Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Regent Post 3: Pluralism Ah-ha

Today saw a very early start for me: I was out of the house by 6:30am in order to be on campus for 8am! Feel okay so far by the end of the week I think I'm going to be exhausted. I don't really do mornings!

So today we spent some time thinking about pluralism and it has helped me begin to get my head around some issues.

Pluralism used to pretty much mean "all religions lead to the same God in the end", the different religions are "different approaches up the same mountain". But that definition has had to be changed because not all religions even have a God. All religions lead to God is too theistic so it has now become: "different religions are how we approach the real". The 'real' becomes a blanket term for God, nirvana or enlightenment (depending upon which religion you follow).

This in and of itself is a tremendously arrogant statement because it redefines what different religions believe in a way that followers of each religion would not agree with. The pluralists are still looking in from the outside saying "we know best", they are just doing it to more religions.

The appeal of pluralism is obvious on some levels (it allows for all religions to more or less be dismissed and elevates each individual to supremacy as they are free to chose for themselves what it right/real) and not so obvious on others (any exclusive truth claim might result in another religious group responding in violence. If we can agree that all religions are basically the same then religiously motivated violence might be avoided).

But what was a key understanding for me was realising how pluralists compare the different religions. Their primary criteria is practical: how good the followers of each particular religion are. Doctrine/belief is a lesser criteria.

If the primary criteria is how morally good we are then on some levels you can see why some pluralists reach the conclusions that they do. Each religion has followers who have had tremendous effect for good as well as for bad. Much as it may grieve us to admit it this is true of Christianity.

But as a result of this I think some Christians have been tricked into fighting on the pluralists ground. We try and prove how good we are (be it campaigning for social justice through to acts of service in our community) in order to appeal to people to consider Christianity. Now at this point don't miss-hear me, I am convinced that as Christians we should be involved in these things, it is clear outworking of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. But it is not the grounds that we should use calling others to follow Christ or to prove Christianity. When we do that we are playing the pluralists at their game and we will lose because they will still say that there is no significant difference between our good deeds and the good deeds of those who aren't Christian.

So what is a way forward? We ran out of time to discuss that in class but here are some of my reflections so far:
  1. Fight on the real battle field. The real criteria is not how good people are, but how the things that we have done wrong are dealt with. When people try to argue that Christians are no different, we shouldn't get sucked into comparisons over how good Christians have or haven't been (now or in the past). Point them to the certainty that only the gospel of Jesus Christ gives for forgiveness of sins. People are repelled by this and always have been but that is not an excuse to point them to things they may find less objectionable.
  2. If people are looking for an example of what it means to be 'good' point them to the best example: Jesus.
  3. Recognise that we are called to be different and in God's grace and with His help, live differently, and be willing to admit our mistakes.


thehoneysetts said...

Excellent post. I find the scary thing about pluralism is it leads to a complete lack of ability to make value judgements between competing truth claims, for the reasons you suggest. ie. that personal good behaviour isn't a sufficient ground to tell whether a belief is true (although personal bad behaviour may demonstrate the opposite - you know by the fruit).

Great to see the pics of Stanley Park

dave bish said...

"how the things that we have done wrong are dealt with."

v.helpful james. thanks. realised recently how similar Buddhism, Islam and Secularism are in a performance-self-focussed kind of way. Much easier to engage that way.