So, there it was again, in front of me, slipped in between “My Other Car is a TARDIS,” and the “Vulcan Science Academy Alumni” stickers. Now, I’m not averse to either of those. I, too wish I had a TARDIS (for the uninitiated, this is a blue police box, bigger inside than out, which travels in time and space and is piloted by a Time Lord, who calls himself “The Doctor”) and, back in the days when I had a car of my own, I seem to recall a Starfleet Academy sticker somewhere. So, I’m not opposed to bumper stickers in general, but there is one that particularly sticks in my craw. You’ve probably seen it. It’s the one that says, “COEXIST,” but in the place of the letters are symbols of various world religions. They can vary a bit, but one is likely to see a star and crescent, a star of David, a peace symbol, a ying-yang symbol, a cross, etc. You get the idea. At this point, many might wonder: Unless you are a religious militant or bigot, why would you object to that?
Well, I don’t consider myself either of those things. You could call me a Christian evangelist, and I wouldn’t object to the term. I am even ready to admit that I would love to have you become a Christian or a Catholic if you are not already one (and some, I suppose, even if you are!). However, I admire anyone who is faithful and devoted to his or her religious tradition (or lack thereof), so long as they are not out to harm me, or worse kill me, because of mine, or because I don’t share theirs. They can even try to convince me to convert if they’d like, though I doubt they’d be successful (chalk it up to an opportunity to learn more about them and what they value). Given all that, sounds like I should be slapping one of those babies on my car too, right? WRONG.
While I’ve no doubt that most people who sport such stickers have good intentions, I’m not sure they fully realize that they too are participating in their own form of bigotry. As a Christian, when I read this “peaceful” reminder of my duty to live peacefully with my fellow human beings, I read condescension. I read the presumption that my faith and the faith of others are naturally prone to violence and are, as some believe, at the root of all wars and conflict. The implication is not simply that people of different faiths should coexist (because, in truth, we already do), but that if we really want to bring peace to the world we should all abandon our faiths and become secular humanists. Yet, as Star Trek has shown us, even a federation founded upon a form of secular humanism, still has to fight battles with Klingons, Romulans, and various other peoples, races and factions that are different from them. We cannot, nor should we, erase difference.
And truly, that is what is at the root of conflict and war. Not religion, but difference. Granted, some wars have been fought over religious differences, but many have not. Thus, the “COEXIST” bumper sticker could just as easily feature the flags of various different countries. It could include an elephant, a donkey, a teacup(?), and the symbols of various other political movements or parties. It could include, as some do, the symbols for men, women, and the various LGBT communities. Or, a combination of all of these things. There is even one that suggests that aficionados of various sci-fi shows—Whovians, Trekkies, and the like—might also need to find ways to COEXIST.
To bring this way of thinking to its most absurd conclusion, then what we really need to do away with is coexistence. If all religious peoples, video gamers, or sci-fi fans are by nature violent and intolerant of each other, then what we really have to do is give everybody in each community or category there own little peace of the earth. That’ll solve things, right? I’m still not convinced. Jesus once said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” He could just as easily have said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name—or anyone else’s, for that matter—there is difference.” Thus, all of us, whether we adhere to a religious faith or not, whether we like it or not, are forced to coexist. But, that’s obvious. We don’t need anyone to tell us that.