Where We Stand (8): The Seduction of Inter-Faith Pluralism

15 June 2015

The postmodern mood of the late 20th century and early 21st rejects any absolute authority or final divine revelation. It has promoted instead a world in which all religious persuasions are accepted as equally valid and equally true. It aggressively rejects proselytism by any religion that seeks to convince others of its unique truth claims.  But does this notion hold water?  Let me note three important responses.

First, radical pluralism violates the very rules of logic we all must live by.  I'm not using the word "logic" in the sense of abstract rules Aristotle established ... and which we could debate.  Instead I'm talking about "the set of relationships ... that must apply if any knowledge is possible and if any communicaiton of propositional knowledge is possible"1. To state with absolute confidence that there is no absolute truth is to affirm a self-defeating proposition; that is, one must assume the truth one denies in order to affirm and believe it.  

For example, consider the 6th century BC Cretan philosopher Epimenedes' famous quip, "All Cretans are liars"2 (quoted by Paul in Titus 1:12-13).  If this paradox means that nothing at all stated by a Cretan could be true, and if stated by a Cretan, then the statement cannot be true.  Paul, of course, is not pressing the statement to that extent, but is using it as a hyperbole.  But it does not seem that promoters of radical pluralism intend their belief as a hyperbole.  Instead, they truly believe that there is a common core of ethical values all religions share (e.g. Hans Küng's Welt-Ethos).  This is demonstrably false.

Second, radical pluralism undermines the very peaceful moral society it claims to defend.  This is because it must suppress the teachings of any religion that challenges the relativism of radical pluralism.  Consider a few examples:

       • Some religious teachings preach that one must kill infidels; others state this is the prerogative of God alone (Matthew 13:24-30).  These two notions cannot both be true at the same time.  To allow free expression for both views in the same society, one will find that religiously-motivated violence can all too easily gain the upper hand.

       • Some religions teach that one should not show compassion for the sick and dying because they are working off the karmic debt of a previous life; others teach love and acts of mercy toward all men, even one's enemies (Matthew 5:11-12, 38-48; Galatians 6:10).  The first option will tend to create an elitist world where the poor continue to live in fear and degradation.

       • Some teach that all religions lead to God, yet deny some of the fundamental beliefs of those same religions in order to maintain the doctrine of universalism.  But we cannot believe both Jesus Christ's claim to be the only way to God, as supported by His bodily resurrection from the dead, and the claim by some religions that Jesus was merely a great prophet or moral teacher.  If He was a man of integrity, yet mistakenly affirmed His deity while knowing this to be false, then He does not deserve to be followed as a moral teacher.

At best, the emphasis on inter-faith dialogue is an earnest attempt to dillute the hatred and aggression that threatens the modern world.  To be sure, we've seen far too much of that in Europe during the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries -- some of them fought between self-proclaimed "Christians".  For that matter, let's not forget the millions of lives lost in the 20th century at the hands of atheistic materialism in Germany, Russia, and Cambodia.  None of us relish going back to those bloodied times.

But there is a flip side as well.  Inter-faith dialogue can be a costly, time-consuming exercise in self-dillusion.  At worst, it can be used against any and all groups that take their convictions and texts seriously enough to affirm that there is something called "exclusive truth".  Biblical Christianity makes these claims.  So does the Qur'an.  Militant atheists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Buddhists, and Baha'i all do as well.  Far better for the state to maintain the liberty of all to debate the issues with respect and toleration.  But then we cannot pretend that all religions -- or anti-religions -- are equally true.

CCC is committed to a genuine, gracious tolerance of other people's convictions, even if they are contrary to what the Bible teaches. We do not seek to repress discussion on religious issues and we are grateful to live in a country whose constitution guarantees freedom of private conviction and public worship. We aim to proclaim the good news of the gospel with candor, love and integrity without hostility toward those who disagree with us. At the same time, we desire that others respect and tolerate our right to hold our own biblical convictions. Our stance may lead to persecution -- even in the free world -- if present trends continue.  But that, too, is often part of the Christian's calling.

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1 D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), p. 89.

2 Epimenedes, Cretica, "They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one / The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies! / But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever, / For in thee we live and move and have our being".

Last modified on Friday, 21 August 2015 16:52