The ease of migration and telecommunication advancements has resulted in a host of effects. One of which is an increased awareness of religious diversity and proliferation-that certain religions are confined largely to specific parts of the world, for example; for a very long time Christianity was in fact largely confined to a corner of the globe – to Western Europe, Hinduism confined to central Asia and parts of South-East Asia, Islam to South Asia and the middle east. The effect of this awareness on people’s thinking has been that religious beliefs are now being relativized -no religion could claim to be the absolute truth or the universal religion of mankind. Rather, every society or culture has its own religion which is appropriate for itself. Secondly, it made any religion’s claim to exclusive salvation appear narrow and cruel.
Religious pluralism can be classified into two forms: unsophisticated and sophisticated religious pluralism. Unsophisticated religious pluralists approach the issue of religious diversity by simply saying; “Well, they are all true! All of the world’s great religions are basically saying the same thing”. This view is rooted in deep ignorance, as anyone who has even a basic idea of what the different world religions teach would know that most of them claim exclusivity. Let’s take Islam, Judaism and Christianity the three monotheistic religions of the world. The differences are stark, Islam says Jesus didn’t die, hence could not have resurrected, Judaism- Says Jesus died but didn’t resurrect while Christianity says Jesus died and resurrected. These are all truth claims; they could all be false but they can’t all be true as they contradict each other. Unsophisticated religious pluralism is hence illogical.
On the other hand, the sophisticated religious pluralist posits that all religions are in fact false. None of them is true and each one is culturally relative and has a transforming effect on the lives of its adherents.
Religious pluralists offer a number of arguments which seem to be at best clever, but obviously unsound and faulty. For example; Pluralists will say it’s arrogant and awfully cruel to claim that a religion is the one true religion. This is a fallacy philosophers refer to as ‘ad hominem’ argument- which literally means “against the man”. As the name suggests, it is a literary term that involves commenting on or against an opponent to undermine him instead of his arguments. Dr. William lane Craig a Christian apologist and philosopher gives an excellent ‘ad hominem’ example;
“suppose some medical researcher manages to finally discover a successful AIDS vaccine. But suppose that this fellow also happens to be an absolute jerk. He is totally arrogant. He looks down on his colleagues because they didn’t have his medical brilliance to discover the AIDS vaccine. They are mental midgets compared to him. He thinks that he ought to get the Nobel Prize in medicine for his discovery. He boasts that he is the only one – the only person who has discovered the AIDS vaccine and so he is filled with vanity and pride for his accomplishment. Now clearly such a person would be a very arrogant individual but would that do anything to affect the truth of his claim that, in fact, his AIDS vaccine is successful in treating the disease? In particular, if you suffered from the disease, would you refuse treatment because the person who discovered it is arrogant or immoral? I think clearly not! In exactly the same way, it is simply irrelevant to the truth of a particular religious worldview whether its adherents are arrogant or not. That doesn’t affect the truth of what they say”.
Furthermore, the irony of this argument is that it is a double-edged sword, as if it is arrogant for the religious particularist to claim that his religion is true, then it is just as arrogant for the religious pluralist to claim that all religions are delusions hence false.
Another deficient argument is that all religions are culturally relative. The pluralist points out that if you had been born in India you’d most likely have been Hindu or if you had been born in Saudi Arabia you’d most likely have been a Muslim. The pluralist then goes on to posit that hence, none of these religious beliefs can be true. Once again, this seems to me to be an obvious fallacy and is what philosophers refer to as the ‘Genetic Fallacy’. This is trying to invalidate a view by showing how a person came to hold that view. For example; if you were born in ancient china, it’s likely you would have believed that a celestial dragon lunched on the Sun, causing a solar eclipse. But does this therefore render your belief- ‘that a solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes precisely between the Earth and the Sun and its shadow falls on the Earth and moves over it’, false or unjustified?
This argument, too, turns out to be a double-edged sword. As if the religious pluralist had been born in Bangladesh or in Nigeria, then he would most likely have been a religious particularist. His belief is just the accidental result of his being born in late 20th century politically correct Western society. So by his own argument, religious pluralism is FALSE.
Despite the fact that these deficient arguments are made by religious pluralists, doesn’t mean that religious pluralism doesn’t pose a bit of a dilemma for the Christian believer. However, by weeding the deficient arguments we can get to the real problems lurking. These problems concern the ultimate fate of unbelievers outside one’s particular religion. This problem is especially saddening for Christians, who believe that salvation from sin and eternal life are to be found only through Christ’s atoning death on the cross. Given the universality of sin and the uniqueness of Christ’s atoning death on our behalf, it follows that salvation is available only through Christ but religious pluralists find this indefensible. In a future article I will be tackling the real problems religious pluralism poses for Christianity. Questions like; ‘why did God even create the world if he knew that so many people would not believe in Christ and be lost’? ‘Why didn’t God create a world in which everyone freely believes in Christ and so is saved’? etc.
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