Is coexistence the best we can do?

Coexist Bumper Sticker
You have all seen the widespread COEXIST bumper sticker composed of symbols for Islam, peace, male and female, Judaism, wicca, Daoism, and Christianity. There are naysayers who would assert that such coexistence is not possible and that those who take their faith seriously will never coexist with one another. Not only do I not think that this is the case (and can offer at least one example in Bishop Paride Taban’s ministry with Sudanese peace villages), but I also find it rather dismal to imagine that mere coexistence is really the best that humanity might be able to muster. Peacemonger.org, purveyor of the coexist bumper sticker, offers us little more in which to hope, as it counts among its other bumper stickers that creatively deploy various religious and iconic symbols such banal suggestions as TOLERATION and ACCEPTANCE. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not against coexistence, toleration, and acceptance, but these seem to fall miserably short of the mark demanded by most of the religious traditions represented in such bumper stickers.

Let us take for example the idea of companion planting that is so important to sustainable agriculture, which is not just about coexistence, but about thriving, with plants providing mutual benefit to one another. Thinking in terms of mutual thriving requires first breaking out of a concept of limited good, in which there is a finite amount of goodness to go around wherein anyone’s increase in wealth, happiness, resources, grace, love, etc. is predicated on a reduction of the same good by another. This is a fundamental flaw not only in terms of the divine economy wherein God’s superabundant grace shines on the good and bad and rains down on the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:45) but also in companion planting where proper planting arrangements encourages both plants to grow into their full potential more than would have been possible apart (Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte). Cannot we expect any less from human beings who have been planted not merely adjacent to one another in order to coexist but rather side-by-side as companions in a harvest of justice?

Now, while I cannot speak the traditions of others, I can offer from the Christian tradition an explanation of how our faith shows us the way out of the iron cage of the limited good, opening up the gates of overflowing abundance that promises not only coexistence and toleration of one another but an even more wonderful mutually beneficial social order in which all thrive. I begin with the reminder that, in his own words, Christ tells his disciples that he came so that all might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Jesus here is the unique mediator (gate) of this new realm wherein there is no scarcity. We see throughout John’s Gospel that all that is required is belief in God’s superabundant goodness, a little creativity, and the will to make sure everyone not only coexists but rather thrives as in, for example, the parable of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (John 6:5-14).

Fundamentally what is at stake in my defending something more than mere coexistence is not only the survival of public religion (José Casanova) but also the survival of any form of objectivity by which we might find criteria against which to measure our lives. This points to the fundamental philosophical question, How ought I to live my life? and its antecedent epistemological grounds that might be asked By what means might I come to know how I ought to live my life? These same points have been raised by Pope Benedict XVI in his most recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate: on integral human development in charity and truth.

Which brings us back to the bumper sticker and the question with which this post is concerned, Is coexistence the best we can do? I don’t think so and I hope not but I cannot do this alone. Not only do we need God to bring about his kingdom but we also need each of you who profess faith in Christ to live accordingly. For, as we remember, Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of [the] Father (Matthew 7:21, see also Luke 6:43-49). The kingdom of heaven is at hand: will we reach out and grasp it or timidly let it fall to the ground in fear others may initially perceive our struggling for mutual thriving a threat to banal coexistence?

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