By Jonathan Dodson
In the prior three posts (Pt 1, Pt 2, Pt 3) we have examined the claim that Jesus exclusive claim as the only way to God is both unenlightened and arrogant. As it turns out, it is actually the opposite. It is religious pluralism that is rather unenlightened and carries an air of arrogance. In this post we will examine the important idea of tolerance. Is religious pluralism more tolerant that Christianity?
Is Religious Pluralism Truly Tolerant?
Very often people hold to religious pluralism because they think it is more tolerant than Christianity. I’ll be the first to say that we need tolerance, but what does it mean to be tolerant? To be tolerant is to accommodate differences, which can be very noble. I believe that Christians should be some of the most accommodating kinds of people, giving everyone the dignity to believe whatever they want and not enforcing their beliefs on others through politics or preaching. We should winsomely tolerate different beliefs. Interestingly, religious pluralism doesn’t really allow for this kind of tolerance. Instead of accommodating spiritual differences, religious pluralism blunts them. Let me explain.
Instead of accommodating spiritual differences, religious pluralism blunts the differences between world religions.
The claim that all paths lead to the same God actually minimizes other religions by asserting a new religious claim. When someone says all paths lead to the same God, they blunt the distinctives between religions, throwing them all in one pot, saying: “See, they all get us to God so the differences don’t really matter.” This isn’t tolerance; it’s a power play. When asserting all religions lead to God, the distinctive and very different views of God and how to reach him in Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam are brushed aside in one powerful swoop. The Eightfold Noble Path, the 5 Pillars of Islam, and the Gospel of Christ are not tolerated but told they must submit to a new religious claim–religious pluralism–despite the fact that this isn’t what those religions teach.
The Religion of Religious Pluralism
People spend years studying and practicing their religious distinctives. To say they don’t really matter is highly intolerant! The very notion of religious tolerance assumes there are differences to tolerate but pluralism is intolerant of those very differences! In this sense, religious pluralism is a religion of its own. It has its own religious absolute—all paths lead to the same God—and requires people of other faiths to embrace this absolute, without any religious backing at all. It is highly evangelistic! Religious pluralism is highly political and preachy. Yet, it does so under the guise of tolerance. It is a leap of faith to say there are many paths to God. Says who? The idea that all paths lead to the same God is not a self-evident fact; it is a leap of faith. It isn’t even an educated leap, nor is it as humble and tolerant as it might appear.
Religious pluralism is a religion of its own. It has its own religious absolute—all paths lead to the same God—and requires people of other faiths to embrace this absolute, without any religious backing at all.
Recall Stephen Prothero’s comment regarding religious pluralism: “But this sentiment, however well-intentioned, is neither accurate nor ethically responsible. God is not one.” He goes on: “Faith in the unity of religions is just that—faith (perhaps even a kind of fundamentalism). And the leap that gets us there is an act of the hyperactive imagination.”
As it turns out, the reasons for subscribing to religious pluralism—enlightenment, humility, and tolerance—actually backfire. They don’t carry through. Religious pluralism isn’t enlightened, it’s inaccurate; it isn’t humble, it’s fiercely dogmatic; and it isn’t really all that tolerant because it intolerantly blunts religious distinctives. In the end, religious pluralism is a religion, a leap of faith, based on contradiction and is highly untenable. Christianity, on the other hand, should respect and honor the various distinctives of other religions, comparing them, and honoring their differing principles–Karma (Hinduism), Enlightenment (Buddhism), Submission (Islam), and Grace (Christianity). In the next and final post, I will examine Jesus’ exclusive claim, and the charge that his teachings in Christianity are unenlightened, arrogant, and intolerant. In particular, we will examine the unique principle of grace.
This series was orginally post here.
Jonathan Dodson is lead pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. Dodson is author of Fight Clubs: Gospel-centered Discipleship and Viral Hope: Good News from the Urbs and Burbs (and everything in between). For more information about the author, check out his bio.