Genuine Pluralism and Christianity

 

Last week on my Facebook page I presented a question, I asked how in the face of globalization and religious pluralism we are to engage those who hold differing beliefs. The week before that, I revisited the concept of pluralism in regard to Christianity. On that post, I received quite a bit of dialogue and here is my response to genuine pluralism and interfaith relationships; as well as my response to how someone can maintain their Christian distinction and authentically communicate Christ, in the midst of genuine pluralism and engagement of other religious faiths in a meaningful way.

Due to the onset of globalization, which Muck describes as ” the idea that most of the world participates in a global culture (among others) connected by better and better worldwide communications,” those who hold different views aren’t isolated from us, and live in other countries; they are our neighbors, doctor’s, teacher’s, lawyer’s, elected officials, and people we have some sort of connections with.[1] The evolution of technology and the increased level of travel, has brought with it an ability for unity; as well as a clash of differing religious beliefs. How then are we all to act in the face of increased plurality? It is my opinion that in order to engage the plurality of religious beliefs, we should adopt an attitude of genuine pluralism. What is genuine pluralism?

Until recently, I would have driven down a much different path when answering this question; I would have missed the subtle, yet very important, use of the term “genuine” in relation to the term “pluralism”. Prior to this discussion, I would have viewed “pluralism” in a negative light; as a move towards acceptance and appropriation of differing views. Now as I reflect on that which I have learned and have had the opportunity to engage, I have to admit a change in my understanding of the term. With this new knowledge, also came a change towards embracing the practice of genuine pluralism. Genuine pluralism, as defined in the article, “From Diversity to Pluralism”, is “the engagement that creates a common society” from a community that is diverse.[2] With this interpretation of pluralism, it can be seen that pluralism is important, and for various reason.

First of all, genuine pluralism promotes an atmosphere of learning and education; which helps curb the existence of ignorance—an element which leads to hostile environments, that doesn’t promote peace. One of the main goals in adopting pluralism as an approach to differing religious beliefs, is the eradication of ignorance, via a humble desire to learn from and about others. The existence of ignorance is a major component of tolerance—to be understood in a negative sense, as opposed to compassion, and a true desire to understand the perspective of others. Tolerance is usually seen as a positive, a step towards compromise, or as an action taken by the “bigger man.” But is adopting a stance of tolerance really an act of “goodness?” I think not. To tolerate someone is not to seek communion and foster deep relationships, it is to do the bear minimum. If I were to use an example of the difference between tolerance and that which flows from genuine pluralism, it would be in using the difference between hearing and listening as a model. To hear is to acknowledge sound, and to listen is to engage that which is being said and to seek to understand and respond accordingly. In communication, to merely hear what is being said is to have one’s motives as of the utmost importance, and to listen is to desire to respect the other(s) and have a meaningful conversation. This appreciation of “the other”, an individual aside from oneself, is a key component to genuine pluralism, which is important to society as a whole. In educating ourselves and others, as a whole, humanity learns to care for one another; which leads to reason number two.

The second reason why genuine pluralism is important is because, it helps society as a whole. Due to the uniqueness found, not just from person to person, but from culture to culture, there is much that can be learned from neighboring faiths. With a proper understanding and orientation of the beliefs and cultures of those who surround us, pluralism and interfaith movements allow us to “collaborate, to combine our differing strengths for the common good.”[3] In using the American promise given to immigrants, we are able to see the appeal of this approach to pluralism and interfaith engagement. As Horace Kallen states, immigrants are told, “come as you are, with all your differences and particularities, pledged only to the common civic demands of American citizenship.”[4] The importance of adopting a stance of genuine pluralism is clear, but is it possible to engage in genuine pluralism, while maintaining their Christian distinctions and authentically communicate Christ. Fisher would say that it is not possible to do so. I strongly believe that one can engage in genuine pluralism, while maintaining their Christian distinctions and authentically communicate Christ. To embrace pluralism is not to avoid disagreements, it is to seek to learn and remain united in the face of said disagreements.

In order to engage in genuine pluralism, and authentically communicate Christ one should embrace Muck’s model called “giftive missions.”[5] In this model of missions, we do away with the models of engagement that shuts down dialogue, the ability to foster true relationships, and the ability for interfaith commitments. In this form of missions, one does not seek to simply convert a person of a differing belief, but one seeks to bring the “greatest of all gifts, the story of what God has done for the world through Jesus Christ.”[6]  A Christian who embraces Muck’s model, does not become a “sell out” for the sake of creating and fostering peace, but is able to develop true and deep relationships that go far beyond telling someone about the Gospel; it allows a Christian to also live out the Gospel. Normally two main approaches to individuals of non-Christian faiths can be distinguished. On the one hand, the individual does absolutely nothing, in regards to the “spiritual disposition” of non-Christians; on the other hand, a Christian takes on the stance of “sparing no energy in eradicating the non-Christian religions of this world.”[7] The solution to the problems, which resort from the two aforementioned approaches, is not found in an open acceptance of the beliefs of the other—in fear of landing on one of the extremes. The solution is found in adopting Muck’s proposal, which allows the Christian the ability to tend to their responsibility, of witnessing to the gracious gift of salvation, to come alive.

To conclude, I feel as if I should discuss the impact that today’s religiously plural context has on genuine pluralism, as well as the theological implications of religious dialogue. Today’s religiously plural context, has a big impact on genuine engagement. Just like during the reign of the Roman Empire, technological advancements and the free market system, are catalysts to the spread of belief systems. The difference between the dawn of Christianity and today’s religiously plural society, is the effect to which globalization takes hold of religious beliefs. The technological advances we enjoy, also come as a burden to those who seek genuine engagement. The rise of technological advancements, the introduction of freedom of religion, as well as rise of globalization, has “resulted in extensive knowledge of other religions for many of the world’s religious people.”[8] It is no longer acceptable for those who require to work in mission’s ministry to be ignorant of the beliefs of others—especially the major religious views. The theological implications that arise from such a burden are, that we must cooperate with those of differing faiths, and we must compete with them as well; in order to do both, we must become knowledgeable of those differing belief systems. We must cooperate for two reasons: 1) because of the “biblical injunction to love one’s neighbor as oneself” and 2) because religion seems to be “our last hope for civilized humane cooperation among the peoples of the world.”[9] Competition is a theological implication of such religious dialogues, because proclaiming the Good News of Jesus as The Christ, is “the very essence of the Gospel.”[10]

As an academic and a Christian, it is my duty to seek unity in diversity; as should be expected by one who attends a university. As Ravi explains in his video, the term university “comes from the joining of the two root words, unity and diversity.”[11] As a Christian I must seek to do just that, exist in peace with all, if possible; and if the need to disagree arises to present the truth with gentleness and respect.[12]

 

 

[1]  Terry C. Muck. Christianity Encountering World Religions: The Practice of Missions in the Twenty-first Century.” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009). 17.

[2] “From Diversity to Pluralism.” The Pluralism Project Harvard University: Encountering Religious Diversity. http://www.pluralism.org.

 

[3] Mary P. Fisher. Living Religions. 9th Edition (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2014), 507.

[4] “From Diversity”

[5] Muck, 7.

[6] Ibid., 8.

[7] Ibid., 7.

[8]  Muck, 22.

[9] Ibid. 30.

[10] Muck, 29.

[11]  Ravi Zacharias, “Secularization, Pluralism, Privatization – Pt 1” https://www.youtube.com/51d19a89-361e-4eca-b2a5-16fddffe4140.

[12] Roman 12:18; 1 Peter 3:15.

 

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