March 10, 2008

Apologetics 101: The Exclusive Nature of Religious Pluralism

The latest book to be introduced through Oprah's book club is easily described as new-agey. The implications of this term are quite broad, but it includes the idea of man as the divine-self who creates his own reality, God as an impersonal force or consciousness, altered states of consciousness, the use of yoga, crystals, past life therapy and acupuncture. You can read more indepth information about the new age movement here.

Understanding the concept of religious pluralism will help you to navigate the myriad of religious claims that permeate our society, including but not limited to the new age movement. Oprah's claim is, I am a Christian who believes that there are certainly many more paths to God other than Christianity. This is the essence of religious pluralism.

Religious pluralism (RP) is the belief that every religion provides an adequate means to "God" and is, therefore, true. The problem with RP is obvious when comparing it to a biblical Christian worldview. The law of noncontradiction says that no 2 completeing claims can be true in the same sense at the same time. Therefore, there are no 2 opposing views of ultimate reality that can be true at the same time in the same sense without violating this law of logic. Yet, representatives of RP insist this is no big deal. (While I'm weary of politicians trying to be philosophers, I'm even more weary of talk show hosts being theologians.) One cannot say that Christianity is as true as any other religion, or call oneself an "open-minded" Christian without first redefining Christianity. And it is at this point that it no longer remains the historic faith that it is -- and is no longer Christianity. Words have meaning, and the term Christianity is defined by Scripture and a host of doctrines contained therein.

RP says basically that all roads lead to God, yet the knowledge for this claim is absent. Those who promote RP lack the epistemic foothold on the argument, but because it is such an attractive idea to a world who views religion merely as a set of personal values, this ideal sits well with contemporary culture.

To look at RP more closely, one has to admit that it cannot really exist because religious pluralism cannot embrace historic Christianity, it rejects it. Historic Christianity teaches that it is only through faith in Jesus can anyone be saved, and RP rejects this claim. Therefore, all roads do not lead to God, rather any road other than historic Christianity leads to God. This view of religion forces religious pluralism into the category of exclusivism, that only one religion is true and any religion that opposes it is false. On the surface you may find yourself rejecting this conclusion, but if you consider RP as a collective of many views becoming one religion, than you can recognize how it fits into the category of exclusivism.

Is faith a matter of truth or personal values? Do you as a Christian contribute in some way to this way of thinking about your faith? Christianity is more than a set of personal values, is more than scripture slapped on top of truths common to us all, it is the total truth. When confronted with the notion of RP, remember that there are limitations on what it embraces, and historic Christianity does not fit snuggly into its paradigm.


Craig Chamberlin said...

You are absolutely correct in your application of the law of noncontradiction in relation to RP. RP is the after effect of a society that no longer finds the need for an absolute truth. The modern day American has become far to comfortable for the truth to have any relevance in their lives any longer. It is unfortunate that only through pain and strife does one seek out truth.

It seems to be an inevitable pendulum of society to embrace laziness in their faith and the importance of truths until it explodes in their face. Unfortunately those of us who spend a vast amount of time in dedication to finding one absolute truth and the necessity of having one for a functional society will not be the swaying majority.

Thankfully, as a Christian, we can have faith the the Lord is in control of it all and is the driving force behind the world. He is hardening the American heart in preparation for his own works. We are no longer diligent or resourceful. Edward R. Murrow once said it best:

"Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about 50 or 100 years from now -- and there should be preserved the kinescopes of one week of all three networks -- they will there find, recorded in black and white and in color, evidence of decadence, escapism, and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable, and complacent. We have a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information.

Our mass media reflect this.

But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television, and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late..."

Excellent post, I will be touching on this subject further on my own weblog. I'd be honored if you viewed it - keep up the good work.

God Bless

Dominic said...

I think I agree, I might just challenge you to read Gaudium et Spes, from the second Vatican council. There is a line that says there is no salvation outisde the church, but it talks about salvation not being withheld from groups of people either. I would read that and see if I might be able to come to a cosmic understanding of Chruch, a catholic understanding of slavation and think about what "outside" means. does it mean without, or in a nother way? I posit that all are saved by the graces of Christ therough His church, perhaps some recieve, waht has been called, baptism of desire, or baptism through the grave.

If you have read the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis, you migh recall, in the Last Battle, a young follower of the flase god Tash named Eneth (I think I recall his name correctly). rereead the discussion he has with Aslan. aAslan says, All the good you did was good to me becuase good is in my nature and not in the nature of tash, or something along those lines.

that being said, a particularly vile amount of lack of confidence in absolute truth marks our country, and religious pluralism indeed exists in a particaulry strong way.

I'd liek to know what you think.

Sarah J. Flashing said...

Craig, thanks so much for your comment and I would love to interact with you on the subject. It seems to me that the basics of Christian apologetics aren't being discussed anymore...perhaps because the of political correctness that has assaulted the church, perhaps because we've exchanged iron sharpening iron for a false sense of unity. I'm not sure, but I'd love to continue the discussion. :)

Dominic, I'm familiar with what the second vatican council has said about those outside of Christianity, Muslims specifically if I am correct, and I have to say that I completely disagree with the RCC in that regard. I don't see how it corresponds to the testimony of Scripture.

Brian Tracz said...

Even as a non-believer, I must agree with your stance on religious pluralism. Pluralism, perhaps to clarify your definition, claims that all religions and creeds contain a certain "fullness of truth." This is obviously a very wrong view, a view proposed by those politically-correct people who wish to promote tolerance of anything. Certain faiths, like Hinduism, have absurd social hierarchies, while others, like radical Islam, treat women with the dignity of an object.

Indeed, most anything that doesn't violate the rights of others, as I would suspect many of you would disagree with, should be legal and allowed. But this is where toleration should end for everyone, believers and non-believers. I respect those who have tried their best to find truth and have landed on religious belief, though I might hold the itself belief in some degree of contempt. Pluralism is not toleration, pluralism is merely the lacking of a backbone. Toleration must exist, for the Christian God is said to have declared that faith should not be forced, but rather accepted by one's own free volition.

But what one tolerates he, by definition, is not too fond of. I can think of few things that I tolerate but am also fond of. I think what is most important to note is that we are all atheistic in one way or another: a Catholic rejects Apollo, Mohammad, and Confucius as gods. Real "atheists" just take it one god further.