Saturday, December 12, 2015


In an essay that makes the important distinctions Glen A. Sproviero explains "The problem with pluralism," and uses categories Avery Cardinal Dulles cited after 9/11 to show how we can live together without compromising conviction:
Whittaker Chambers wrote that “the crisis of the Western world exists to the degree in which it is indifferent to God.” Pluralism is the manifestation of such indifference because it admits that belief is subjective and personal rather than an expression of existential reality. A believer cannot profess to be a good Jew, Christian, or Muslim while admitting to the theological truth of another faith. But, while different faiths cannot simultaneously represent the truth of ultimate existence, belief in one faith does not demand intolerance toward others.

...[I]n a lecture entitled “Christ Among the Religions.” ...Dulles acknowledged that we live in a society that “includes people of many faiths and of no faith at all,” and examined four possible models by which different faiths can relate to one another: coercion, convergence, pluralism, and tolerance.

Coercion was the predominant model throughout the majority of human history. Political leaders often compelled religious unity among their subjects, and conquerors forced their own beliefs upon their subject peoples. .... [I]n most cases, “religious coercion survives only in nations that have come late to modernity.” This is particularly true with regard to Islamic extremism as propagated by ISIS and the Taliban. ....

The second model, convergence, is also untenable because it demands that believers concede that differences among faiths are superficial and that every religion is an equally valid path to God. This model is premised on the theory that all religions are human constructions and, in the words of Dulles, are “faltering attempts to articulate the whole and transcendent mystery by which human existence is encompassed.”

But to maintain the integrity of this view, it is necessary for orthodox believers to concede too much. ....

In the politically correct atmosphere of early twenty-first century America, the third model – pluralism – has become a near ubiquitous ideal. To some degree, it has become a polytheistic faith in its own right and reflects the idea that all religious teachings embody particular aspects of the Logos, and that every faith must be a partial manifestation of reality, which can be improved by its interactions with other faiths.

Like the convergence model, this is a favorite of relativists who believe in the epistemic impossibility of objective truth. To the average apologist of pluralism, religion is a personal feeling or sentiment, and claims relating to ultimate reality are viewed as strictly private matters. But to the devout believer, faith is not an individual preference and the idea that every religion is entitled to equal deference belies the very idea of truth. To be a pluralist, for many, is to propagate a lie.

But, how are we to coexist peacefully in a world of many faiths? Are we to live as isolated beings, disconnected from each other and utterly separated by our beliefs? I would propose that the most reasonable answer is the fourth model – tolerance.

While religious beliefs form the core of our being and inform every aspect of our existence (including atheists and agnostics), we need not shut out people of other faiths, nor should we treat them as a subclass. Civilized people understand that the freedom to choose one’s faith is a God-given right, an intimate part of personhood.

Tolerance allows believers to engage with people of different beliefs, but to do so in a manner that does not compromise first principles. .... [more]

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