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Religious pluralism

Religious pluralism (rel. comparative religion) is a loosely defined expression concerning acceptance of different religions, and is used in a number of related ways:

  • As the name of the worldview according to which one's religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth, and thus that at least some truths and true values exist in other religions.
  • As acceptance of the concept that two or more religions with mutually exclusive truth claims are equally valid. This posture often emphasizes religion's common aspects.
  • Sometimes as a synonym for ecumenism, i.e., the promotion of some level of unity, co-operation, and improved understanding between different religions or different denominations within a single religion.
  • And as a synonym for religious tolerance, which is a condition of harmonious co-existence between adherents of different religions or religious denominations.

Adherents of religious pluralism recognize that different religions make different truth claims. For example, most Christians believe that Jesus was God incarnate and that he died for the salvation of humanity, while most Buddhists believe that enlightenment liberates the individual from the cycle of rebirth so that he may enter Nirvana. Although there are approaches that allow for a certain approximation between both beliefs, usually neither Christians claim that Christ leads to Nirvana, nor Buddhists claim that Buddha was an incarnated deity.

The belief that all religions can teach truths

In its strongest sense, religious pluralism holds that no single religion can claim absolute authority to teach absolute truth. The word of God is not literal religion. On the contrary, religion attempts to describe God's utterances. Given the finite and fallible nature

Religious pluralists point out that nearly all religious texts are a combination of an assortment of human observations documented, for example, as historical narratives, poetry, lections, and morality plays. Accordingly, a distinction exists between what may be claimed as literal in a religious text and what may be metaphorical. The text, therefore, is open to interpretation. In this light, no religion is able to comprehensively capture and communicate all truth. Although all religions attempt to capture reality, their attempts occur within particular cultural and historical contexts that affect the writer's viewpoint.

Adherents of religious pluralism, in this sense, hold that their faith is "true". That is, their religion is the most complete and accurate revelation of the divine available, yet they also accept that other religions teach many truths about the nature of God and man, and which establish a significant amount of common ground.

Many religious pluralists claim that members of other faiths are searching for the same truths in different ways, and that all religious knowledge is limited by human fallibility. This level of pluralism does not preclude holding one's own ideas or participating in the rituals or spiritual life of one particular religion or community; rather, such worshipers practice according to their own traditions, ideas, and community norms while recognizing the validity of a host of other practices or interpretations.

Many people hold that it is both permissible and imperative for people of all faiths to develop some form of religious pluralism. Liberal Christians believe that it is intellectually valid to do so because since Biblical times, humanity's understanding of man's place in the natural world has changed radically, due to advances in science; and advances in travel and communications are thought to rule out isolationism.

In the last century, liberal forms of some religions (Reconstructionist Judaism and Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalism, etc.) have modified some of their religious positions. As opposed to orthodox believers, religious liberals no longer claim that their religion is complete and of absolute accuracy, and in fact view many claims made within their scriptures as questionable or incorrect.

Pluralism as interfaith dialogue

Religious pluralism is sometimes used as a synonym for Interfaith dialogue. Interfaith dialogue refers to dialogue between members of different religions for the goal of reducing conflicts between their religions and to achieve agreed upon mutually desirable goals.

Inter-religious dialogue is difficult if the partners adopt a position of particularism, i.e. if they only care about the concerns of their own group, but is favored by the opposite attitude of universalism, where care is taken for the concerns of others. Interfaith dialogue is easier if a religion's adherents have some form of inclusivism, the belief that people in other religions may also have a way to salvation, even though the fullness of salvation can be achieved only in one’s own religion. Conversely, believers with an exclusivist mindset will rather tend to proselytize followers of other religions, rather than seek an open-ended dialogue with them.

Conditions for the existence of religious pluralism

Freedom of religion encompasses all religions acting within the law in a particular region, whether or not an individual religion accepts that other religions are legitimate or that freedom of religious choice and religious plurality in general are good things. Exclusivist religions teach that theirs is the only way to salvation and to religious truth, and some of them would even argue that it is necessary to suppress the falsehoods taught by other religions. Some Protestant sects argue fiercely against Roman Catholicism, and fundamentalist Christians of all kinds teach that religious practices like those of paganism and witchcraft are pernicious. This was a common historical attitude prior to the Enlightenment, and has appeared as governmental policy into the present day under systems like Afghanistan's Taliban regime, which destroyed the ancient Buddhas of Bamyan.

Many religious believers believe that religious pluralism should entail not competition but cooperation, and argue that societal and theological change is necessary to overcome religious differences between different religions, and denominational conflicts within the same religion. For most religious traditions, this attitude is essentially based on a non-literal view of one's religious traditions, hence allowing for respect to be engendered between different traditions on fundamental principles rather than more marginal issues. It is perhaps summarized as an attitude which rejects focus on immaterial differences, and instead gives respect to those beliefs held in common.

Giving one religion or denomination special rights that are denied to others can weaken religious pluralism. This situation obtains in certain European countries, where Roman Catholicism or regional forms of Protestantism have special status. For example see the entries on the Lateran Treaty and Church of England

Relativism, the belief that all religions are equal in their value and that none of the religions gives access to absolute truth, is an extreme form of inclusivism. Likewise, syncretism, the attempt to take over creeds of practices from other religions or even to blend practices or creeds from different religions into one new faith is an extreme form of inter-religious dialogue. Syncretism must not be confused with ecumenism, the attempt to bring closer and eventually reunite different denominations of one religion that have a common origin but were separated by a schism.

The existence of religious pluralism depends on the existence of freedom of religion. Freedom of religion exists when different religions of a particular region possess the same rights of worship and public expression. Freedom of religion is restrained in many Islamic countries, such as in Saudi Arabia, where the public practice of religions other than Islam is forbidden, in Iran, where the Baha'is have no legal rights and are persecuted, and in the Palestinian Authority, where Arab Christians report they are frequent victims of religious persecution by Muslims.

Religious freedom did not exist at all in many Communist countries such as Albania and the Stalinist Soviet Union, where the state prevented the public expression of religious belief and even persecuted some or all religions. This situation persists still today in North Korea, and to some extent in China and Vietnam

History of religious pluralism

Religious pluralism in Asia

Some forms of religious pluralism have existed in the Indian subcontinent since the establishment of the Hindu Vedas around 2500 BC, followed by the rise of Shramana concepts, the establishment of Jainism and Buddhism around 500 BC, and subsequently during the course of several Muslim settlements (Delhi Sultanate 1276-1526 AD and the Mughal Empire 1526–1857 AD). In the 8th century, Zoroastrianism was established in India as Zoroastrians fled from Persia to India in large numbers, where they were given refuge. The colonial phase ushered in by the British lasted until 1947 and furthered conversions to Christianity among low caste Hindus. In 1948 as many as 20,000 Jews Bene Jews and Cochin Jews lived in India, though most of them have since emigrated to Israel.

Although in Japan Buddhism and Shinto have more or less co-existed for centuries, the arrival of Christianity through Francis Xavier led to widespread persecution of Christians and the eventual exclusion of Christianity for hundreds of years until the Meiji era, as the rulers of Japan saw it as a threat. Christians and Buddhists were also persecuted under State Shinto.

Religious pluralism in Islamic world

Religious pluralism existed in medieval Islamic law and Islamic ethics, as the religious laws and courts of other religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism, were usually accommodated within the Islamic legal framework, as exemplified in the Caliphate, al-Andalus, Ottoman Empire and Indian subcontinent.

Religious pluralism in Europe

Antiquity

The polytheistic Roman empire saw the traditional Roman religion as one fundamentals of the Roman republic. They saw Roman virtues as an important link in their multi-ethnic empire. Being polytheistic, Romans did not mind if conquered nations went on worshiping their traditional gods, as long as they also presented token offerings to the Roman gods. In many cases this compromise was easily reached by identifying the traditional gods with similar Roman gods. Failure to offer up this token worship was seen as disloyal to Rome, and an act of political rebellion against the Emperor.

There was, though, a problem with people whose religion excluded the veneration of other gods - especially the Jews and the Christians. The Romans tended to view this as rebellion, and so it resulted in many conflicts arising from often unintended offenses, like putting a statue of an emperor in a prominent place in Jerusalem which resulted in a public revolt. Similarly difficult to understand for the Roman mindset was the attitude of Christians who rather chose torture or death instead of offering a incense to the Roman emperor. From the Roman view, the refusal to venerate the Roman emperor was political treason.

The edict of Milan which decreed tolerance of Christianity was followed by a time of parallel existence of Christianity and paganism which was, though, far from an actual religious pluralism - the religion of the emperor was always at an advantage, and the Arian, trinitarian and pagan emperors in the fourth century saw it as perfectly legitimate to take measures against religious leaders who did not share their belief. By the fifth century, the western Roman Empire had crumbled, but the same patterns of behavior continued in the Gaul, Celtic, and Germanic kingdoms that replaced it.

Middle Ages

After the breakdown of the Roman Empire in the West, in western Europe the population was a huge, diverse mix of Latin peoples, Germanic peoples who had been absorbed into the Empire and its Legions over the course of hundreds of years, and newly arriving Germanic tribes that were migrating into western Europe. In each of these vaguely defined categories were some Christians, some pagans, and some who subscribed to some elements of both. In the German tradition, the chief of the tribe was also religious leader, so conversion of the leaders (even if for political reasons) was followed in many cases by Christianization of the tribe - with the chief of the tribe being now the de facto head of the Christian church. There were very frequent instances of parallel pagan and Christian religion, but tolerance of old or new religion was up to the personal preference of the local lord.

The tradition of the head of the tribe as head of the church was continued by the Kings which these chieftains eventually evolved into, with the king and/or emperor holding by virtue of office the right of investiture of bishops and also of deciding in religious matters - Charlemagne, e.g., took the Pope to task for not using the filioque in the Nicene Creed. The religion of the ruler was the official religion of the people and, again, any tolerance of foreigners or remnants of pagans was up to the present ruler. The unity of religion was generally seen as a prerequisite for any worldly state - a divergent religion was in the consequence not regarded just as a religious problem but also an action against state and ruler punishable by criminal law.

In the high Middle Ages, the worldly powers clashed with the power of the pope on the matter of deciding about religious questions - while the details varied by country, the overall result was that the Roman Catholic Church was able to, for a short time, exercise control over the religious practices of countries, even against that Ruler's will.

Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation broke the overriding power of the Catholic Church over religious policy and belief in Europe and touched off the 30-years War which involved virtually every nation on the European continent. Much of the fighting occurred between German and Swiss nobility who had sided with Martin Luther and John Calvin's Protestant movement, and French and Spanish forces under the command of the then-French Papacy. After the religious wars, the general rule was "cuius regio, eius religio" - the countries and principalities had to adopt the religion of their respective ruler, while divergent people were left with the choice between submission or emigration.

Restrictions on smaller Protestant sects who disagreed with the national churches in these countries prompted such groups as the Pilgrim Fathers to seek freedom in North America, although when these became the majority they sometimes sought to deny this freedom to Jews and Roman Catholics.

In Transylvania it was declared in 1568 at Turda the religious tolerance for every religion and it was realised the religious pluralism. The role of authority was to supervise the peaceful religious cohabitation between Catholics, Calvinist, Lutheran, antirtinitarians, orthodox,sabbatharians, Jews and Muslims. The Transylvanian situation remained for long time a isolated fearful model of "diabolic liberty" (Beze, Basel,1569)but was well known and appreciated between religious persecuted antitrinitarians in Holland and in England.

Enlightenment

In the second half of the seventeenth century, partially out of being tired with the religious wars, partially influenced by early enlightenment, several countries adopted some sort of tolerance for other denominations, e.g. the Peace of Westphalia 1653 or the Edict of Tolerance in England in 1689.

Protestant and freethinking philosophers like John Locke and Thomas Paine, who argued for tolerance and moderation in religion, were strongly influential on the Founding Fathers, and the modern religious freedom and equality underlying religious pluralism in the United States are guaranteed by First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

In the United States religious pluralism can be said to be overseen by the secular state, which guarantees equality under law between different religions, whether these religion have a handful of adherents or many millions. The state also guarantees the freedom of those who choose not to belong to any religion.

While the United States had to begin with no dominant religion or denomination, this was very different in European countries who have, without exception, a history with one dominant Christian denomination whose influence on their culture is felt until present times. Enlightenment in Europe did not so much promote the rights of minority religions but the rights of individuals to express beliefs diverging from the mainstream religion of the country, while belonging to that religion or being outside of it. While European countries generally went the way of gradually increasing the rights for minority denominations and religions, until today the stress is more on the freedom of belief of the individual and the rights of religious organizations are often limited by the state to prevent them intruding upon the individual religious freedom.

Classical Greek and Roman pagan religious views

The ancient Greeks were polytheists; pluralism in that historical era meant accepting the existence of and validity of other faiths, and the gods of other faiths. The Romans easily accomplished this task by subsuming the entire set of gods from other faiths into their own religion; this was done on rare occasion by adding a new god to their own pantheon; on most occasions they identified another religion's gods with their own, see syncretism a form of Inclusivism.

Inter-religious pluralism (between different religions)

Jewish views

There is a separate entry on Jewish views of religious pluralism, which discusses both classical and modern views of Judaism's relationship to other religions, and the permissibility and purpose of inter-faith theological dialogue.

Christian views

Classical Christian views

Christianity teaches that humankind's nature is corrupted and damaged, and that the result of such damage, known as Sin, is damnation.(see the Epistle to the Romans) To avoid such a fate, Christianity teaches that Jesus was God made flesh in a literal manner, and that he suffered, died, and rose again so that the divine punishment intended for those who did not have a relationship with God would instead fall upon Jesus himself, and that by accepting Jesus as savior and God and repenting, a person could then have a meaningful relationship with God and avoid damnation, and be given gift of eternal life in Heaven, as well as have their spiritual natures repaired and renewed so that they were no longer inherently corrupted by sin.

Christians hold that the consequence of self-separation from the triune God, (caused by Sin), who they view as the ultimate source of all life, is eternal death. Some view Christianity as a form of egalitarianism, because it teaches that all humanity potentially has equal access to salvation: a person simply has to renounce their sins and sincerely believe in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Christians have traditionally argued that religious pluralism is an invalid or self-contradictory concept. Maximal forms of religious pluralism claim that all religions are equally true, or that one religion can be true for some and another for others. This Christians hold to be logically impossible. (Most Jews and Muslims similarly reject this maximal form of pluralism.) Christianity insists it is the fullest and most complete revelation of God to Man. (Gospel of John 14:6, "Jesus answered him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one goes to the Father except through me.'" God's Word Translation)

One image of the Church that was often used by the Church fathers was that of a hospital. In this analogy the doctor does not always care for a patient in the way the patient would like, but in the way best suited to bring about healing to the patient. (Entry into the hospital should of course be voluntary.) Doing what pluralists ask would be somewhat akin to accommodating the false prophet" of the Old Testament who prophesied to the king what he wanted to hear, predictions of victory, rather than God's words of certain defeat that could only be avoided through thorough repentance.

To these Christians, it appears to be a contradiction for non-Christians to acknowledge the validity of Christian prayers or sacraments, but continue to deny the beliefs which underlie those prayers and sacraments.

Calvinist Christian views

Calvinist Christianity, which denies that conversion is a voluntary act of the will, holds to the doctrine of Total Depravity, according to which no sinner can convert to Christianity of their own initiative. Rather, God must take the first step by sovereignly opening that person's heart and turning their mind toward Himself. They also believe in Irresistible grace, which holds that once this is done the sinner in question cannot help becoming a believer.

Although Calvinists believe God and the truth of God cannot be plural, they also believe that those civil ordinances of man which restrain man from evil and encourage toward good, are ordinances of God (regardless of the religion, or lack of it, of those who wield that power). Christians are obligated to be at peace with all men, as far as it is up to them, and to submit to governments for the Lord's sake, and to pray for enemies.

Calvinism is not pacifistic and Calvinists have been involved in religious wars, notably the French Wars of Religion and the English Civil War. Some of the first parts of modern Europe to practice religious tolerance had Calvinistic populations, notably the Netherlands.

Modern (post-Enlightenment era) Christian views

In recent years, some Christian groups have become more open to religious pluralism; this has led to many cases of reconciliation between Christians and people of other faiths. The liberalization of many Seminaries and theological institutions, particularly in regards to the rejection of the notion that the Bible is a divinely authored document, has facilitated a much more human-centered and secular movement within mainstream Christian denominations, particularly in the United States. Some mainstream churches no longer hold to exclusivist views on salvation.

The most prominent event in the way of dialogue between religions has arguably been the 1986 Peace Prayer in Assisi to which Pope John Paul II, against considerable resistance also from within the Roman Catholic church, invited representatives of all world religions. This initiative was taken up by the Community of Sant'Egidio, who, with the support of John Paul II, organized yearly peace meetings of religious representatives. These meetings, consisting of round tables on different issues and of a common time of prayer has done much to further understanding and friendship between religious leaders and to further concrete peace initiatives. In order to avoid the reproaches of syncretism that were levelled at the 1986 Assisi meeting where the representatives of all religions held one common prayer, the follow-up meetings saw the representatives of the different religions pray in different places according to their respective traditions.

In recent years there has been much to note in the way of reconciliation between some Christian groups and the Jewish people. Many modern day Christians, including many Catholics and some liberal Protestants, have developed a view of the New Testament as an extended covenant; They believe that Jews are still in a valid relationship with God, and that Jews can avoid damnation and earn a heavenly reward. For these Christians, the New Testament extended God's original covenant to cover non-Jews. The article Christian-Jewish reconciliation deals with this issue in detail.

Many smaller Christian groups in the US and Canada have come into being over the last 40 years, such as "Christians for Israel". Their website says that they exist in order to "expand Christian-Jewish dialogue in the broadest sense in order to improve the relationship between Christians and Jews, but also between Church and Synagogue, emphasizing Christian repentance, the purging of anti-Jewish attitudes and the false 'Replacement' theology rampant throughout Christian teachings."

A number of large Christian groups, including the Catholic Church and several large Protestant churches, have publicly declared that they will no longer proselytize Jews.

Other Modern Christian views, including most conservative Protestants, reject the idea of the New Testament as an extended covenant, and retain the classical Christian view as described above.

Modern views specific to Catholicism

For the Catholic Church, there has been a move at reconciliation not only with Judaism, but also Islam. The Second Vatican Council states that salvation includes others who acknowledge the same creator, and explicitly lists Muslims among those (though it refers to them as Mohammedans). The official Catholic position is therefore that Jews, Muslims and Christians (including churches outside of Rome's authority) all acknowledge the same God, though Jews and Muslims have not yet received the gospel while other churches are generally considered deviant to a greater or lesser degree.

The question of whether Confucianism, and Chinese folk religion, consists of worshipping a God or veneration of a saint was important to the Roman Catholic church during the Chinese Rites controversy of the early 18th century. This dispute was between the Dominicans who argued that Confucianism and Chinese folk religion was worship, and therefore incompatible with Catholicism, and the Jesuit who argued the reverse. The pope ultimately ruled in favor of the Dominicans, a decision which greatly reduced the role of Catholic missionaries in China. However, this decision was partially reversed by Pope Pius XII in 1939; after this, Chinese customs were no longer considered superstition or idolatry, but a way of honoring esteemed relatives (not entirely dissimilar to the Catholic practice of praying for the dead).

Eastern Orthodox views

The Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that it is the only path that one should choose for salvation. On the other hand, the Church also teaches that no human being, by statement nor by omission of a statement, may place a limit upon God's will, who may save whomsoever it pleases Him to save.

Some compare the Church to Noah's Ark. It is not impossible for someone to "survive the flood" of sin by clinging to whatever driftwood is around or by trying to cobble together a raft from bits and pieces of whatever floats, but the Ark is a far safer choice to make. Likewise, the heterodox and even non-Christians might be saved simply through God's own choice, made for His own reasons, but it is far safer for any individual person to turn to the Orthodox Church. Thus, it behooves Orthodox Christians to exhort others to take this safer path. Likewise, the Orthodox remember that Christ mentions one, and only one thing that unfailingly leads to perdition--blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. No other path is explicitly and universally excluded by Christ's words.

Orthodox Christianity has a long history of religious tolerance that has evolved towards some degree of religious pluralism. Advocation of justice and peace towards members of other faiths is seen in a 16th century encyclical written by Ecumenical Patriarch Metrophanes III (1520–1580).

This document was written to the Greek Orthodox in Crete (1568) following reports that Jews were being mistreated. The Patriarch states, "Injustice ... regardless to whomever acted upon or performed against, is still injustice. The unjust person is never relieved of the responsibility of these acts under the pretext that the injustice is done against a heterodox and not to a believer. As our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels said do not oppress or accuse anyone falsely; do not make any distinction or give room to the believers to injure those of another belief."
Rev. Protopresbyter George C. Papademetriou, An Orthodox Christian View of Non-Christian Religions writes:

The Fifth Academic Meeting between Judaism And Orthodox Christianity was held in Thessaloniki, Greece, on May 27-29, 2003. In his opening remarks, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew denounced religious fanaticism and rejected attempts by any faith to denigrate others. The following principles were adopted at the meeting:

  • Judaism and Christianity while hearkening to common sources inviolably maintain their internal individuality and particularity.
  • The purpose of our dialogue is to remove prejudice and to promote a spirit of mutual understanding and constructive cooperation in order to confront common problems.
  • Specific proposals will be developed to educate the faithful of both religions to promote healthy relationships based on mutual respect and understanding to confront bigotry and fanaticism.
  • Being conscious of the crises of ethical and spiritual values in the contemporary world, we will endeavor to identify historical models of peaceful coexistence, which can be applied to minority Jewish and Orthodox communities in the Diaspora.
  • We will draw from our spiritual sources to develop programs to promote and enhance our common values such as peace, social justice and human rights, specifically addressing the concerns of religious minorities.

Writing for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Rev. Protopresbyter George C. Papademetriou has written a summary of classical Christian and Greek Orthodox Christian views on the subject of the salvation of non-Christians. In his paper An Orthodox Christian View of Non-Christian Religions writes:

In our times. Professor John N. Karmiris, University of Athens, based on his studies of the Church Fathers, concludes that the salvation of non-Christians, non-Orthodox and heretics depends on the all-good, allwise and all-powerful God, who acts in the Church but also through other "ways." God's saving grace is also channelled outside the Church. It cannot be assumed that salvation is denied non-Christians living in true piety and according to natural law by the God who "is love" (1 John 4:8), In his justice and mercy God will judge them worthy even though they are outside the true Church. This position is shared by many Orthodox who agree that God's salvation extends to all who live according to His "image" and "participate in the Logos." The Holy Spirit acted through the prophets of the Old Testament and in the nations. Salvation is also open outside the Church.

As is common in many other faiths, the question of salvation for those outside of Orthodox Christianity is understandably secondary to what the Church expects of its own adherents. As St. Theophan the Recluse put the matter: "You ask, will the heterodox be saved... Why do you worry about them? They have a Saviour Who desires the salvation of every human being. He will take care of them. You and I should not be burdened with such a concern. Study yourself and your own sins... I will tell you one thing, however: should you, being Orthodox and possessing the Truth in its fullness, betray Orthodoxy, and enter a different faith, you will lose your soul forever."

Latter-day Saint Views

The churches of the Latter Day Saint movement, because of the nature of their beliefs about the apostasy of the early Christian church that Christ established on the earth, feel they hold the restored doctrines and priesthood authority necessary to provide the means of the fullness of eternal salvation, also called exaltation. The term salvation is used to describe the resurrection and eternal life which is a gift of grace given to all people through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Although all people achieve salvation in this sense, only those who accept Jesus' teachings, strive to become Christlike in their personal and public life, and receive the necessary ordinances performed by the priesthood authority will be exalted, and become one with God and Jesus Christ and eventually, through a principle of progression throughout eternities, become like God and Jesus. This belief is one reason for the missionary activity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the performance of ordinances by proxy for the dead. The fact that saving ordinances can be performed for those who have died without accepting Jesus Christ and his gospel, entails an inherent belief that people of other religious traditions may indeed achieve the fullness of eternal salvation and exaltation after this life, although this is only through later acceptance of the Christian teachings and priesthood ordinances found in the LDS church. The church works closely with other religious and faith based groups, often in post-disaster areas. The second largest Latter Day Saint denomination, the Community of Christ is slightly more ecunemical, and follows doctrines closer to mainstream Christianity, and does not practice Baptism for the Dead.

Muslim views

Islam, views itself as the only true path for following the will of Allah (God) and going to Jannah (Paradise, Heaven). Muslims consider the monotheistic faiths that precededed it, Judaism and Christianity, to have been evolved since inception but valid in its original form.

Nevertheless, Muslims hold that for someone to worship any other gods or deities (Shirk (polytheism)) is a sin that will lead to eternal separation from Allah. This particularly applies to Christians believing in the Trinity.

Muslims believe that other religions are either false, or started by a prophet sent by Allah whose teachings (Islam) were later corrupted or changed.

Muslims believe that Allah sent the Qur'an to bring peace and harmony to humanity through Islam (submission to Allah). Muhammad's worldwide mission was to establish universal peace under the Khilafat. The Khilafat ensured security of the lives and property of non-Muslims under the dhimmi system. This status was originally only made available to non-Muslims who were "People of the Book" (i.e. Christians, and Jews), but was later extended to include Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Mandeans, and, in some areas, Hindus and Buddhists. Dhimmi had more rights than other non-Muslim religious subjects, but fewer legal and social rights than Muslims. Some Muslims, however, disagree, and hold that adherents of these faiths cannot be dhimmi.

Dhimmi enjoyed some freedoms under the state founded by Muhammad and could practice their religious rituals according to their faith and beliefs. They had limited tolerance, but were prevented from prosletysing, building new places of worship or repairing old places of worship. Such theoretical tolerance could be tenuous and readily break down, as for example when the Jewish and Christian peoples of Arabia were forcibly exiled in the early Islamic age.

It should be noted that non-Muslims who were not classified as "people of the book", for example practitioners of the pre-Muslim indigenous Arabian religions, had few or no rights in Muslim society. Muslim rule spread through conquest and this indirectly coerced many to convert to Islam. In other words, war was waged to put lands under Muslim rule, but the subjects were theoretically free to continue practice whatever religion they chose. However, the non-Muslim Dhimmis were subject to taxation jizyah at a different rate of the Muslim zakat. Dhimmis also faced economic impediments, restrictions on political participation and/or social advancement based on their non-Muslim status.

Religious persecution is also not sanctioned by some readings of Islam, but is partly due to cruel rulers, or general economic hardships in the societies they are in. Pre-Islamic religious minorities continue to exist in some of their native countries, although only as marginal percentages of the overall population.

Over the centuries, several known religious debates, and polemical works did exist in various Muslim countries between various Muslim sects, as well as between Muslims and non-Muslims. Many of these works survive today, and make for some very interesting reading in the apologetics genre. Only when such debates spilled over to the unlearned masses, and thus causing scandals, and civil strife did rulers intervene to restore order and pacify the public outcry on the perceived attack on their beliefs.

As for sects within Islam, history shows a variable pattern. Various sects became intolerant when gaining favour with the rulers, and often work to oppress or eliminate rival sects (e.g. Mu'tazili persecution of Salafis, Safavid imposing Shia on the population of Iran, ...etc.). Sectarian strife between Shia and Sunni inhabitants of Baghdad is well known through history.

Bahá'í views

Bahá'u'lláh, founder of Bahá'í Faith, urged the elimination of religious intolerance. He taught that God is one, and has manifested himself to humanity through several historic messengers. Bahá'u'lláh taught that Bahá'ís must associate with peoples of all religions, showing the love of God in relations with them, whether this is reciprocated or not.

Bahá'í's refer to the concept of Progressive Revelation, which means that God's will is revealed to mankind progressively as mankind matures and is better able to comprehend the purpose of God in creating humanity. In this view, God's word is revealed through a series of messengers: Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, and Bahá'u'lláh (the founder of the Bahá'í Faith) among them. In the Kitáb-i-Íqán (Book of Certitude), Bahá'u'lláh explains that messengers of God have a twofold station, one of divinity and one of an individual. According to Bahá'í writings, there will not be another messenger for many hundreds of years. There is also a respect for the religious traditions of the native peoples of the planet who may have little other than oral traditions as a record of their religious figures.

Hindu views

The Hindu religion is naturally pluralistic. A well-known Rig Vedic hymn stemming from Hinduism claims that "Truth is One, though the sages know it variously." (Ékam sat vipra bahudā vadanti) As such the Hindu religion has no theological difficulties in accepting degrees of truth in other religions. Just as Hindus worshiping Ganesh is seen as valid by those worshiping Vishnu, so someone worshiping Jesus or Allah is accepted. Indeed many foreign deities become assimilated into Hinduism, and some Hindus may sometimes offer prayers to Jesus along with their traditional forms of God. For this reason, Hinduism usually has good relations with other religious groups accepting pluralism. In particular, Hinduism and Buddhism coexist peacefully in many parts of the world.

Sikh views

The Sikh Gurus (religious leaders) have propagated the message of "many paths" leading to the one God and ultimate salvation for all souls who treading on the path of righteousness. They have supported the view that proponents of all faiths can, by doing good and virtuous deeds and by remembering the Lord can certainly achieve salvation. The students of the Sikh faith are told to accept all leading faiths as possible vehicle for attaining spiritual enlightenment provided the faithful study, ponder and practice the teachings of their prophets and leaders. The holy book of the Sikhs called the Sri Guru Granth Sahib says: "Do not say that the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran are false. Those who do not contemplate them are false." Guru Granth Sahib page 1350. and " The seconds,minutes,and hours,days,weeks and months and various seasons originate from One Sun;O nanak,in just the same way, the many forms originate from the Creator."Guru Granth Sahib page 12,13

The Guru Granth Sahib also says that Bhagat Namdev and Bhagat Kabir who were both believed to be Hindus, both attained salvation though they were born before Sikhism took root and were clearly not Sikhs. This highlight and reinforces the Guru's saying that "peoples of other faiths" can join with God as true and also at the same time signify that Sikhism is not the exclusive path for liberation. Again, the Guru Granth Sahib provides this verse: "Naam Dayv the printer, and Kabeer the weaver, obtained salvation through the Perfect Guru. Those who know God and recognize His Shabad ("word") lose their ego and class consciousness." Guru Granth Sahib page 67 Most of the 15 Sikh Bhagats who are mentioned in their holy book were non-Sikhs and belonged to Hindu and Muslim faiths, which were the most prevalent religions of this region.

Sikhs have always being eager exponents of interfaith dialogue and will not only accept the right of other to practise their faith but have in the past fought and laid down their lives to protect this right for others. See the sacrifice of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadar who on the final desperate and heart-rending pleas of the Kashmiri Pandit, agreed to put up a fight for their right to practise their religion. In this regard, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru writes in the Dasam Granth :

For these reasons, the Sikhs have promoted their faith as an Interfaith religion and have taken a lead in uniting all the different religions of the world so that together peace and prosperity can be found for all the peoples of this Globe and the suffering of the poor of the Third world can be properly addressed together. The message of unity of the faiths is summed up in this quotation from the Guru Granth Sahib: "One who recognizes that all spiritual paths lead to the One shall be emancipated. One who speaks lies shall fall into hell and burn. In all the world, the most blessed and sanctified are those who remain absorbed in Truth." (Guru Granth Sahib page 142) Srigranth.org, Guru Granth Sahib page 142

Jain views

Anekāntavāda, known as the principle of relative pluralism, is one of the basic principles of Jainism. According to this, the truth or the reality is perceived differently from different points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth. Jain doctrine states that, an object has infinite modes of existence and qualities and, as such, they cannot be completely perceived in all its aspects and manifestations, due to inherent limitations of the humans. Only the Kevalins - the omniscient beings - can comprehend the object in all its aspects and manifestations, and that all others are capable of knowing only a part of it. Consequently, no one view can claim to represent the absolute truth. Anekāntavāda is literally the doctrine of non-onesidedness or manifoldness; it is often translated as "non-absolutism". As opposed to it, ekānta is one-sidedness. Jains compare all attempts to proclaim absolute truth with adhgajanyāyah or the "maxim of the blind men and elephant", wherein, all the blind men claimed to explain the true appearance of the elephant, but could partly succeed only from their narrow perspective.

Anekāntavāda encourages its adherents to consider views or beliefs of their rivals and opposing parties. Proponents of anekantvāda apply this principle to religion and philosophy, reminding themselves that any religion or philosophy, even Jainism, which clings too dogmatically to its own tenets, is committing an error based on its limited point of view. The principle of anekāntavāda also influenced Mahatma Gandhi's principles of religious tolerance, Ahimsa and Satyagraha.

Anekānta is firmly entrenched in the Jain texts as is evident from the various teachings of the Jain scriptures. Ācārya Amrtacandra starts his famous 10th Century C. E. work Purusathasiddhiupaya by paying obeisance to the doctrine of anekānta:

"I bow down to the anekānta, the source and foundation of the highest scriptures, the dispeller of wrong one-sided notions, that which takes into account all aspects of truth, reconciling diverse and even contradictory traits of all objects or entity"

Ācārya Siddhasena Divākara, fifth Century C.E., explains the nature of truth in the court of King Vikramāditya:

Vikramāditya: What is 'truth'? That which is said repeatedly, that which is said loudly, that which is said with authority or that which is agreed by the majority?
Divākara: None of the above. Every one has his own definition of 'truth' and that it is conditional.
Vikramāditya: How about traditions? They have been established by our ancestors and have passed the test of time?
Divākara: Would the system established by ancestors hold true on examination? In case it does not, I am not here to justify it for the sake of saving the traditional grace of the dead, irrespective of the wrath-I may have to face.
- (6/2)

Ācārya Divākara further states in Sanmatitarka:

"All doctrines are right in their own respective spheres – but if they encroach upon the province of other doctrines and try to refute their view, they are wrong. A man who holds the view of the cumulative character of truth never says that a particular view is right or that a particular view is wrong."

The concept of anekānta and syādvāda allows the Jains to accept the truth in other philosophies from their perspective and thus inculcating a tolerance for other viewpoints. Anekantvāda is non-absolutist and stands firmly against all dogmatisms, even including any assertion that only Jainism is the right religious path. It is thus an intellectual Ahimsā or Ahimsā of mind.

Māhavīra encouraged his followers to study and understand the rival traditions as evidenced in Acaranga Sutra :

"Comprehend one philosophical view through the comprehensive study of another one" - 5.113

In Anekantvāda, there is no "battle of ideas", because this is considered to be a form of intellectual himsa or damage, leading quite logically to physical violence and war. In today's world, the limitations of the adversarial, "either with us or against us " form of argument are increasingly apparent leading to political, religious and social conflicts.

Sutrakritanga, the second oldest canon of Jainism, provides a solution by stating:

"Those who praise their own doctrines and ideology and disparage the doctrine of others distort the truth and will be confined to the cycle of birth and death." 1.1.50

Buddhist views

The wisdom tradition of Buddhism necessarily entails a plural position since it is a "middle way" tradition which ideally eschews extremism of any sort, but fundamentally does not adhere to ideas of religious syncretism. The earliest reference to Buddhist views on religious pluralism in a political sense is found in the Edicts of Emperor Ashoka:

"All religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart." Rock Edict Nb7 (S. Dhammika)

"Contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions." Rock Edict Nb12 (S. Dhammika)

Ethnocentrism of any sort (including the idea of belonging to a 'school of Buddhism' as well as evangelism and religious supremacism) is in Buddhist thought, rooted in self-grasping and reified thought - the cause of Samsara itself. However, that is the official view of traditional Buddhism, Buddhists understand that "ignorance" or "avidya", which is akin to "original sin" in Buddhism, is the source of all misunderstandings, war and turmoil. The removal of that ignorance takes time and effort on the part of everyone, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike.

The current Dalai Lama has repeatedly pointed out that any attempt to convert individuals from their beliefs is not only non-Buddhist, but abusive: the identification of evangelism as an expression of compassion he considers to be false, and indeed the idea that Buddhism is the one true path is likewise false. What Buddhists are encouraged to do is to act as sensitively and appropriately to each situation as they can, and in the process not allow any reifying views obscure their capability to do so. Buddhists are supposed to use their understanding of the shortfalls of the world as the basis for compassion, and then focus this compassion on their own development: as enlightened beings, they will be able to deal more adequately with the sufferings of the world.

In brief then, the expression of compassion is done so in the languages and beliefs that Buddhists find around them. For instance, when Buddhists talk with Christians, it is an abuse to deny Christ, God or the immortal soul- what they can hope to do is to help people within their own belief structure to greater insight and greater kindness. Indeed what Buddhists philosophers such as Nagarjuna and Candrakirti demonstrated so well is that Buddhists can use language to defeat language. Buddhists can use the conventions of the world to reveal them for what they are, within the contexts that they find them. If Buddhists wish to help those around them, they are admonished to continually demonstrate exemplary behaviour, displaying a way of being that inspires everyone to better themselves, which is contextual, sensitive, and everyone-centred. These positions hold for both inter-religious and intra-religious pluralism.

The Buddha also related to issues of "religion" using the parable of a man wounded by an arrow asking who shot the arrow, what the arrow was made of, and so forth, until he finally died. This parable is meant to show how it is not Buddhism's domain to focus on the supernatural.

Intra-religious pluralism (between different denominations within the same religion)

Jewish views

Jewish views on relations between different Jewish denominations is covered in the entry on Jewish views of religious pluralism.

Christian views

Classical Christian views

Before the Great Schism, mainstream Christianity confessed "one holy catholic and apostolic church", in the words of the Nicene Creed. Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Episcopalians and most Protestant Christian denominations still maintain this belief.

Church unity was something very visible and tangible, and schism was just as serious an offense as heresy. Following the Great Schism, Roman Catholicism sees and recognizes the Orthodox Sacraments as valid. Eastern Orthodoxy does not have the concept of "validity" when applied to Sacraments, but it considers the form of Roman Catholic Sacraments to be acceptable, if still devoid of actual spiritual content. Both generally regard each other as "heterodox" and "schismatic", while continuing to recognize each other as Christian. Attitudes of both towards different Protestant groups vary, primarily based upon how strongly Trinitarian the Protestant group in question might be.

Many Christians hold that the Christian church is not just an institution, which can be broken into many denominations. They hold that each instituted church is able to worship God in a way that conforms to Scripture, which allows for many different styles and customs. They hold that all true Christians are united in belief in Jesus Christ, which can be judged against such documents as the Apostles' Creed.

Modern Christian views

Many Protestant Christian groups hold that only believers which believe in certain fundamental doctrines know the true pathway to salvation. The core of this doctrine is that Jesus Christ was a perfect man, is the Son of God and that he died and rose again for all people's wrongdoing who will accept the gift of salvation. They continue to believe in "one" church, believing in fundamental issues there is unity and non-fundamental issues there is liberty. Some Protestants are doubtful if the Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy are still valid manifestations of the Church and usually reject movements begun within 19th century Christianity, such as Mormonism, Christian Science, or Jehovah's Witnesses as not distinctly Christian.

Modern Christian ideas on intra-religious pluralism (between different denominations of Christianity) are discussed in the article on Ecumenism.

Muslim views

Classical Muslim views

Like Christianity, Islam originally did not have ideas of religious pluralism for different Islamic denominations. Early on, Islam developed into several mutually antagonistic streams, including Shiite Islam and Sunni Islam. In some periods believers in these two communities went to war with each other over religious differences.

Modern (post-Enlightenment era) Muslim views

The concept of pluralism was introduced to Islamic philosophy by Abdolkarim Soroush. He got the idea from Rumi the famous Persian poet and philosopher. Soroush tried to expand his theory and put it on a solid foundation. His views have been criticized extensively in traditional religious circles.

Some Shiite, Suni and Sufi Islamic leaders are willing to recognize each other's denomination as a valid form of Islam. However, many other Islamic leaders are unwilling to accept this; they view other forms of Islam as outside the Islamic religion.

See also

References

Works cited

  • Beneke, Chris (2006) Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism (New York: Oxford University Press).
  • Eck, Diane (2001) A New Religious America: How a "Christian Country" Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation (San Francisco: Harper).
  • Emet Ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism, Robert Gordis et al, Jewish Theological Seminary and the Rabbinical Assembly, 1988.
  • Ashk Dahlén, Sirat al-mustaqim: One or Many? Religious Pluralism Among Muslim Intellectuals in Iran in The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought, ed. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi, Oxford, 2006.
  • Ground Rules for a Christian-Jewish Dialogue in The Root and the Branch, Robert Gordis, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962
  • Hutchison, William R. (2003) Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal (New Haven: Yale University Press).
  • Kalmin, Richard (1994), Christians and Heretics in Rabbinic Literature of Late Antiquity, Harvard Theological Review, Volume 87(2), p.155-169.
  • Toward a Theological Encounter: Jewish Understandings of Christiantiy Ed. Leon Klenicki, Paulist Press / Stimulus, 1991
  • Momen, M. (1997). A Short Introduction to the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford, UK: One World Publications. ISBN 1851682090.
  • Monecal, Maria Rosa (2002),The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company)
  • People of God, Peoples of God Ed. Hans Ucko, WCC Publications, 1996
  • Kenneth Einar Himma, “Finding a High Road: The Moral Case for Salvific Pluralism,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, vol. 52, no. 1 (August 2002), 1-33

Further reading

  • Ankerl, Guy Global communication without universal civilization. Geneva: INU Press.
  • Albanese, Catherine,'' America: Religions and Religion. Belmont: WADSWORTH PUBLISHING, 1998, ISBN 0534504574

External links

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