Tuesday, December 18, 2007

“Peace” and “Coexist”

“Peace” and “Coexist”

I have seen these two words made up of various religious symbols many places including T-shirts, bumper stickers and online. At their core, they are asking for unity and understanding between people of different religions.

The symbols making up the word PEACE are as follows:

P – The Christian cross with a half circle, a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion

E – An ornate E with a branch, possibly olive. The olive branch has been a symbol of peace since the time of Ancient Greece.

A – A hexagram or six-pointed star, known in the Jewish religion as the Star of David, in Magick as the Seal of Solomon and in Hindu as the Shatkona

C – The Star and Crescent that represent the Islamic faith to most Muslims

E – A dove with a leaf in its mouth, again possibly an olive leaf. The dove carrying the olive leaf is another symbol of peace in both Christian and Jewish tradition due to its appearance in the story of Noah and the Flood.

COEXIST uses three of the same symbols and some others:

C – The Star and Crescent again

O – A pentacle, which is a Wiccan symbol often used as a talisman

E – The scientific formula e = mc2, which means energy equals mass times the speed of light in a vacuum squared

X – A hexagram again

I – Contains the Wheel of Dharma, an eight-spoked wheel that is used in Bhuddism, Hinduism and Jainism to symbolize law and the path of life.

S – The Chinese philosophical symbol Yin and Yang, without the dots

T – The Christian cross again

So, both images contain traditional symbols for a number of different religions or belief systems. But, they each contain at least one universal, non-religious type of symbol. Peace contains an olive branch and Coexist contains a scientific formula. I have seen other versions of Coexist that use a peace symbol for the O and a combination of the two gender symbols on the E. This may be seen as an inclusion of other philosophical differences that are not rooted in any religion or belief in a higher power. The scientific formula is most likely a direct reference to the debate between evolution and creation by a higher being. Not only are they asking the practitioners of each religion to get along with those who practice other religions, but to include atheists or non-believers as well.

Why do we need reminders like these to tell us to be kind and tolerant to others? I think the problem comes when we think that our beliefs and views are the only ones that can possibly be right. It is upsetting that someone sees the same evidence we do and still comes to a different conclusion. We seek to assure ourselves that our conclusions are correct and the only way is to prove the other ones are incorrect.

Perhaps the ultimate goal of images such as these is a grassroots tolerance of differing views. If we no longer saw people of other religions as any different than us, it would be much harder to oppress or wage war on them. Cultural and political differences seem to take priority over matters of faith, but politics and culture are often a result of religious or moral beliefs. When two groups of people have such different religious heritages, it follows that they will have distinct cultures and political climates. It does not necessarily follow that those two groups can’t get along, learn from each other and eventually form one larger, more diverse group.

You might think of America as a pretty tolerant place as far as religion goes. The government does not practice religious persecution, and freedom of religion is upheld in the Constitution, but is that enough? In 2008, it is possible that the Democratic candidate for President will either be Hillary Clinton, a white woman or Barack Obama, a biracial man. This will be ground breaking in itself, since every major party candidate has previously been a white male. But what else have all of these men had in common aside from race and gender? Religion. The only President who was not Protestant was John F. Kennedy, who was Catholic. Both Obama and Clinton are Protestant so that tradition would continue if either of them won the election. The only Non-Protestant in contention for one of the major party nominations is Republican Mitt Romney, who is Mormon. Mormons consider themselves Christian but not Protestant. The first time a Muslim person was elected to Congress was just last year, here in Minnesota. Until religious minorities are fully included in our political process, I don’t think we can claim true tolerance.

So, these images are trying to remind us of how important it is to respect the opinions and beliefs of all people, whether they agree with us or not. Respecting those opinions means more then just refraining from violence against others, it also means you need to include them in secular activities just as you would someone with beliefs identical to your own. Respect means you don’t make fun of them for not eating pork or for having funny dirt on their foreheads. Respect means you are allowed to ask questions about rituals you don’t understand, since that can lead to greater understanding.

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