Is truth so all-inclusive that it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are sincere? We wouldn’t say that about scientific truths, but what about religious truths?
In particular, are the distinctions between the various religions so minor that it doesn’t matter which one of them you believe? Or any of them at all?
These are questions that arise in a pluralistic society such as we have in the United States and much of the Western world. Pluralism accommodates differences, celebrates diversity and promotes inclusion. Pluralism, generally, is a good and wholesome thing in a civilized society.
Whereas, people with differences once harbored hostilities toward one another, and waged war and walled each other out on the basis of those differences, a pluralistic society tolerates, accommodates and even celebrates diversity.
Pluralism allows people to live as they see fit to live and as they believe they ought to live, within reason of course. (My right to live as I see fit ends at your right to be free from my intrusion.) Pluralism maximizes liberty and freedom and allows people choice. Pluralism is a necessary construct in a free society.
Truth, however, is not so inclusive. We don’t accommodate any or all theories in science. We don’t tolerate views in science that compete with proven evidence without equally compelling evidence to the contrary because truth matters to the scientific endeavor.
Truth is what it is.
This is not to say that people aren’t free to adopt their pet theories, but pet theories are not relied upon by a circumspect scientific world that is trying to launch probes to Mars and program vehicles to drive by themselves without killing innocent people. In the same sense, if truth matters, and if there is any truth to be found in religion, we defy logic and common sense to say that one religion or set of beliefs is just like the next. And the consequences of failing to discern fact from fiction may be just as dire.
Most of us have heard the story about the blind men and the elephant. I heard it in a world religion class in 1978, my first year of college. The story is most often told in the context of the world religions. And, the story is most often told as an allegory suggesting that all religions are really getting at the same thing (the elephant).
If you haven’t heard the story, I will re-tell it. If you have heard the story, please bear with me because telling the story with its original conclusion is an important exercise in understanding the message.
If your antennae are up, you might have caught the hint that this story, with the original conclusion, has a twist. The story usually isn’t told with the original conclusion, so the point of the original conclusion is often “lost in the translation”. And, the original conclusion leads to a very different point than the commonly asserted message.
It should be no surprise, if there be such thing as truth, that people all over the world would have some knowledge and understanding of the truth. Thus, we should not be surprised at all to find aspects of truth in all the world religions.
One expression of pluralism is the idea that all truth claims are equally valid. (Pluralism doesn’t necessarily require this.) So does that include the truth claim that all truth claims are not equally valid? Think about it. This expression of pluralism that is quite popular today is already in trouble right from the start.
Religious pluralism is “the acceptance of all religious paths as equally valid, promoting coexistence”.
Religious pluralism sounds nice, and the motives for wanting to believe in religious pluralism are largely nobles ones. The idea of religious pluralism is born out of a desire for unity, respect for others and harmony, but can we live by it?
That we want religious pluralism to be true doesn’t mean it is true. We would like for gravity not to be “true”, especially while climbing a ladder, but wishing it so does not make it so.
My thoughts today are spurred on by a presentation by Vince Vitale on religious pluralism. You might want to listen to what he has to say about it before or after considering my thoughts.[i] He addresses several bad assumptions and several good desires that lead to pluralism. I only address two of the three assumptions here.
Most people are not comfortable with atheism. They believe (know?) there is something greater than us, a cosmic Being or some Divine Truth. They intuitively know that the universe did not form itself out of nothing. But many people are also not comfortable with the exclusivity of religious propositions, especially in this post modern, pluralistic world.
In my opinion, the statement that all religions are true is just doesn’t hold up. I say this having studied world religions in college.
There are some similarities among religions at the surface, and there are some shared principles, but the ultimate, fundamental propositions of the various religions are mutually exclusive of each other. Each of them has principals that are exclusive of other principals of other religions.
Most people who are realistic and honest (in y opinion) don’t attempt to say that all religions are true, in this ultimate sense, because it simply isn’t a tenable position, but that tension creates a dilemma. It makes us uncomfortable. Continue reading “The Exclusivity of Truth”→