A Necessary Tolerance

Historian Martin Marty describes what has driven his fascination with American religious pluralism:

New York Congressman John Canfield Spencer, soon after the nation’s founding, noted “the extreme division of sects [which is almost without limits].” If there were one religion, as throughout history elsewhere, he wrote, it would persecute dissenters. “If there were but two religions, we should cut each others’ throats. But no sect having the majority, all have need of tolerance.” James Madison argued that the security for civil and religious rights consisted “in the multiplicity of sects… .” So it has been. That takes care of that, in the American agenda. But people do not live by mere “diversity” or “tolerance” or “multiplicity.” Citizens have lives to live, deaths to fear, sacrifices to make, acts of love and justice to exercise, truths to seek. These are often and perhaps usually related to our ultimate concern, which for most is mediated through religious communities and texts. Figuring out how to live with both “the many” and “the one” by telling stories has struck me as a worthwhile life’s work.