Encountering Religious Pluralism

We live in a world of competing “truths”, and any claim to know the “Truth” has become like a modern myth. As the saying goes, “all roads lead to Rome,” so all religions should lead to the same reality, no? This is the main argument for religious pluralism, which asserts that all religions in this world are unique, but possible paths that lead to a common spiritual reality and shared goal.

This concept is not unique to the modern mind, since Eastern religions have always held that all religions lead to the same ultimate truth. However, given that there are so many conflicting truth claims from each religion, it is impossible for pluralism to make sense without placing one religion as more “true” than others. 

Modern pluralism faces the same problem of privileging a particular worldview above others. In an effort to remove conflicting claims and find common ground, modern pluralists often have to reduce the core claims of all religions into something that is unrecognizable by the followers themselves. For example, pluralists tend to focus on Jesus’ role as a good moral teacher, but overlook the greater claim by this same Jesus that he is the only Way to the Father. Whether knowingly or otherwise, pluralism is privileged above all other religions as the right way to understand the ultimate reality, which also means that all other religions are not quite there yet.

With this in mind, we can be assured that we are not fighting a losing battle against “tolerant” pluralists. We might think that we should not insist on certain biblical truths because it makes us look like bigots. But, truth be told, pluralist themselves are in danger of bigotry when they insist on tolerance as the only “right” approach for in doing so, they have rendered other traditional religions to be foolish or wrong. So as a church, we can be emboldened to speak firmly, and gently, about our beliefs while being assured that we are not more intolerant than the pluralists whom we are speaking to.

The challenge is then for us to understand the basic assumptions and worldviews behind our friends’ understanding of pluralism, and the reasons that led them to their conclusions. We also need to be self-aware, because we too are evaluating the truth claims of other religions through our own lens, the lens of Christianity. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, since no human being can be truly objective; the key is to be honest about our lens, and aware of their lens. It is also our obligation to present our faith as logically coherent, by ensuring that we do not divorce our beliefs from our practice. Simply knowing what we believe is insufficient; we need to live out our beliefs, so that our faith is matured and our message is consistent with what others see in us.

Mrs. Grace Gan

This above is a summary and reflection of On Encountering Religious Pluralism by Harold Netland