Chosen Ones

Religious dominance has been so much in the news lately that when my wife pointed out the review of Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz’s The Chosen Peoples in today’s paper my mind once again fastened on the issue. I have not read the book; today’s review is the first I’ve heard of it. The salient point, however, is the continued evidence that monotheism is a tremendous burden on society. Most rationally considered analyses of western religious traditions recognize that the same “base God” is recognized in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These three religions are so deeply intertwined in their influences and theological commitments to the singularity of God that such a convergence is inevitable. Nevertheless, three religions sharing a God is like three children sharing a lollipop. Each wants to claim exclusive ownership.

The issue becomes more complex when ethnic identity is tied to religion. Given the nature of religions, this is, however, another inevitability. Religious thought and practice develop among populations separated, in Darwinian fashion, and those who lived in the original arenas of religious development were probably closely related. This is evident in the easy blending of Judaism as a culture and a religion, as well as ethic Orthodox Christianities that maintain a strong cultural component, and in Middle Eastern descent and Islam. People accept the religion of their own people. Monotheism then takes over with the demands of exclusive rights to chosenness or theological correctness. Religion itself contributes to its own fractionalization.

Those who are excluded protest: who wants to be left out of the chosen ones? If there is one God, who wishes to be the second or third or fourth favorite? If we (whoever “we” may be) are those legitimately chosen, are we not in some measure better than other believers? This logical crux slices through all theological niceties for those who examine the issue honestly. Many religions and one God. Chosen people abound. Perhaps it would be less dangerous if God could be divided among the many: one God, divisible, and available to all.