☼ is not really syncretistic at all; it simply presumes all religions to be equally irrelevant to earthly life, not necessarily that they can be combined in any way or even that one might be more right than another. One may be perfectly true and another completely false, but as religions (so defined) they are equally irrelevant the world.

  2. vishmehr24 said,

    September 24, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    Religion is meaningless to those lacking supernatural convictions.
    Those, that have or had supernatural convictions, were perfectly willing to force religion as well.

    All politics is a struggle to realize one’s vision of the Good. If your vision of the Good does not include supernatural, then of course, the religion is unimportant to you.

    Similarly, the contents of ‘freedom of religion’ depend upon one’s supernatural convictions. If you don’t have any, then you would have a diminished content to ‘freedom of religion’. A Muslim would define ‘freedom of religion’ differently from a Protestant and that from a Catholic.

    • Patrick said,

      September 30, 2013 at 11:16 am

      I’m not sure your definition of politics, in practice, admits any meaningful distinction in practice between ‘religion’ and ‘one’s vision the Good’.

      However, in real life, religion and ‘supernatural convictions’ are not of a piece, and one’s understanding of Good or goods does not flow inexorably from being,say, a theosophist, a magician, an atheist, etc. People of different religions therefore can agree (or can be forced to submit to) different politics.

      If you only mean to say that a society cannot allow rival interpretations of the Good, and that any politics attempts to destroy contrary interpretations thereof, then ‘freedom of religion’ is not a meaningful concept in your paradigm – not because “religion” is meaningless, but because “freedom” is.

  3. Curio said,

    September 25, 2013 at 11:05 am

    I’m not convinced ‘religion’, as it’s been used since the enlightenment, is a meaningful term. What common essence is shared by Norse mythology, New Age spirituality, Confucianism, non-theistic Buddhism and evangelical Christianity?

    • September 25, 2013 at 1:10 pm

      Cavenaugh argues that too, though we might modify his argument to generate an interesting definition of religion by way of opposition: “government” is a public body that can enforce its beliefs on others by violence, whereas “religion” is one that can’t. Likewise, “Enlightenment” is the recognition (from an absolute, objective, or just true perspective, of course) that all “religions” are at best partial approximations of something that the Enlightened one has in its totality. “Religion” is thus defined by a double opposition to the one who gets to use violence and the one that has the truth, and right-to-violence and truth are seen as inseparable.

      • vishmehr24 said,

        September 25, 2013 at 10:25 pm

        Any State, based upon political principles (i.e. not a foreign occupation) requires a certain consensus. A State that desires to preserve itself, thus seeks to maintain the consensus.

        If that is all is meant by “a public body that can enforce its beliefs on others by violence” then the statement is quite unexceptional though rather misleading. The “govt” is not a public body among other public bodies but has an essentially different character altogether.

        The State is NOT correctly defined by some monopoly on violence. It is not even true, there are criminals, there are lawful gun-ownership and lawful private violence e.g. self-defense.

  4. September 25, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Or, Curio, what’s the difference between Christianity, Buddhism, or even Communism/Nationalism/Liberal Democracy?

    All of them supply paradigms in which people place their lives and the world – as Benedict XVI described faith as the light by which we see everything else. Whether that picture involves supernatural agent(s) – which may or may not be synonymous with the Good/Logos/Arta/Wisdom (as with the Hindu gods) – is secondary as said to the vision of the Good, how the cosmos is structured and how that influences living and the rituals and myths which create that context.

    I think if we accept that everybody has an organizing mythos then the “Coexist” concept becomes unsustainable as some narrative becomes the dominant version which holds the other actors apart. Each believes he or she has the best possible vision of what life is and so will naturally persuade others of this.

  5. Leo White said,

    September 25, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    The word “coexist” juxtaposed next to an representation of a mother and child would make a very good pro-life bumper sticker.

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