March 22, 2010
Natural Inclusion of Religion
— Martin E. Marty
“Natural inclusion” is the mantra some scholars have used in efforts to locate a proper place and time for religion in public school curricula and textbooks. It is the opposite of “unnatural exclusion” of religion in the same locales. It is also different from “unnatural inclusion,” which is what came to the fore again in the recent and ongoing bizarreries exhibited in the case of the Texas School Board. The American Academy of Religion, and scholars like Warren Nord and Charles Haynes, promote “natural inclusion.”
Such a phrase does not resolve all the controversies. There still remain valid debates over the definition of “religion,” the tonalities of the “natural,” and the strategies of “inclusion.” Its use is intended to counter those who, like the Texas board majority, try to privilege one religion – a fictitious invention proposed as “biblical religion” inherited from the “Founding Fathers,” who would likely find offensive the cause to which their words are being put to use. “Natural inclusion” enterprises are equally intended to counter the secular omissions of religion in public arenas, be these omissions the result of unwitting or witting patterns of neglect of faith-connected topics by educators.
This is not the place to reargue the case(s), but to demonstrate what “natural inclusion” can look like. This week we attended a lecture in Chicago, sponsored by ‘Facing History,’ delivered by New York Times columnist and author of the really important best-seller Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Nicholas Kristof. After his talk, a companion attendee asked, “Did you notice that three times when he spoke of positive things that people were doing the reference was to religion?” Thus he had told of an 18-year-old who suffered an obstetric fistula and was shunned and left in a hut with an open door, so hyenas could kill and devour her. She beat them off and literally dragged herself thirty-two miles to safety. Where? To whom? To a missionary known to this girl as an agent of compassion. Nuns were heroines in another story as well. The references were so “naturally” told that I had not even marked them for Sightings, perhaps because they were “hearings” and I was not recording the provocative talk.
While reflecting on this I brought back up a column from the February 28th New York Times in which Kristof set out to discuss people who transcend the “save-the-world” talk and action of Democrats and liberals versus the denunciation of all governmental, and thus “rat hole,” aid programs by Republicans and religious conservatives. How? Kristof, characteristically for him and surprisingly to the camps just mentioned, reached into his vast global experience – his reading, interviewing, studying, looking, and drawing on his own reservoirs of decency and fairness. Thereupon he pointed favorably to those Evangelicals who “have become the new internationalists, pushing successfully for new American programs against AIDS and malaria” and attacking human traffickers.
He went even further and named names. “A pop quiz: What’s the largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization?” No, not Save the Children. It’s the evangelical World Vision, with its 40,000 staff people in 100 countries. He quoted repentant and visionary evangelical leaders who suffer from images of “preening television blowhards and hypocrites” and even from the Vatican, for its lethal policies of opposing the distribution of condoms in the poor world. The column, a good example of “natural inclusion,” was a judgment on “snooty” secular liberals and “sanctimonious” evangelical militants. Many hope that the “natural includers” tribe will increase
Read Kristof’s February 28th column at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/opinion/28kristof.html?scp=1&sq=nicholas%20kristof%20world%20vision&st=cse
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.