Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Thought on Pluralism

In a pluralistic society it's just disrespectful to presume that all religions are talking about one God, the same God. In their pursue of inclusiveness and in their attempt to take all religions seriously, people who presume that all religions are saying the same thing actually end up taking NO religion seriously. To say that all religions are the same or that they are talking about the same God is to disregard all distinguishing uniqueness and everything that sets them apart from one another and to render their claims to uniqueness as void. It is to say, for example, that Christianity's claim that God is Triune and is revealed uniquely and specifically in Jesus Christ is ignorable and that we can in fact speak of their God outside of those claims no matter how Christianity may protest. And Islam would certainly not say that you are still talking about their God if you started talking about a 3 in 1, Triune, and incarnational diety. So in order to respect both Christianity and Islam we must allow them their claims to uniqueness and we must honor their claims that they are talking about very different Gods. We must honor and respect every religion enough to say that they are all saying very different things. Harmony does not mean forcing everyone into agreement. We must seek a harmony which understands our differences and moves forward peacefully regardless of those differences. We must let every religion take its own very specific shape and we must continue the dialogue.

7 comments:

Andrew said...

I think it all depends on how one uses the word. I just got done reading a book where the author rejects pluralism, because all religions are truly different, one is right, and the last man standing wins.

When I think of pluralism, I think there is a common heart and pursuit as to why we do this thing called religion, and on that road I can meet with people of different faiths and find commonality. As you say, we may not be homogeneous, but we can be harmonious.

WES ELLIS said...

That's a good way to put it.

i would be weary of the language of the "last man standing wins" mentality. Although I think there must be "right" and "wrong" answers and claims, I do not think that any religious perspective holds the monopoly on truth. Even if there is objective truth, we have no access to it outside our subjective experiences and education. We can all learn from one another. Until we are arrogant enough to believe that we have THE answer to every question (God forbid) we MUST learn from one another. That means we must seek first commonality, always starting with what we have in common and working together in that. Then we can talk about our differences along the way.

Chris Geiger said...

It is true that to insist pluralistic monotheism neglects very real distinctions between the worships of different faiths. However, we believers in God - particularly a unified monotheistic God, and especially the God that is responsible for the creation of all things - must be aware that there are sparks of the Divine all over the world, and throughout history. To claim that there is no common divine origin for any other faiths is naive, and it denies the power and compassion of God. This perspective claims not only that the God of Israel is the One True God, but also that It has NEVER revealed Itself to anybody outside of that tradition. It denies the remote possibility that, at some point or other during history, somewhere in the world other that the Middle East, the one true God of creation ever spoke to anybody.
Because, lest we forget, our faith is the product of innumerable people's direct experiences with God, and their commentaries on those experiences. When Jesus the Son came, he gave the "whole truth" - but that was two thousand years and a bazillion scribes ago, and his teachings, which sought to correct the misconceptions of God's people who believed themselves to be unique in His favor, have been delivered to us in an imperfect form.
My roundabout, ranting point is that no organized faith has ever gotten it right. I am a devout Christian, and this is why I find it crucial to acknowledge that Christian doctrine is a best guess, considering the nearly infinite distance between our dogma-writers and our Savior’s voice. The message was pure in its original form, but it has changed, and it's silly to think that this has never happened before.
I am not denying that there are false gods. The major defining factor of the religion of the ancient Israelites was their worship of one specific deity by name, in a world where going to church in the next town over was worshiping a different god. As believers in an extra-physical world, in which conscious entities exist other than humans, we must be wary of misguided humans worshiping other extant entities that are not God just as much as we must be wary of misguided humans who worship golden calves. However, consider the possibility that, five thousand years ago, God spoke to a lowly African woman or Native American child. What do you think would happen? Might the result, five millenia and a dozen cultures down the line, bear some resemblance to African religion? To Native American religion?
This may or may not be what happened. I'm not saying that we're all necessarily worshiping the same God. all I'm saying is that to deny the possibility is to deny the power, the timelessness, and the universal love of the Being that created all life. If God is honestly, truly REAL, then I find it unlikely that He would ignore every human that was not descended from Abraham.
Just a thought. In Christ's love,
Chris

WES ELLIS said...

Chris,
I dig your thoughts. there's a lot to munch on there. Overall I will say that I agree with you although we may (and I'm not sure of this) have some disagreements about the authority and/or inspiration of scripture and God's activity in historical theology.

I believe, from a Christian standpoint, that other religious persuasions may indeed have origin from the same God whom I am talking about (I am inclined to believe this). But when I say this I am not saying that we're all equally wrong (though I agree that no one has gotten it totally right yet except perhaps Jesus) because that would be disregarding all religion's claims to uniqueness. I am saying that with respect enough to allow that corrections need to be made on their part or mine... thus respecting the uniqueness and importance of our specific and individual claims about God. Does that make sense?

I think, historically, that the God of Israel has spoken to folks all over the world and perhaps that different religions were spawned from said speaking. But I recognize that even this is a very "Christian" claim (perhaps an arrogant one, but I hope not) because I'm talking about the God revealed in Jesus Christ and I am ultimately saying that they need to be corrected if they are not also talking about the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

I guess what I am looking for is a non-presumptuous inclusivism... one which takes every religion's specific claims and disagreements seriously and which allows for differences rather that presumptuously insisting that we're all really just saying the same thing and that none of the disagreements are really important.

Rev. Kidd said...

Hey Wes,

This is Rich/Luthsem. I'm trying to blog again. I like this post.

SarahJoy said...

Wes, in your response to Andrew you sound like Okholm, haha.

WES ELLIS said...

Sarah,
I will take that as a big compliment.