A (brief) Vision of Religious Pluralism

Tony Sig

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.

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32 Comments

  1. Tony:

    I think you mean Calormene in your postscript.

    It would be interesting to know whether universalism was ever promulgated as a public doctrine of the church, as opposed to being espoused as a personal opinion of a theologian.

    I think hell has been promulgated as a public doctrine, but not universalism.

    George

    Reply

  2. George,

    I’m not sayin’ I’m a universalist. I don’t know if you noticed but this essay barely says anything concrete! Rather I meant to say that it seems to me that the consequences of the historical reality of a Resurrected Jesus reaches further than just the Church.

    Just how far is something I am not prepared to speculate on. yet

    Tony

    Reply

  3. I don’t see universalism support in scripture or tradition.

    Is it possible that individuals reject God’s grace to the point that which they desire is not good but evil. IOW is hell in some cases more desirable for some individuals then heaven? Those that see evil as good and good as evil it may be more of a grace to go to hell.

    Just throwing that out there for thought.

    Reply

  4. I’d take a good look at St. Gregory of Nyssa for starts. But, again, I’m not advocating universalism. But I agree with you, as a non/anti-calvinist “hell” seems to me to be a sort of “self” imploding inwards where its only desire is for itself and not another, be it God or whatever.

    Separation from God is the truest hell.

    Reply

  5. Tony:

    I wasn’t asserting that you were a universalist. What I was wondering was the status of hell and/or universalism as formally promulgated doctrines. I don’t think universalism has ever been promulgated by any Catholic, Orthodox, or magisterial Protestant church. I do think, however, that hell has been so promulgated. As people who think the Quadrilateral is a good way of thinking through issues of what the church should teach, this kind of consideration carries a lot of weight for us.

    George

    Reply

  6. Tony,
    I think you have done an admirable job of communicating your position, or lack there of, on this topic. You made some very good points. I particularly liked your phrasing: “Christians do not “own” God, but we are stewards of the Mystery of Faith”
    I agree on both counts. We as Christians are responsable for the unique revelation, or mystery of faith, that we have received. Concurrently, it behooves our own spiritual growth to acknowledge the value of other faiths revelations. The question that arises, however, is how the relation of these universal revelations works itself out without contradiction. This is where many inclusivists find themselves in trouble. I don’t personally seen any issue, but I would like your thoughts.

    Reply

  7. Hey Jeremy,

    I would say that in many respects there are irreducible contradictions between some faiths. Christians believe that God is Trinity, Muslims do not. etc…

    I think that each religion should articulate its case in its wholeness and our various narratives will “compete” with one another. As it is I cannot “disprove” Hinduism, neither can I “prove” Christianity in any concrete sense. I can say “This is what we believe, and I can show you how it has changed us and can change you”

    I just don’t agree about seeing “value” in other faiths per se. I value a person of another faith because of the fact that they are a created being same as me. And it is because of my belief in God that I can “believe in” freedom of religion (ala Vatican II), but to disagree with another is in some minor way to “devalue” inasmuch as I am saying I (or rather We, the Church) are right, or that we believe we have responded to the truth of God’s action in history.

    These “universal revelations” are a result of a sort of grace which is a direct result of the Resurrection, so even this “common ground” for me is “grounded” in the risen Lord.

    Reply

  8. Tony:

    Based on this statement, I’d classify you as an inclusivist rather than as a pluralist:

    “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.”

    George

    Reply

  9. George,
    I agree with you that Tony is far closer to inclusivism than pluralism. In fact, I believe Tony has said something to that affect in his previous post.

    Tony,
    I think that your position is acceptable. It is a fine theological line to walk between firmly holding to the validity of ones faith and validating the faith of others. I also partially agree with you on the irreducability of contradictions between theologies of revelation. On an exoteric level, the “dogmas” or symbols of each faith are quite mutually exclusive. Pluralists always get themselves in trouble when they start applying equivalency tests to multiple religions. That said, I do think on an esoteric level unity can be achieved. As exoteric symbols, the dogmas of a particular faith are only representative of trascendant truths. The limitations of linguistic constructs force certain inadequacies of interpretation. On an esoteric level the realities which underscore the symbols of the exoteric world are free to interact without contradiction. Pragmatically, of course, an exoteric interpretation is needed. This is why I believe your position to be acceptable. There is, however, a rule of transcedance which unites the revelations on an esoteric plane.

    Reply

  10. Jeremy:

    You wrote: “As exoteric symbols, the dogmas of a particular faith are only representative of trascendant truths. The limitations of linguistic constructs force certain inadequacies of interpretation. On an esoteric level the realities which underscore the symbols of the exoteric world are free to interact without contradiction. Pragmatically, of course, an exoteric interpretation is needed.”

    We’ve gone round and round on this issue before, so feel free to ignore this comment, but you’ve given me a new vocabulary to play with. So, here goes: Pluralism teaches that the religions contradict each other at an exoteric level but not at an esoteric level. Furthermore, it seems to teach that dogma is linguistically inadequate at the exoteric, while the esoteric level transcends language for pure experience–or something like that.

    Here’s my question: If this pluralistic dogma itself is subject to the linguistic inadequacies of all religious dogmas, then it is in no place to critique those dogmas, for it is subject to the same constraints as they are. If it transcends those linguistic constraints, then how can we talk about it all?

    George

    Reply

  11. George,
    I, like you, find it very difficult to ignore an opportunity for debate. While we have gone around this topic quite a bit, I feel that this is slightly differant than our previous engagements. This is why, I agree with you, at least partially. In making the distinction between the esoteric and exoteric I am not arguing that one is superior to the other. More bluntly put, I am not arguing that esoteric thinking should be used to critique exoteric theology. In this case I am not arguing for what one religion ought to think of anothers theology. Rather, I am arguing that in spite of exoteric differances unity can be achieved on an esoteric level. Unity is found in humility, if you will. What I am arguing is that on a level that trascends expression and fuels our symbols there is unity to be found. You have also estutely recognized the limitations forced upon my position by linguistics. In the end, I guess what I am arguing for is a gut feeling, inspired by divine revelation, of course. 🙂

    Reply

  12. Jeremy:

    As an exclusivist, I also believe in the virtue of humility. I don’t see why humility requires me to agree with your understanding of religion at either an exoteric or esoteric level. Indeed, I would push the debate one step further by asking this simple question: If religion at the exoteric level is so linguistically slippery, how do you know–or why do you believe–that all religions are united at an esoteric level? Isn’t that just another exoteric dogma, which is itself subject to all the limitations pluralists see in (impose upon, really) other exoteric dogmas? Again, from my perspective, the trap pluralists seem to lay for themselves is this: If spiritual reality so transcends doctrine that all religious doctrines are suspect and provisional, then the doctrine that all doctrines are suspect and provisional is itself suspect and provisional. And if the spiritual reality all religions supposedly point to is beyond language, and religious unity can only be attained at this non-linguistic level, then how can we talk about it? And if we can’t talk about it, how can we achieve the unity pluralists long for?

    George

    Reply

  13. George,
    you continue to push for an exclusivism that your own theology does not back.In order to deny my position you are forced to deny the transcendance of the God that informs your theology. You would have to be more Nietschean in your philosophy than orthodox. You want to box me in with a philosophical quandry, but you are ignoring the fact that I am speaking to normative Christian theology. God is above, we are below, and certainty is elusive. To ignore the limitations of linguistic structure is to be far too bold. It seems to me that you are more concerned with being exclusivist than understanding how religion works. This is to be expected as some choose to see the world more exoterically and others esoterically. On a side note, did you ever read Schuon?

    Reply

  14. Jeremy:

    I have not read Schuon. I’m on a Lincoln kick right now and haven’t been focusing too much on theology.

    I don’t understand why you think I “push for an exclusivism that [my] own theology does not back.” For one thing, I haven’t laid out my theology in any systematic way, whether on this site or any other, so I’m not sure how you know precisely what my theology is.

    So, let me offer a brief statement: My exclusivism arises from that confluence of transcendence and immanence that theologians call the Incarnation. Because Jesus Christ is God-in-the-Flesh, he is both unique revelation and unique redemption. He is the Universal in the Particular and the Particular in the Universal.

    Exclusivism is not my term of choice, since the unique Revelation and Redemption that Jesus is is gracious, not judgmental, and the connotations of exclusivism in ordinary language tend toward the latter rather than the former. But this is the term I have been handed by philosophers of religion, so I make the best of it.

    Since you’ve brought up the issue of transcendence, let me offer what I think is a problem with pluralism when it comes to that issue. The transcendence pluralism seeks is a transcendence beyond words. That is why Hick, for example, teaches that we can make no definitive statements about “the One” (his term for ultimate reality). We cannot say that it is personal or impersonal, one or many, loving or not, gracious or not, etc. I know your pluralism is not of the Hickian variety, but I would say a similar issue arises from what I understand of your position: namely, that the esoteric element of religion is both unitive and beyond words. Of course, if it’s beyond words, how can we talk about it? Indeed, how can we know that it’s even unitive?

    Pluralism also, it seems to me, struggles when it comes to immanence, for immanence poses the problems of particularity: this God acting at this time in this place for this reason to the benefit of these people. Of course, pluralism teaches that once you lodge an understanding of God in such particular circumstances, descriptions of him/her/it become problematic, for the spiritual reality eludes the grasp of language when language does not outright deceive us.

    So, from my point of view, transcendence in pluralism gives us a reality we cannot talk about, and immanence in pluralism gives us a language that is not about reality.

    Christianity gives us God-in-the flesh, transcendent and immanent, universal and particular, eternal and temporal.

    George

    Reply

  15. George,
    I was not trying to be presumptive about your theological position. Though poorly phrased, my point was to show that orthodox Christian doctrine requires a reverence for God’s transcendence that your stated position seems to omit.

    As far as the incarnation, I understand the Christian position of transcendence meeting immanence in Christ. That said, to argue that our human perspective on that occurrence offers us the totality of the picture is foolhardy. Concurrently, any picture of immanence of God cannot possibly argue for a wholistic picture of divine essence or intent. The pluralist should not have a problem with the immanent action of God in the world. To deny God’s immanence on the basis of linguistic limitations is moronic. Rather, a pluralist should recognize the immanent action of God as interpreted by the linguistic structure of the person for whom the experience has occurred. Always tempering, however, this definition of the experience with the understanding that the description can only relay in part what has happened. That is all a pluralist can do. For he cannot deny the experience nor can he grasp that which is God’s alone to behold. You pointed out that Christ serves as the “Universal in the particular and the particular in the universal”. I like this phrasing because it points out the symbolic limitations of incarnational theology. We do not understand, from the ultimate perspective, how the incarnation worked or what the entirety of its intent was. That is left to God.

    As far as Hick and the unspeakability of the divine. I agree with Hick on many levels here. However, what he neglects, and you seemed to have missed from my previous statements, is the pragmatic necessity for a definable God. In a very exoteric way God is, and should be, both definable and personable. I do no begrudge the language that is used to speak of God. As you have pointed out, there is a need to speak of God. However, this should be tempered with the understanding that our language is not ultimate and the truth it relays is symbolic. For some that revelation is enough and they are free to continue to live out their theology in relation to the dogmas of their faith. Others will be forced by this revelation to seek out the uncontainable via personal experience that is both indescribable and nontransferable. I agree with all the things that your last statement ascribes to Christianity, but I also recognize that those aspects are encapsulated within a transcendent existence and not the other way around.

    Reply

  16. Jeremy:

    Why is there a “pragmatic necessity” to define a God the experience of whom is both “indescribable and nontransferable”? Definitions are public goods, but experiences are private goods. If experience is private, why do I need to define it for the public?

    George

    Reply

  17. Jeremy:

    I have in mind to write a post entitled “In Defense of Religious Exclusivism” and to post it at AGThinkTank.com. You’ve laid out your position in a systematic way several times. Now I think it’s my turn to do so. I’ll let you know when I’ve posted it.

    George

    Reply

  18. George,

    The necessity to define God is only prevalent on an exoteric level. In order for people to relate to a transcendent God they are forced to characterize and define that existance. Most people find it hard to seek after an abstract transcendent existence. That said, there are some esoterically inclined individuals who find great clarity in removing the limiting constructs that have been added for relatability. These esoteric few comprise the mystic traditions that can be found in everyone of the ancient religions.

    I look forward to reading your post, even if it means I have to visit AGThinkTank.com again. I also look forward to picking a fight on your home turf next time.

    Reply

  19. Wittgenstein wrote, “Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent.” I guess that’s my basic problem with your version of pluralism. If exoteric language about God is inadequate to describe God, why talk about him? But if it is adequate to talk about him, then why be pluralist, for as soon as we talk about God, we begin to make decisions about what he is and what he is not.

    Sorry AGThinkTank.com is such a drag for you to visit.

    Reply

  20. George,
    I feel like you deny a very basic aspect of religion, which is to affirm the limitations of human language when speaking of transcendent realities. Are you truly asserting that human language is adequate to convey the entirety of truth in relation to God? Most would recognize that to say God is love is not to limit God to any imperfect human definition of the word, but rather to relay that all that is meant by the term love is wrapped up in God. If we cannot agree on this basic tennant of faith then I am not sure that the rest of the conversation has much meaning.

    As far as AGThinkTank.com, I was being a bit sarcastic. Being that this site is comprised of those who have given up on the AG, though I still attend, I found it ironic that we would have such connection between the two. Be assured that I will read your article and will not find it a drag, unless of course it sucks.

    Reply

  21. Jeremy:

    I created AGThinkTank.com to have open conversations about issues, which is what so many often find lacking in the AG. If my future article on religious pluralism sucks, I’m sure you’ll be the first to point out its suckitude.

    As for the adequacy of language, I should point out the dictionary defition of adequate: “as much or as good as necessary for some requirement or purpose; fully sufficient, suitable, or fit (often fol. by to or for).”

    Human language, being finite, is not capable of comprehending God in his totality. But human language is adequate, or good enough, to accomplish certain purposes: God can reveal himself through it, human beings can praise God with it, human beings can talk about God with it, etc.

    What we seem to be arguing about is the boundary of the adequacy of human language. I think it is adequate enough to make religiously exclusivist statemetns that are true. You don’t. Of course, I should point out that you think it’s adequate enough to make religiously pluralistic statements that are true, which to me seems a bit self-contradictory, but whatever.

    So, I guess yet another way to frame the debate is this: Why do you think human language about God is adequate enough to ground religious pluralism but not religious exclusivism? Why is language about God not so slippery that we can get pluralism out of it, but too slippery to get exclusivism out of it?

    That’s the problem, it seems to me, of making an argument for religious pluralism on the basis of the inadequacy of human language to describe God. If it’s so inadequate, how do we know that pluralism’s description of God is a superior account to excluvists construals? And if we can’t know that it is, why are you making arguments against religious excluvism?

    If I were you, I’d focus on issues other than the adequacy of human language, such as spiritual experience in other religions or moral formation in other religions. The inadequacy of language argument seems like a tar baby. You use it against my take on things, but you get stuck with it in the process.

    George

    Reply

  22. George,
    I assure you that I am tar free, or at least less tared than yourself. By the way, I like that picture. My position is not that language can prove pluralism. In fact, I would not argue that pluralism can be proven in any exoteric sense. My contention is that exoteric symbolism, including linguistic constructions, is limited in its ability to speak of God in a absolute or wholistic way. However, esoteric experience can relay fuller truths that are hindered by language. For instance, one can speak of God’s love, but this of course is limited. However, one can experience God’s love more fully than one can speak of it. It is in this experiential way in which one know’s God’s love, that one can know God’s action in and through other faiths. More specifically this esoteric aspect of religion speaks to that which is beyond literal and is primordial and universal. In other words, exoterically speaking religions are exclusive, however there is an esoteric aspect of religion which unites them. This esoteric universallity is beyond linguistic structures and can only be found existentially.

    I think we might be getting hung up on pluralism and exclusivism. Neither of these is adequate when speaking esoterically. Now I want to make it clear that I do not see one as superior to the other. For while esoteric truth may be revealed on a deeper level than exoteric truth, it is also of far less pragmatic use to most followers of any faith. There is a great deal of value to be gleaned from the comfortability that exoteric symbols and language afford. I have come around to the idea that it is not morally morabund to be exclusivistic in ones faith, provided that this does not lead one to impune upon the rights of another. I have also realized that not everyone will find the comfort that I have found in the esoteric unity of religious experiances. For this realization I have Hinduism to thank. Hinduism teaches that ones propensity toward religious experience can be categorized into four types. It was looking at religious experience in this way, along with Schuon’s writings that brought me to the position I am currently trying to relay.

    I don’t see my position as holding a double standard, as you have argued. Rather, I believe it is quite applicable, if not a bit nuanced. I don’t think I have figured it out completely. I doubt that I ever will. However, I feel that the direction in which I am moving, towards the transcendence of God, is the right one. You obviously disagree, and I am fine with that. My current understanding of religious experience allows for this disagreement.

    Reply

  23. I’ll try reading The Transcendent Unity of Religions, which would seem to be the essence of your position.

    You wrote: “I have come around to the idea that it is not morally morabund to be exclusivistic in ones faith, provided that this does not lead one to impune upon the rights of another.”

    Unfortunately, what you give in the first half of that sentence, you take away in the second half. But whatever.

    George

    Reply

  24. George,
    Let me further clarify my statement. After looking at the sentence again, I realize that what I intended was not clear. I don’t agree with the pre-defined theology of exclusivism. I don’t ascribe to a belief that their is only one true religion. That, would be in my opinion an arrogant and fool-hardy position. I should have chosen inclusivist instead of exclusivist, as it would have represented my position more accurately. What I have realized is that it is ok for people to interpret others religion through the lens of their own religion. Concurrently, each religion offers a very unique gift that is exclusive to its symbols and myths. I am ok with people not seeing the unitive aspect of religions. However, the moment that one impunes on the rights of others by devaluing their religious experience as invalid, I have a problem. This crosses into immoral behavior, in my opinion. Put bluntly, I am ok with a Christian saying that salvation comes only through the redemptive work of the cross. What I am not ok with, is said Christian demanding that others convert from their faiths and reject them as conceived of the devil, or some other crap. Other religions arent false religions, they are just differant religions. I hope that clarifies what I meant. Obviously, I have moved closer to your position, though I am sure not nearly close enough for you.

    Reply

  25. So, it’s “arrogant,” “fool-hardy,” and “immoral” for adherents of one religion to claim that only their religion is true, but humble, wise, and moral for pluralists/inclusivists to claim that only their philosophy of the religions is true?

    Reply

  26. No it is arrogant, fool-hardy, and immoral to claim to know ultimate truth for everyone. It is humble, wise, and moral to admit that you don’t. I am willing to accept that my philosophy may be wrong. I sure as heck am not going to demand that everyone adhere to it. I am fine with you feeling like your religious perspective is the best around. What I have a problem with is you demanding that everyone adhere to it.

    Reply

  27. Jeremy:

    Where on this site have I demanded that people adhere to my faith? Nowhere. I believe it’s true. I’ll make arguments that it’s true. But as John Paul II once said, “The church imposes nothing. She only proposes.” That’s my stance too. You seem to think that proposing an “exclusivst” understanding of religion is inherently imposing it.

    And anyway, for me, the issue when it comes to religious truth claims is not the emotional framework of the claimant but the truth of the claim itself. A person may be arrogant and still right. A person may be humble and dead wrong. From my perspective, you persistently confuse the two. For example, you think it’s inherently arrogant to make an exclusive religious claim. Why do you think it’s arrogant? Because you don’t believe the claim is true. So instead of charging exclusivists with arrogance, just come right and say that exclusivism is false.

    Indeed, I think the confusion of the emotional status of the claimant with the truth status of the claim lies at the hard of many contemporary confusions about religion. Most people–and I’m not including you here, because you’ve obviously done a lot of reading on both sides of the issue–simply dismiss the possibility of exclusivism out of hand, and for basically emotional reasons. That’s not fair. That’s arrogant. Etc., etc., etc. But I constantly go back to a simple question: If, when Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me,” he was making an truth claim, and an exclusive one at that. If he’s wrong, then of course it’s arrogant to make the claim. But if he’s right, then it’s stupid not to humbly follow him along the Way. So figure out whether the claim is true or false, then pass judgment on the emotional status of the claimant.

    That’s my perspective, anyway.

    George

    Reply

  28. One more (small) point:

    “No it is arrogant, fool-hardy, and immoral to claim to know ultimate truth for everyone.”

    Is that an ultimate truth for everyone? Then…

    Reply

  29. George,
    I was not talking about you specifically. Like I said, I have no problem with you believing you are right. What I have a problem with is the actions that are taken when people refuse to accept that they may be wrong. All I advocate for is a little perspective. On your last little point the answer is no. For someone somewhere the answer is it is only right for them to claim to know ultimate truth. The problem is that you always want to argue philosophy when the real issue is pragmatics. Ultimately someone is right on everything, but there is no way to know that without knowing everything which means everyone should act as though they may be wrong. Again you must preface your position with if Jesus said, and if I am right about what he meant. Of course those are big ifs that you cant prove. I understand your point. You have made the same single point over and over ad naseum. My point is, lets be practical and quite playing philosophical games.

    Reply

  30. Jeremy:

    At a pragmatic level, 1 Peter 3:15 says we should make our apologia with “gentleness and respect.” Fine. I try to do this, not always successfully, but I try.

    But you and I cannot evade the philosophical issue. At some point, one must make a decision between a pluralist account of the religions or an excluvist one, and then act on the basis of that decision. You have made your decision and I mine. Even if at the pragmatic level you made your case in the nicest, kindest, most polite form, I’d still tell you that I thought you were wrong.

    In fact, it seems to me that even if I told you I thought you were wrong in the nicest, kindest, most polite form, you’d still think we exclusivists were arrogant, fool-hardy, and possible immoral. Why? Because you think the exclusivist account of the religions is intellectually arrogant, fool-hardy, and immoral.

    In sum, I don’t think you and I can separate out the “pragmatics” and the “philosophy” of this issue too neatly. To me, by claiming that excluvisism is arrogant rather just plain old false, you’ve really muddied the waters by calling into question exclusivists’ motivations and emotional status.

    As for prefacing all these statements with “if,” how do you know I can’t prove them? Or rather, can you prove that I can’t prove them? I find it odd that you, and several other posters on this site, are anti-Enlightenment thinkers, but you operate with the typically Enlightenment epistemological foundationalism that equates knowledge with certainty. I don’t. For me, a person can know something even if he can’t “prove” it with certainty. I guess that makes me more postmodern than everyone the site, which is pretty ironic.

    George

    Reply

  31. BTW:

    I am enjoying the exchange, and I’m learning something. Since I’ve never read Schuon, I’m learning an entirely new vocabulary as well as a different way of construing pluralism than Hick does.

    I hope I’m not frustrating you too much.

    George

    Reply

  32. George,

    No frustration from my end. I have truly come to a place where I am comfortable with my position. This has afforded me the ability to discuss the topic with dissenters without getting defensive, most of the time.

    I think you have brought up a fair point about dissimenating between pragmatics and philosophy. I think, as long as your first caveat is in place, i.e. gentleness and respect, then you are correct in confusing the two aspects within the debate.

    As far as your alleged post-modernism, I think that you have over-looked a vital aspect. I agree that someone can know something without proving it. However, post-moderns will always assume that ones knowing is not absolute or universal. You can’t pick one and ignore the other. Modernism says prove it and it will apply to all. Post-modernism says, you don’t have to prove it for it to be true, but there is no way to know if it applies to all.

    So now coming back to the issue at hand, I feel like assuming that ones knowing is absolute and universal without having a divine mind is arrogant. Now it must be added that it is also human nature. Perspective is a discipline that must be perpetually fostered. Here is the key defense to your claim that my position is equally arrogant. I may be wrong. In fact, I am definately wrong if I hold my position as ultimate. This is where I get practical, however. Since no one has the divine perspective required to know absolute truth for every person and every instance, it behooves me to defer to others when determining truth claims for themselves. The caveat being when our truths collide and are irreconcilable. In this case, the pragmatic answer is to come to a compromise that is reached by all parties involved.

    I know this is long, but I want to give a real world example. The Jews feel that it is absolute truth that God wants them in posession of the Holy Land. This is perfectly acceptable, until it collides with the Muslims who feel a similar absolute applies to them. Since neither have a divine mind, their is no way to decipher absolute truth. So, in my opinion, the responsability lies on both parties to come together to work out a compromise. Taken a little closer to home, when Muslims feel the world should convert to Islam and Christians feel the world should convert to the cross, then a compromise is needed. Since we cannot determine which is right, though probably both are right and wrong, then they should come together for a resolution. This would look something like Muslims and Christians respecting each others religions and refraining from attempting to force conversion on followers of the other.

    I know I have ranted alot in this response. I wanted to get more practical in how I approached the issue. Feel free to take it back to the philosophical if you wish. As you have rightly pointed out, the two are intertwined.

    Reply

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