Thursday, April 30, 2009

Problematizing Pluralism: Some Incomplete Questions

I've been thinking about religious pluralism lately. Patrick's last post helped provoke that. It seems to be a "chic" way of being spiritual in this culture. In fact, religious pluralism might be the ultimate form of political, social, and religious "correctness" that exists. But I have some questions that seek to critique and raise some problems for it.

1. What is it's goal?
I think one of the probable reasons that folks begin embracing pluralism is that it promises to bring peace between potentially hostile religious factions. If for instance Christians give up their claim to the ultimate uniqueness and truth of God, Jesus, and the Spirit, a significant offense to other religious traditions is erased. Conversations can take place without the threat of evangelization. Differences that might be uncomfortable are papered over. Recall the old adage: "Don't talk about religion and politics." Is this the only (or best) way to avoid violence?

Another answer would say that the goal is to "celebrate diversity." It's really an imperative that needs a definition. Is any diversity good? And is the fact that Christians and Muslims have a serious disagreement about Jesus something to make us sing "Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy"? (Perhaps a deep, theological conversation ought to take place where arguments can be made and responded to.) Is this the only (or best) way to avoid hatred?

2. How much pluralism is enough? What about those religions/traditions which we have not encountered yet?
In pluralism's quest to embrace a "wider wisdom" and avoid sectarianism, will it ever reach the point of embracing enough? What if a religious tradition exists somewhere that we don't know about? What if we misunderstand the ones we think we know something about? It also seems that there will always be more out there that we might want to embrace but which we will never be able to know.

3. How does one decide what to reject?
What criteria does one use to accept or reject a practice or tenet of another religion? Can Christian moral reasoning be used to critique the caste system or must the Hindu justification of it stand? Or is there a higher reasoning? If so, where and what is it? Also, what of ideologies that, according to many sociologists, function as religions. Must Marxism be brought into the fold?

4. Does it have a history or text which can describe it? Is there any empirical evidence of its truthfulness?
If pluralism aspires to a higher truth, what signs of this higher truth exist? Is there an ancient promise, text, or revelation which describes its shape and goal?

5. Is there an explanation for the differing threads of pluralist tradition?
B'hai, Buddhist, Unitarian-Universalist, a myriad of other groups... Will the real pluralism please stand up? If these groups are truly pluralist, they should have merged by now. Or maybe there is a "higher, higher truth" above each one of their particular "higher truths."

6. Can it avoid being "evangelical"?
If the avoidance of proselytizing one's beliefs is a goal of pluralism, then it fails miserably on that account. Much has been written and spoken in an effort to show the truth of pluralism. Some of it fervently and passionately so, making it sound like the new "good news.". Doesn't this constitute evangelizing?