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Some Thoughts On Religious Pluralism

February 22, 2012

Believe it or not, this is NOT a paper!!!  Just some thoughts I wanted to get down for my own reference.. 🙂

A. I find that the claim that all religions are true, or lead to the same path, looks on the outside like a respectful view or a tolerant view; however, upon closer inspection it seems that this view is in fact not that respectful at all.  It would seem that the people voicing this viewpoint are not usually people who hold a particular religious tradition, but rather those that hold no religious tradition.  And in my view, this claim by the non-religious actually does injustice to devoted religious believers of all traditions.

  1. Ask a devout Jew, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist if in essence their religion is the same as the others?  Ask if what they are giving their lives to (remember—not nominal believers, but devoted believers) is really on par or equal to everyone else.  I don’t think any reasonable believer of a faith tradition would deny that another person’s religious devotion is equal to theirs, but I doubt any reasonable religious person would agree that “all religions are the same.”
  2. In an attempt to protect the diversity of religious views, religious pluralism undermines the diversity of religions by saying that they are the same.  So, it’s a claim that deconstructs itself in the end.

B. Tolerance is the supreme “virtue” in 21st century western culture.  And religious pluralism claims to be the only tolerant view while religions that claim exclusivity are intolerant.  Further, people who claim for tolerance also claim that this is the loving view.  Here are a few thoughts in response:

  1. To be “tolerant” of something is to hold to strong views but at the same time respect other views that differ from one’s own.  True tolerance is a mutual respect.  And in my opinion, the only way to be tolerant is to take a strong stand on your own beliefs.
  2. Yet, this is not what people mean when they say that we should be “tolerant.”  What they typically mean is that no one should consider his or her view better than any other view.  But is that tolerance or indifference?  It’s my impression that most people who call for tolerance are actually indifferent about religious truth altogether.  In effect, they are saying, “I don’t really care what you believe, as long as you stay out of what I believe.”  Tolerance, as 21st century people understand it is not passionately holding a view and respecting others, but rather, abandoning one’s view so that all other views may become acceptable.
  3. Love is not indifference.  It is not incompatible to hold strong religious beliefs and love others who have different religious beliefs.  It is incompatible to hold particular religious beliefs and be indifferent to other people’s religious beliefs claiming to love them at the same time.  So, for a person who holds a particular religious belief (again, not nominally, but passionately), religious pluralism is not a loving view.

C. Religious pluralism claims to be the “open-minded” view, and that those who hold exclusive religious views are “closed-minded.”  Yet, it turns out that religious pluralism is as closed-minded as any other religious claim.  This is because, it is a religious claim itself!  Christianity says “Jesus is the Way.”  Buddhism says “Meditation is the Way.”  Islam says “Allah is the way.”  Etc.  Religious Pluralism says “All religions are the way.”  Can you see how this is a claim that actually competes with other religious views?  Therefore, it is as exclusive as any other religious claim.  And it usually turns out to be the most close-minded and intolerant of all.  In America, it is okay to believe whatever you want, just so long as you aren’t exclusive about it.  All you have to do is go to any secular religious campus to find out that the religious pluralists are, in fact, very intolerant toward your exclusive Christian claims.

D. Christians can sometimes be drawn toward religious pluralism because they don’t want to see people “go to hell.”  However, there is no need to abandon the uniqueness of the Christian faith just to make room for people of other faiths to know God.  There is plenty of room in Christianity for the idea that people of other religions may, in fact, be saved anyway.  It’s called Inclusivism.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2012 9:56

    Hey man,

    Good thoughts. I’m actually in a class this semester which is surveying/debating/interacting with a variety of authors from all the camps (e.g. Exclusivism, Inclusivism, Pluralism). The class is called “Towards a Theology of the Other.” The reading has been extremely interesting. Your critiques of pluralism are similar to the ones we’ve been reading. Good stuff.

    We’ve also read some interesting critiques of inclusivism from both the exclusivist (usually more scriptural) and pluralist camps. I think the critique I find most interesting is the idea that inclusivism does violence to other religions in a way similar to your critique of pluralism in point C, i.e. declares that even though they think they are serving and worshiping Allah or some other God, they are actually Christians without knowing it. Even though they got some doctrines wrong, they lived lives worthy of salvation, even if they don’t particularly desire Christian salvation.

    I guess when it comes down to it, I like Inclusivism too much for this argument to deter me. I also kind of think it simplifies Inclusivism more than it should. Thoughts?

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      February 28, 2012 1:32

      Aaron,

      Thanks for reading. That sounds like a great class! What else are you taking this semester?

      I’m with you on the inclusivism stance. The “anonymous Christian” view of Inclusivism, is not necessarily central to Inclusivism per se. Rather, to me, the central point of inclusivism is that Christ is the savior and it is through his atonement that mankind has access to God. In other words, Jesus (his life, death, and resurrection) is the way, the truth, and the life, and HE is the door to the Father. I.e., HE determines, in the end (as the judge) who is saved or not.

      Thus, as an inclusivist, all I’m saying is that I believe Christ is the way to redemption, but I leave in his hands who ultimately is redeemed. Then I would probably take a C.S. Lewis approach and say that worship offered to other gods, in sincerity and faith, may be accounted as righteousness by Christ. (See the Last Battle).

      I’m sure that this will be seen as condescending by using the same arguments I have used against pluralism. I think this comes from the fact that I AM exclusive in my understanding of who God is. I’m just not exclusive in who I believe will have access to God in lieu of Christ’s sacrifice and righteous judgment.

      So maybe I WOULD challenge “the anonymous Christian” doctrine as somewhat condescending (Well, you’re reallya Christian, you just don’t know it!). But I don’t think this undermines the foundation of inclusivism. What do you think?

      • February 28, 2012 2:03

        Gotcha. That’s about where I stand. Nice nuance in your answer.

        I’m also taking Christian Ethics with Stanley Hauerwas, Dogmatics as Apologetics (with Hauerwas), and African American Spirituality (Lauren Winner)

      • jonathangroover permalink*
        February 28, 2012 3:07

        Wow…two Hauerwas classes…you lucky dog! 🙂 And I’m taking Black History/Theology this semester! That’s cool.

  2. April 10, 2014 1:13

    Jonathan,

    If you are interested in some new ideas on religious pluralism in relation to the Trinity, please check out my website at http://www.religiouspluralism.ca, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

    In a rational pluralistic worldview, major religions may be said to reflect the psychology of One God in three basic personalities, unified in spirit and universal in mind – analogous to the orthodox definition of the Trinity. In fact, there is much evidence that the psychologies of world religions reflect the unity of One God in an absolute Trinity.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universal Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

    2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or “Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the “body of Christ” (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

    For more details, please see: http://www.religiouspluralism.ca

    Samuel Stuart Maynes

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