Opinion: True Pluralism Requires "Strength of Character"

August 27, 2005

Source: The Miami Herald / The Philadelphia Inquirer


On August 27, 2005 The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an opinion piece by Jane Eisner regarding a poll released last month by the Pew Research Center and the Forum on Religion and Public Life. "The headline [of the poll] struck a vaguely cheerful note -- fewer Americans now say that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence -- but the data showed how stuck this nation remains in its insularity and prejudice. Nearly two in five Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Islam; the percentage hasn't changed much since the 2001 attacks. The more people know about Islam, the more favorable their opinion but -- surprise! -- most Americans still haven't bothered to educate themselves in the time since. Age, schooling and political affiliation also are factors: If you are young, more educated and Democratic, you are more likely to hold positive views. But the most striking variable is religion. The Pew poll found that the folks with the most negative attitude toward Islam are white Protestant evangelicals who go to church at least once a week... I suspect that many people are reluctant to learn about other religions for fear that exposure will cause them to question their own beliefs and worldview. And it might. But learning about other religions more often strengthens and clarifies one's own beliefs, leading to a deeper understanding of them... The future lies not with those who would avoid true pluralism, but those who can embrace it. That demands, in Wuthnow's words, 'what an earlier generation of Americans would have called strength of character.' We can respond to an ever-more diverse world by digging in and shutting out, or we can respond to it with the strength of character demanded of true pluralism. Our choice."