Jeremy recently began a thread on Religious Pluralism, and his three posts are, as usual, well thought out and reasonably argued. In my own typical fashion (ie-loud), I responded to a strain – if not the strain – of Pluralism which takes as a foundation the “unbiased” research of the Social Sciences. I pointed to what I thought were inherent weaknesses in such an approach to constructing a Pluralism which seeks to actually mold a person spiritually or attempt to critique a religious tradition. Namely the problem of the
– “Meta-narrative in a history of religions position,”
– “The Secular in the Social Sciences (with the built in irony of a “secular” take on religions which purports to form a transcendent universal religion based on its own religious agnosticism),” and the
– “The irrelency of the Social Sciences broadly concieved” as critiqued by a truly post-modern epistomology
That is to say it was mostly a polemical piece which aimed at the center of the majority of Pluralistic discourse that I am accustomed to hearing.
But I did not put anything positive in it’s place, and this abscence might seem to imply that I think all other religous people are in complete error and/or going-to-burn in the fires of hell.
I do not believe that. And so I offer here what seems to me to be a few simple consequences which flow out of an creedaly orthodox and patristically influenced meditation on “other religions.” I pre-suppose a crucial theological position.
“Knowledge” of God can never be accomplished by human effort. Even “knowledge” which comes from nature or “natural law” is only possible by the self-revelation of a God who is by nature Love. This is the orthodox position on Revelation and there is something that flows out of this.
It will not do to simply say that we agree with other religions on some “moral” issues. This seems to me to be a weak and even prideful way of looking at common ground between faiths. No. If a Buddhist believes it is wrong to kill, then this is shared Revelation and not something which we just sort of simultaneously came to by looking at the world around us. If a Muslim says that “Allah is merciful,” whatever the influence of the Judeo-Christian religion on Islam, this is something which is deep and can be called nothing other than a revelation of the Character of God. We cannot portion anything specifically “Christian” off to one side and say that the things we have in common are but “moral” issues on some other side.
There are reasons that several of the Church fathers explicitly espoused a Universalist soteriology, and many others came real close. That is, to take the Atonement and Resurrection seriously demand that we think about the effects of the Incarnation on the whole Human race. Consider the reading today in the lectionary in Romans where Paul says that “since ALL died through the sin of the one man, so ALL are made alive because of the one Messiah” I’m not saying that this “proves” my point, but that even as early as Paul, there was needed a reflection which showed the universal and ontological change which happened in humanity on account of the Gospel. One which is not merely acquired by choice but by the very nature of what has just happened.
And so, if as Paul said, the Gospel “has been preached to the whole world” (a strange thing to say since he obviously knew that that was not the actual case, unless he thought this meant something other than the easy reading) then it should not be a surprise that we should find the real Spirit of God at work in people other than those baptized. Early thought maintains that Christ is renewing the whole of Creation, not just the few elect.
So it seems to me that a religious pluralism, one that posits that yes some from different faiths may indeed find renewal by Christ at the end of the Age on account of their “faith” is an honest position to hold.
Christians do not “own” God, but we are stewards of the Mystery of Faith:
“Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again” Amen!
p.s. – Two great takes on this by C.S. Lewis can be found in his books “The Great Divorce” and the scene towards the end of “The Last Battle” in the Narnia series where “Aslan” and a “Colourman” have a conversation.