We were in an Ivy League town recently, and I noticed a number of cars sporting a bumper sticker that read COEXIST. The letters were constructed from various symbols, some of which were religious in nature.

We were in an Ivy League town recently, and I noticed a number of cars sporting a bumper sticker that read COEXIST. The letters were constructed from various symbols, some of which were religious in nature.


The "C" was a crescent moon and star, a symbol of great importance in Islam. The "O" was a "peace sign" – not exactly religious, but some people have made a religion of it.


The "E" combined the male and female symbols, the male formed by an arrow pointing up from a circle and the female by a cross pointing down from a circle. The creators of the COEXIST bumper sticker say that, when combined, the two symbols suggest transsexualism.


Next was a Star of David, the ancient symbol of Judaism, which takes the place of the "X." For the "I" there was a letter "I" dotted with a star in a circle, which is a pagan or Wiccan symbol. The "S" was formed from the Taoist "yin and yang" symbol. The "T" was shaped like a cross.


The COEXIST bumper sticker is marketed this way: "The different symbols on the coexist bumper sticker, while drawn from different religious beliefs, are combined to deliver an important message. People, no matter who they are, or where they are from, or what they believe, can find a way to live together in peace and harmony!"


Would anyone argue with that? The people who display a COEXIST symbol on their cars are, for the most part, preaching to the choir. (Now if they were driving in Saudi Arabia it might be different, but I doubt that there are many COEXIST stickers sold there.)


Examples of intolerance and even violence between the groups represented on the COEXIST sticker are easy to find. But those who display it seem to think (it is a common mistake) that the only way for these various groups to be tolerant of one another is to ignore their differences and give up hope of seeing change among those with whom they disagree.


I suspect that the thinking behind the COEXIST sticker is that if Christians, Muslims and Jews would just get over thinking that they are right, the world would be a much better place. The message, in other words, is simply an updated version of "I’m OK / You’re OK."


The underlying philosophy here is that all religions are equally valid ways to the truth. So stop thinking that your way is better or that it more accurately portrays reality. Stop trying to get other people to commit to your religion. It just causes trouble.


But how can anyone take this philosophy seriously when even a cursory look at the religions represented on the COEXIST sticker makes clear that they cannot all be right. Their claims are, at some points, inescapably contradictory.


The people who assert that every religion is equally valid usually believe that religion itself originates in the human struggle to achieve meaning and transcendence. As such, every religion has cultural value and presents an interesting field for historical research, but none has anything objective to say about the truth.


This perspective takes for granted that God – if he even exists – has very little to do with organized religion. Religion is assumed to be a purely human construct. But if this is true, on what basis do those who hold this view presume to tell religious believers how they should act?


All this is not to say I disagree with the message of the COEXIST sticker. Of course people with different religious beliefs – and those without any – should live together in peace and harmony. But that, I think, is too little to ask. Christianity goes much further than mere tolerance, and provides a solid foundation from which the message of peace can be delivered.


Christians are taught not merely to coexist with others, but to love them. Not simply to avoid doing harm, but to do good. Love, even of our enemies, is the Christian aspiration.


Shayne Looper writes for The Daily Reporter in Coldwater, Mich. He can be reached at salooper@cbpu.com.