There is little that is inherently or exclusively liberal or conservative about Hinduism and Islam. Every person self-selects aspects of their religion that agree with their ideological outlook; this is the reason why major religions have so many adherents — they accommodate a diversity of ideologies and ways of life.

Given this, it is clear that religion is politics, at least in the sense that one individual or group’s specific interpretation of religious scripture, tradition, ritual, doctrine, and morals is informed by the politics of that individual or group. This, then, is suggestive of a double-edged sword; yes, pluralism supports progressive shades of religion, but it also supports oppressive strains as well.

Ultimately, a liberal-and-religious politics allows for the expansion of pluralist and democratic values in religious societies. Such a politics not only supports progressive shades of Hinduism and Islam (which many Hindus and Muslims can identify with, as opposed to an areligious secular-nationalist politics) but also counters conservative, fundamentalist and patriarchal forces in these religious communities.

Pluralism may go against the teachings of fundamentalist religions, which insist that there is one right way, but it also opens the door to those teachings being more widely disseminated. In the United States, this means that oppressive strains of Christianity that are closely associated with, for example, white supremacy and that operate in lockstep with organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan are also invited to the table. So, when you use religious pluralism as a lever to open doors for anyone, and when you accept that religion is politics, you must acknowledge in places like the United States that you’re opening the doors to neo-nazis and others with retrograde politics who can step through those doors and into the discussion through the pretense of religious pluralism.

Is this worth it? Do political interests that advocate for the disenfranchisement of women, genocide, torture or killing of LGBT persons, or other acts of hate and violence deserve a seat at the table when it comes to shaping societies? Can they be afforded even a shred of legitimacy by including them under the banner of pluralism? So many times, we are looking at this discussion from the other angle — a repressive regime is using religion to oppress people, so of course it makes sense to use arguments for pluralism to get other voices into the conversation — but sometimes the advocates of repression are hovering at the fringe, trying to barge through the doors and infect public discourse.

I used to be an advocate of religious pluralism, because of the way the religious right behaves in the United States (and, as far as I can gather from articles like yours, everywhere) and how it needs to be confronted. But now I’m not so sure that is the best approach, or even a morally-defensible approach. These days I’m more inclined to just call out bad politics for what they are and fight to see them relegated to the history books. That fight can be had on both the secular front (reasoned argument drawn from scientific discovery) and religious front (reasoned argument about interpretations drawn from scripture, as with the examples of Khadijah and Aisha you cited) without giving an iota of legitimacy to unreasonable, oppressive beliefs.

Just the facts: Writer. Gamer. Feminist. Educated in Astrophysics. Professional Gambler. Student of Language. Satanist. Anarchist.

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