Religious Pluralism & The Social Sciences

Tony Sig

Rublev: Rowan Williams

“One day, God walked in, pale from the grey steppe,
slit-eyed against the wind, and stopped,
said, Colour me, breathe your blood into my mouth.

I said, Here is the blood of all our people,
these are their bruises, blue and purple,
gold, brown, and pale green wash of death.

These (god) are the chromatic pains of flesh,
I said, I trust, I make you blush,
O I shall stain you with the scars of birth

For ever. I shall root you in the wood,
under the sun shall bake you bread
of beechmast, never let you forth

to the white desert, to the starving sand.
But we shall sit and speak around
one table, share one food, one earth.”

My mom recently commented that I do not post as much as I used to.  That is because I’m back in school and have substantially more homework than I did last semester and over Christmas break.  But I wanted to throw in my initial two cents in on Jeremy’s posts so far on religious pluralism.

Unfortunately it will not be quite as thorough as I should like it to be, but I will still attempt to (very) briefly demonstrate why I believe the foundations for his pluralist position is in fact the “out-of-date” or “not-relevant” system.

It is not insignificant that Jeremy has thus far begun and ended his system not at all based on any religion, or even his own personal religious experience; but rather on the backs of social scientists.  He gives us a grand and sweeping account of the “history of religions” and then turns to religious scientists to determine the definition(s?!) of religion.

“The problem of Meta-narrative in the “history of religions”

The large and sweeping problem off the bat is that the account of the history of religions is itself a meta-narrative of history.  It says, in essense that religious history is going somewhere –  “First there was primitive religion, then the axial age, then Islam emphasised compassion, now pluralism, etc…” – and that is not where it is now nor is it where it has been.

Part of deconstructing is attempting, insofar as it is possible and aparently truthful, to deconstruct even ones own presuppositions, and it is this tendency which has led me, though appreciating insights which have come of thinking in terms of the words “pre-, modern, and post-modern (even post-post-modern!)” to ultimately come to reject the notion that history is neatly divideable up into epochs where thought was broadly uniform and the presuppositions the same; whereby we are able to box people and ideas up for critique en masse.  I have learned in reading some of the classic western philosophy lately, is that it is a myth to posit that it was only in the “Enlightenment” where “reason” became the base authority.  A look at Socrates, Plato, and the many skeptics in our “history of thought” reveals that the same motivation for Socrates to reject the many gods of his native Athens is the same reason that led to “Enlightenment” thinkers to reject the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.  Plato was just as convinced as Rousseau that reason as opposed to revelation could be counted on to give an objective, ontologically-true account of the (uni)versal reality apart from intervening spiritualities and deities to explain the unexplainable.

Which is why I think that it is simply inaccurate to speak in terms of what religions were doing or saying during specific “eras.”  The very idea of “eras” is so frustrating since it is nothing but an interpretive tool on the page.  The closest we might get to an accurate account of thought over time might be to speak of “schools” but not “eras.”  Especially when said “eras” become a tool of oppressive violence to another’s belief system.

“The problem of the secular in the “history of religions”

As Shawn Wamsley just asserted commenting on Jeremy’s second post, narratives cannot be universalized to be demonstrably true outside of their own meta-narratives.  The bare fact of the matter is that the assertions of accouts of the history of religions are done amongst the intellectual elite in the houses of learning still living under the mistaken assumption that they can give an objective account both of history and of “religions”; of what it is, of where it is going, what it means, and what we should do about it.  It defines religion, (which it cannot do succinctly enough so it must resort to multiple definitions of religion), it defines the distinguishing marks of religion, it defines the “eternal core” of those religions, and it decides what we as a society must do about it.  If there is one thing I learned in Cultural Anthropology and Environmental Science, it is not a lot about other cultures or about anthropogenic global warming, but about the idealogical core of the social sciences and their own meta-narratives.

(I hope this does not to sound too nasty)

At the end of the day, I believe modern-western religious pluralism is nothing but the bastard child of secularism and its exultation of “reason” over the rest of the world.

(Lest that seem to make me a fundamentalist, consider that Walter Brueggemann himself, no conservative by any estimation, consistently says that it is secularism which is at the heart of the decline in the Mainline.)  What it is is an account of the history and truthfulness of religions as critiqued by its own presumption.  Though some social scientists might recognize the reality of “the trancendent (as defined by them),” ultimately it says to the great faiths “Thanks for getting us this far, we’ll take it from here.  Moreover, we will personally decide what it is which actually counts for something from your religion, and in time, if you attend enough of our Universities, you will come to see it our way.”  It says what “god(s)” (as we define or don’t define the term) really wants.  But, religious pluralism bases this not on a belief in the revealing work of “god” but its own “objective” accounts of the faiths.

“The irrelevency of the social sciences, broadly conceived”

Jeremy posited that given the nature of our knowing about the world and about religions; and given that we are in an unavoidable pluralistic context, “exclusivist” religion is “no longer relevant”  This seems to be an important phrase for Jeremy since he will not assert that “exclusivist” faith is itself “wrong.”  This allows him a greater shield against the critique often leveled against religious monists and pluralists alike that their own system is “exclusive in its own way.”  Yet, the foundations for his pluralism is based on the violent exlusivism of the western social sciences.

Oddly enough, given the post-modern critique, and especially the “radical orthodox” critique continually developing in post-liberal anglo-catholicism (with which I continually find myself agreeing), it is Jeremy’s intellectual foundations which are “irrelevant” as they have been crumbling since at least the time of Derrida, Focoult, Rory and Gadamer among others.

Now all of this is not to say anything negative about Jeremy.  Jeremy is  actually one of the most compassionate and generous people I know (that is not an exageration); but as long as his reasoning for religious pluralism is dependent on the social sciences and not on the revealing love and activity of the Holy Trinity, then I am going to have to remain unconvinced.



  1. Tony:

    I agree with the basic thrust of this post. (Pick your draw up off the table.)

    I disagree with Shawn’s position that, as you summarize it, “narratives cannot be universalized to be demonstrably true outside of their own meta-narratives.”

    Is this true of all narratives, or only Shawn’s? Either way, it’s self-referentially absurd. If this statement applies to all narratives, then it itself is a narrative that has been universalized to be demonstrably true outiside of its own meta-narrative, which according to Shawn, cannot happen. If it’s only true of Shawn’s narrative, then it says nothing to the rest of us, despite trying to do so.



  2. self-referentially absurd or self-referentially brilliant? puhleeeze

    This, my dear George, THIS is what our on-line relationship has come to? It saddens me.

    A little more seriously, my statement regarding metanarratives is in itself NOT a metanarrative, consequently, I have established no story by which I am trying to prove or legitimize a system of truth. Besides, as you have astutely pointed out, even if I had it would have no power to evaluate all of the other metanarratives of being incapable of truth outside of their systems for aforementioned reasons, or to say universally that they could do such for same said “self-referential” reasons. So, I guess what I am saying is this, you say that my universal statement that metanarratives cannot (universally) make truth claims that stand outside of and over other metanarratives is self-refuting, but I am not making a claim that there is no logic, statement, claim, proposition, et al that cannot be proven true outside of itself. I am speaking specifically of metanarratives, and since my statement exists outside of those closed systems itself, it is not self-refuting. Is it a self-referentially absurd thing for me to say that no government is an autonomous authority outside of its own borders? I think not.

    You’re not going to be able to keep playing the self-referential absurdity card so often, George (oh, and please don’t say you’ll quit accusing me, when I quit doing it, its sooo third grade and we can all see that coming a mile away, anyhow). xoxo


  3. Shawn:

    Hmm. Okay, let me take another crack at it.

    Tony summarized your position thus: “narratives cannot be universalized to be demonstrably true outside of their own meta-narratives.”

    To me, this statement looks like this claim:

    “A religious claim cannot be proven to be true apart from the religious presuppositions with which it coheres.”

    I have substituted “religious claim” for “narratives” and “religious presuppositions with which it coheres” for “meta-narratives.” I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, here; I’m simply trying to state your position in a way I can understand. So, have I accurately represented your position?

    There is, of course, some truth to this position. Truth claims are theory-laden. They always presupposes other claims to be true. For example, if I say, “God raised Jesus Christ from the dead,” I’m presupposing, among other things, that God exists, that a man named Jesus Christ lived and died, that death is reversible, etc. Now, this claim coheres with Christian religious presuppositions, but not Jewish or Muslim ones.

    But there are claims that cohere with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious presuppositions. Examples: “The God of Abraham exists.” “God revealed himself through Moses and David.” “A prophet speaks God’s words in human words.” What is interesting to me in these examples is the overlap of religious presuppositions. Of course, such overlap is fairly easy to identify in monotheistic faiths, since they are historically related to one another.

    But what if there are claims that are shared by theistic and nontheistic forms of religion? For example, I take it that it is a religious duty in Christianity and Buddhism that one should be compassionate toward one’s neighbor. In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis outlined significant areas of moral agreement among the religions at the levels of precept and practice and labeled it the “Tao.” Lewis, of course, believed in the natural law, and he took the “Tao” as evidence of the natural law’s existence.

    The reason I bring this up is because you could construe your claim (if I’ve properly restated it) narrowly or broadly. Narrowly construed, your position would be that “A religious claim cannot be proven to be true apart from the religious presuppositions with which it coheres, and it shares no presuppositions with other religions.” But that seems to be clearly false. Broadly construed, your position would be, “A religious claim cannot be proven to be true apart from the religious presuppositions with which it coheres, and it shares many presuppositions with other religions.” Now, I think this broad construal is truer to the facts. But I also think it begins to point toward the possibility of consensus among religions on how to evaluate their respective claims. In other words, might the religions themselves agree on a broad set of critera for discerning truth from falsity in religion, right from wrong, the humane from the inhumane?

    This seems at least possible, doesn’t it? Would any religion accept the teachings of a person who was known had an intent to deceive or defraud? If not, doesn’t this give us a criterion for evaluating some religious claims. If a prophet makes a claim and it is known that his intent in the claim is to deceive or to defraud, couldn’t all religions agree that his religious claim was false? Of if compassion toward one’s neighbor is the right thing, couldn’t the religions agree that any person who taught hatred of neighbor as a religious duty was not speaking religious truth?

    You’ll notice what I’m doing here. I’m working inductively, trying to discern common ground among the religions as a way of fashioning certain agreed-upon criteria for evaluating religious claims. This project seems both possible and practical. But it also pushes the boundary of your position that “A religious claim cannot be proven to be true apart from the religious presuppositions with which it coheres” by questioning whether there are some criterion that are common to all religions, and perhaps even to human nature.

    I hope this has been a more insightful comment than my previous, pedantic critiques.



  4. George,

    I should be writing a paper, so I’ll be brief with a promise to respond at length later. (I have a lot of fun with this, too)

    /1/ Scary that I agree with much of what you have said here.

    /2/ I would submit to you that the term “metanarrative” is inclusive of all systems, not just religious ones (and is, consequently, how I meant it). I don’t know what impact, if any, that will have on your opinion – but it demands more of your premise that “…the possibility of consensus among religions on how to evaluate their respective claims. In other words, might the religions themselves agree on a broad set of critera for discerning truth from falsity in religion, right from wrong, the humane from the inhumane?”


  5. oh, oh,

    /3/ this
    “A religious claim cannot be proven to be true apart from the religious presuppositions with which it coheres.”

    is not what I intend, and may be some of the source of your frustration with me right now


  6. My own position on exclusivism is something like this:

    (1) Religions make truth claims.

    (2) If Religion A (say Christianity) makes Truth Claim C, and if Religion B (say Islam) makes Truth Claim -C, then necessarily, either C or -C is true.

    (3) The warrant for either C or -C is of two kinds: (a) Religion specific, i.e., warrants from within either Religion A or Religion B; (b) religion non-specific, i.e., warrants common to both Religion A and Religion B. Examples of (a) include putative claims of divine revelation, evidential miracles, etc.. Examples of (b) include logic, historical methodology, etc.

    (4) Believers are warranted in believing their own religious truth claims on the basis of (a)-type warrants alone, although it is helpful for them to be acquainted with (b)-type warrants as well.

    (5) The dialogue between believers of Religion A and Religion B, or between believers and nonbelievers, best proceeds by use of (b) type warrants, although (a)-type warrants can be employed on a person-relative basis.


  7. I largely agree with it, as I stated above, with the exception of your usage of Shawn’s statement about metanarratives. Shawn’s telling me I don’t understand him, however, so I’m waiting for clarification.


  8. Tony,

    I’m trying to see your logic here, but I think a better way to critique religion as it has progressed through history would be to recognize both ‘eras’ of thought and ‘schools’ of thought as equally important (maybe there is a term for this that doesn’t come to mind.)

    On the one hand, you’re totally right, logic and reason have been around a lot longer than the Enlightenment. I’m actually surprised I didn’t think of this earlier since I’m reading A History of God right now and I just passed the part about Socrates, Plato, Philo, etc…

    But I still think that there is a sort of progression to religious thought. Again, maybe I just don’t know (apparently that’s been a theme lately) but has a society ever moved seamlessly from polytheism or tribalism right into a sort of enlightenment, or even a version of modernism? Wouldn’t that be a quantum leap?

    While I agree that, as with logical critique, pluralism is not a brand new phase of thought that we’ve never seen before, it does seem to follow naturally in the succession of ideologies as a particular society … well, matures, for lack of a better term.

    I would submit that older, pagan and tribalistic religions are, by definition, secular, and that the progress of religious thought has almost always been to get a better understanding of how to relate to God. As a society (a term that itself has changed as technology has made the world a smaller, more accessible place) we are more and more aware of social injustice and poverty and, at the heart of it all, things that are not right that we should strive to put to rights.

    It seems like you’re saying pluralism is a move in a secular direction, but does it have to be? I won’t go so far as to say the ends justify the means, though I am honestly tempted.

    When a religion is close minded and exclusive, it seems like it always ends badly for whoever is on the other end of the sword/gun/whatever.


    I guess my question to you is: How do we reconcile all the bloodshed in the name of God and still cling to a Christianity that wants to be (or appears to want to be) exclusive.

    Personally, I started on this quest for further understanding because I really don’t want to see history repeat itself with Christianity heading yet another crusade in whatever shape or form it might take.

    But I’m stuck, torn between finding a ‘new brand’ or relating to God or finding a way of defending the brand I was raised on. The latter, here, just seems so much more convoluted, while the former is simpler, and you know I’m a fan of Occam’s Razor.


    I do think it’s a bit harsh to say pluralism is the bastard child of reason-fueled secularism. 🙂


    Of course, I have to admit that I’m doing a lot of reading only lately along these lines, so you guys probably all have a leg up on me.


    1. Tony Jr.,

      The problem isn’t with historical work itself. Lord knows I read tons of history and my initial graduate degree is going to be the history of Christian Origins, so I am not saying that real working scientific history cannot or should not be done. But when one starts to make grand sweeping narratives covering the surface of the globe and making very broad statements about religions, one is bound to cover up holes in the argument. For instance to say that it was Islam which “emphasized” compassion may be right about Islam, but it is not right about religions in general. I cannot speak with any authority about other faiths for the most part but I can say that I wonder if some of our writers read the Bible as much as they should if they are going to speak about it contents. Read the Psalms and then tell me that Hebrews were not speaking about the Compassion of YHWH before Muslims were. It’s simply unhistorical.

      Or for instance to say, as Jeremy does, that religious pluralism before the “modern” period was primarily “ethnic” is simply untrue. Well before western enlightenment thought entered into the bloodstream of the larger colonized world, in India a great king sought to unify Muslims and Hindu’s into “one faith,” or at least recognizing the validity of both faiths and their theology. So a Muslim king in India was a pluralist well before Marcus Borg was.

      And I am not saying there is no development in religious thought, only that when religious thought is traced by secular humanists to reinforce their own opinions on the future of religion it is no longer “objective” in any sense, and therefore subject to critique.

      And as George indicated, “religious exclusivism” is not the root cause of violence nearly as much as people like to make it out to be. Or, assuming for the sake of argument that it is, atheism has been even more violent. Look at the French Revolution, the Bolshevick Revolution and the millions (even more than Hitler) slaughtered in the Soviet Union, or the oppression in Communist China, Cuba, etc… For instance, there is massive violence between buddists and hindus on Sri Lankas. It often has as much to do with territory and resources than religion. It so happens that in many cases religions are concentrated in tribes and territories and so when they compete for land, freedom, and resources, it is between people of different religious persuasion. So money can truly be the root of all evil.

      The reason that I would say that modern western religious pluralism is a “bastard child of secularism” is because of it’s foundation in the purportedly “objective” social sciences and not in any understanding of god or the god(s). In fact, in order to speak about pluralism, one needs to so broaden “god” as to not say anything specific or meaningful about god or about what god is doing and has done.


  9. I noticed a typo that makes one sentence difficult to understand:

    “But I’m stuck, torn between finding a ‘new brand’ *[of]* relating to God or finding a way of defending the brand I was raised on. The latter, here, just seems so much more convoluted, while the former is simpler, and you know I’m a fan of Occam’s Razor.”

    That makes more sense.


  10. ADJ:

    To horn in on your conversation with Tony…

    Perhaps it’s not the excluvism in religion that makes religion violent; perhaps it’s the alignment with political power. Traditionally, for example, Mennonites are excluvists, but they’re also pacifists.

    The alignment with political power would explain how Buddhist kingdoms have used violence too.

    Just a thought.



  11. Oh.. and I see once again I’m Junior. That was a nickname in High School… awesome.

    I just read through you response, and it does tend to ring true. Give me some time to think about it, see if anything else crops up. (And thanks for not making it a logical critique.)


  12. Tony,

    Your whole argument is that my posts are based on social science. I realize now that you are correct. The reason for this was to show a way to logically believe in pluralism. The post’s should have been titled “how I can remain a Christian”.

    I am surprised that you would make the statement,

    “as long as his reasoning for religious pluralism is dependent on the social sciences and not on the revealing love and activity of the Holy Trinity, then I am going to have to remain unconvinced.”

    I understand that I have not touched, in this series, on why I am personally drawn to pluralism. That said, I have shared many times with you personally my heart. None the less, let me clarify for you and everyone else. I am a pluralist because the revealing love of God has burned within me a passion for people. I am thus unable to affirm any form of Christianity that would dismiss or devalue the religious experiances of those outside of themselves. Pluralism has offered me the ability to remain with the religion of my youth, affirming many of its experiances, without forcing me to deny the value of the experiances of others. I do not write this post to convince everyone that they must be pluralist. My arguments of relativity are not simply aversions to being cornered. I truly believe that if someone can be exclusivist while still affirming the value of other peoples experiances then I am all for it. All I know, is that when I ascribed to an exclusivistic worldview it wreaked of arrogance and short sightedness. Please don’t take that personally, I do not believe that either of those apply to you. I am simply explaining why I cannot be an exclusivist. I also realize that there are many people out there facing the same canundrum. My posts are directed at them. I am simply trying to pave a path that allows for someone to remain a Christian even after God has revealed to them the problems surrounding being exclusivist. You, and George, and Reed, and whoever else can continue to believe that my version of Christianity is not valid or inauthentic. I am not trying to defend my self to you. I also, honestly, don’t care which side of this debate you end up on. If you believe that God has revealed to you that you must remain exclusivist to remain a Christian, then more power to you. After all, who am I to discount your experiance. Before you (or more likely George) goes off on me about affirming the experiance of a murderer or something, let me say that I believe that God has some characteristics. Specifically, love and compassion, as such I do not affirm any experiance of God that does not align with those characteristics. Could I be wrong about God? Of course I could. I am simply working with my own revelation of the divine.

    I understand that this creates quite a problem. One might even say that it is self-defeating. However, I believe that no one escapes themselves. No one is objective. Thus, there is no way anyone can affirm the objective truth of anything. It is simply beyond us. Now is where you ask how my statement can be taken as objcetively true? I don’t know. In order for my position to be true, it must be unprovable. Which it so happens is the same for your position. Thus, we are stuck arguing divine revelation. This of course assumes that divine revelation is not somehow filtered through our personal lens, which I believe it is and you don’t. So around and around we will go. I say all of this so that somone (ahem George) will not feel the need to deconstruct my heart felt sentiment expressed above. I don’t have all the answers, far from it. I just believe that if there is a God worth worshiping then his plan would include more than it excludes.



    1. Jeremy,

      The reason that I could say that quote is that your posts were built on the accounts of history-of-religions professors. Which is not inherently a bad thing, I affirm wholeheartedly the historical sciences. But when a religious framework and narrative is constructed from various pieces then I think that it needs a critique since it makes “judgments” on other faiths. Which is fine, that is what we all do, but one must have a reason to do so.

      Which you still do. I’m not trying to speak poorly, but even in your above comment you say “as long as someone can be exclusivist while still affirming the value of other peoples experiances then I am all for it” Here you make a moral statement; that is, if one did not affirm the value of other peoples experiences you would not be all for it. This is not itself a controversial statement, but it should be realized that it is a moral judgement on other peoples faith position, which one simply cannot avoid if one is to speak ethically or religiously. So let me ask you some questions

      You say – “I believe that God has some characteristics. Specifically, love and compassion
      I would ask – “How do you know that?” or “How do you believe that?”
      You say – “I do not affirm any experience of God that does not align with those characteristics”
      I ask – How could you say that when you also say “who am I to discount your experience?”

      Again, I know some of the things you have said, but I was specifically addressing your posts so as to bring our readership into dialogue about our ideas.

      And I believe your language about religion and faith to be fraught with inconsistency or inaccuracy. You say “If you believe that God has revealed to you that you must remain exclusivist to remain a Christian, then more power to you” I don’t “believe” that God has specifically revealed that to me. If you recall some of my previous work on authority you’ll remember that I don’t actually say that “divine revelation is not somehow filtered through our personal lens” What I believe is that “revelation” is very messy. Sometimes it is only discerned in retrospect and reflection, sometimes (as in Hebrew history, and the early church) there are mutually contradictory “words” by various “prophets.” “Revelation,” so to speak, is found in the corporate discernment of the people of faith. And so I find it incorrect and even rude to say that “I” or “me and george and reed” say that your “christianity” is not in keeping with historic Christian identity. It turns it back onto us, as if we are some doctrinal oppresors busy invalidating your faith. That’s just not how it is. Large portions of the Christian community, past and present, testify to what we affirm. It is you who are calling for, or asking for, a revisionist reading of our faith.

      Which, as I have attempted to say many times, is not itself a bad thing. Revisionist readings help us to discern the will of God even clearer. A great example would be the issue of “womens ordination.” So I have attempted not to say that “you are not a Christian.” What I have tried to say is that what you believe is not in keeping with what I discern the thrust of Christianity would believe. And so I ask, often, why we should consider your reading a “christian” faith. That is perfectly reasonable question.

      If you still interpret me as questioning your faith then you are simply wrong. Indeed, I am not an “exlusivist” inasmuch as I do not affirm a position which says that only “christians” will experience the age to come. Indeed, I think it almost certain, based on close readings of Scripture and our church fathers and mothers, that we will indeed worship God together with Muslims and Hindus – But if that happens, I believe, even though it sounds offensive, that that will be the case on account of the work of Jesus, not on the merits of their own “religion” per se. I am going to do at least another post on my own vision of religious inclusivism, so perhaps you can critique my position(s) and help me to grow and sharpen my faith.


  13. Tony,

    With all due respect, I am not sure that you read the entirety of my response. I affirmed that your critique was valid in light of my posts. I was simply surprised that you took that approach since you know that my posts do not fully represent my position. You specifically questioned the divine inspiration of my position, which I assumed you would know is part of my position even if I did not write about it in my series. Secondly, I acknowledged that my position is not neat and tidy. It presents many issues. In fact I proposed every question that you had in my first response. As far as questioning my Christianity, I was trying to again anticipate what some might say to my position. In fact at times both Reed and George have asserted this to some degree. I will readily admit that you have not and I appreciate that. As far as corporate discernment, I do remember your position. However, it does not answer the problem of jaded interpretation. Unless of course your community is representative of every perspective possible. I understand that you have the majority of Christian tradition on your side. That said, I was not writing to convince you. This is my point, two versions of Christianity can coexist. Let us let natural selection decide the fate of Christian dogma. I am writing to those who struggle with a Christianity that cannot affirm other peoples faith experiences. If that is not you, then by all means ignore my posts. The question at hand, is whether or not you, or your community, or the church at large has the right to determine whether we are Christian or not. As you said, “why we should consider your reading a “christian” faith”. In one sense you do. You have the right to remove yourself from fellowship with anyone that disagrees with your positions. However, even if you decide to do so (which I am not saying you have) you still cannot stop myself and others to continue to claim the Christian tradition as our own.

    As far as your last paragraph, I question how your inclusive approach is any better than my pluralist one? Inclusivism is just as responsive as pluralism. You are taking the issue at hand, the validity of other faiths experiences, and coming up with an answer that fits into your paradigm. If that is what works for you, then I am happy for you. It doesn’t solve the problem for me. So I am forced to come up with a different solution. The question that I have for you, is why my position is unacceptable? One last thing I feel I must say. I would love to help grow your faith as you have mine. That said, I do not believe that this issue, at least in the way we have approached it, is one in which I feel the need to grow. The very core of my faith experience is that all faith experiences are equally valid. Though this may sound extreme, if I was forced to choose Christianity or affirm the plurality of religious experiences, I would have to choose to affirm all faith experiences. This is what God has revealed to me, and I would be remiss if I changed my position simply because of someones well worded argumentation.



  14. George,

    Let’s try from here:

    “(1) Religions make truth claims.
    (2) If Religion A (say Christianity) makes Truth Claim C, and if Religion B (say Islam) makes Truth Claim -C, then necessarily, either C or -C is true.”

    First, I am not denying the logic of this so far. However, religion A and B are both from the same metanarrative. Consequently, I would not argue the soundness of these propositions (prime facie) because they are not including truth claims from outside of their metanarrative.

    Were you though, to say that /1/ Metanarratives make truth claims. /2/ If Metanarrative A (monotheism) makes Truth Claim C, and if Metanarrative B (evolutionary science) makes Truth Claim –C, then necessarily, either C or –C is true. I would say that the second proposition is either invalid or untrue (maybe both), because two metanarratives cannot make truth claims that are necessarily true outside of their own narrative. This type of disconnect between our generation (and younger) and older generations (see I am trying to get away from the whole “modernism” thing altogether) is easily seen in the debate over whether creationism ought to be taught in science classes. My answer is “NO,” because metanarrative A (monotheism) cannot make an absolute truth claim contradictory to metanarrative B (evolutionary science) or vice versa, and science class is dealing with metanarrative B (not A). Simply put, science is right about evolution and the Bible is right about creation, end of story.

    Now, I think I know what you are thinking. “That is stupid; they are clearly contradictory truth claims.” I think you may feel that way because everyone from my parent’s generation gives me a sideways look when I have this conversation with him or her. However, it is not stupid because Scripture’s claim of creation happens within a metanarrative that seeks to justify religious truth, and evolution’s claim occurs within a metanarrative that seeks to justify scientific truth.

    I know this extends past a discussion about religious pluralism, but you have to understand that there are several metanarratives within just world religions, and you cannot compare the truth claims of one against the other when they occur outside of their own respective metanarrative. So back to your problem with my statement, “narratives cannot be universalized to be demonstrably true outside of their own meta-narratives”

    Here, using what I hope are specific enough terms, is what I mean. Christianity makes truth claims relevant to its system of justification (monotheism, religious faith and practice, etc.), and its truth claims cannot be compared over and against those of another metanarrative. The reason we believe this is true, is not because of the nature of truth or truth claims, but because of the nature of metanarratives. In other words, post-modernism does not deny absolute truth (as many have claimed), it denies that absolute truth is knowable within a single metanarrative. Furthermore, it is highly skeptical of anyone who claims that one metanarrative speaks to the entire body of available truth.

    Frankly, I am not sure if I have begun to ramble at this point, so I submit it to all of you for dissection.


  15. Shawn:

    What happens when worldviews answer the same question differently?

    For example, it seems to me that evolutionary naturalism and Christian supernaturalism both answer the question, “Does God exist?” The former answers negatively, the latter affirmatively. In your opinion, what is the truth value of these respective claims?

    Here are some possible options:

    (1) Both answers are true because each coheres with its worldview, and we cannot expect more epistemically than coherence with worldview. In other words, a truth claim pertains to worldview-coherence rather than world-correspondence.

    (2) Both answers are false because the question is misguided: A personal god does not exist, but a non-personal deity or Transcendent Absolute does exist. I suppose this is the Buddhist option.

    (3) One claim is true and the other false, because worldviews make claims about the world that can be evaluated by their correspondence with the world as it is, not merely with the world as it is conceived by different worldviews.



  16. George,

    There is certainly something within my belief system that says something can transcend metanarratives. Obviously, (well, maybe it isn’t obvious, lol) I have a relationship with Jesus. I believe he is truth, but that I cannot grasp the truth. I believe he transcends everything, metanarratives included. I believe he rescued me and I am so very, very thankful that he did. But I don’t really think that one metanarrative can challenge another. Does that answer your question?

    To answer your previous question, I don’t think that evolution can answer the question, “does God exist.” In fact, I have read a great deal of well-respected scientists who don’t think it can either. I do know that some have used it as a soap box for atheism, but they have been pretty well dismissed by real scientists and real atheists.


  17. Shawn:

    I didn’t ask whether evolution can answer the question whether God exists. I asked whether evolutionary naturalism can. The former is a biological theory of the origin of species. The latter is a metaphysical stance on the nature of reality. Whether you think evolutionists or evolutionary naturalists can say whether God exists, they certainly think they can. And I doubt they’d respond to your notion that they can’t too charitably. Why should they (i.e., evolutionary naturalists), especially the philosophers among them, give up their convictions regarding the non-existence of God simply because you say their metanarrative can’t have them?

    As for whether it’s possible for different philosophies to challenge each other at the level of metanarrative and worldview presupposition, it happens all the time. Materialists challenge dualists, naturalists challenge supernaturalists, non-theists challenge theists, etc., and vice versa. I simply don’t know how you can say this can’t happen when the history of philosophy and current dialogue shows it happening all the time.



  18. Shawn:

    One further thing: It seems to me the reason that I might be disagreeing with you (and others) about the ability to critique metanarratives is because I think there are some forms of reasoning that are the common possession of all worldviews. Logic is one of them. If you think of metanarratives or worldviews (which I take to be interchangeable terms) as softward applications, logic is the language in which software is written. So, while the applications are very different, the language is the same. That’s an analogy, I know, and like all analogies suffers from defects, but I think you get the point sufficiently to understand where I’m coming from. Logic is not the only “language” behind worldview “software applications” by the way. At some level, perception, utility, wisdom, compassion (HT: Jeremy), and other forms of reasoning/feeling/experiencing cross worldview borders. At least that’s my take on the matter.



  19. George,

    That will teach me to answer a post in the wee hours of the morning after doing schoolwork all night.

    The best I got is this:

    /1/ good one on the evolutionary naturalism, I let you switch terms on me, and I was burned. George 1 – Shawn 0

    /2/ I already conceded that I think something transcends metanarratives, or that there must be some form of “software.” You call it logic (or is that Logic?), and I call it Truth (at least whatever element of truth there is that emanates from the very being of Christ).

    /3/ The difference is, I know I will never be the possessor, manipulator, or owner of Truth. Some things belong to God alone, and I have (painfully) learned not to grasp at things that are not mine to possess.


  20. Shawn:

    I wasn’t trying trick you up by switching terms. I was just trying to be careful with definitions. For me, it’s possible for Christians to be theistic evolutionists. So, when it comes to evolution, you have to specify what kind of evolution you’re talking about. The evolution I think it’s impossible for Christians to subscribe to is evolutionary naturalism, which is a projection of the biological theory as a naturalistic explanation for everything.

    I guess I feel it’s possible to be more specific about what is the common possession of worldviews. I don’t think I possess, manipulate, or own truth or logic. I want to be possessed, used, and owned by the Logos, who is both personal and logical. 🙂

    For Jesus’ use of logic in his debates with opponents, see Dallas Willard, “Jesus the Logician.” Willard is an excellent example of the believing philosopher who boldly challenges non-believing worldviews with Jesus and logic.



  21. George,

    “I want to be possessed, used, and owned by the Logos”

    Now, there is something we can call common ground.

    Amen and Amen


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