Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Myth of Religious Pluralism

Sean Ewart

Religious pluralism is the idea that there are many paths to 'god.' It is a kindhearted, though intellectually and theologically vacuous, notion born out of nothing more than wishful thinking. Wouldn't it be nice if everybody got along? Surely, but we are not in the position to define our realities by such dreams, and we do so at our peril. Religious dogmas, as attempts to explain the world, make actual claims about the way things are. By ignoring these claims we at once cheapen religion and harm our ability to engage the faithful throngs in meaningful ways. Either Jesus is the Son of God or he is not. Either he is the only way to salvation, as claimed in John 14, or he is not. There is no room for pluralism here. Religious pluralism is a myth disseminated in an attempt to moderate religious passions, it does not come out real religious scholarship, but is imposed on religion generally.

As humanity grows increasingly able to destroy itself, it is imperative that we engage in conversations about our beliefs which focus on real solutions to the actual differences which exist. We can be sure that, when we accept the tenets of religious pluralism, we do so alone. The great masses of the faithful do not take much stock by pluralism. We don't need complicated charts to show that the 19 Muslims who hijacked planes on 9/11/2001 believed that their way was the only way. The Jewish settlers in the West Bank really believe that they have the right to plunder and kill in the name of their god. What the defenders of religious pluralism apparently fail to see, is that the religious among us actually believe their dogmas. Truly there is merit in Romans chapter one when it says, basically, that those outside the faith can't understand it.

The main pitfall of religious pluralism is that it does not equip anybody to either understand or deal with the complected relationships between the various religions and their followers. It is a pointless philosophy, grounded in wishful thinking, which handicaps us in the real world. In fact, in addition to these failures, it is also a slap in the face to the religious themselves. To ignore their differences is to ignore everything which makes them what they are. Islam is not the same as Christianity. Mormonism is a totally different faith than Hinduism. Sure, there may be similarities, but it is not the similarities which the faithful dwell on – and neither should the secular. Mohammad makes claims in the Koran which are incompatible with the Bible. If religious pluralism was a working philosophy, there would be only one religion as a matter of course. Obviously this is not the case.

Both the secular and the religious should be united in shunning religious pluralism. Those of the faithful who actually believe their dogmas already do this, and the secular would do well to follow the true religious experts on this matter: the religious themselves. Pretending that all religions are nothing more than different paths to the same end is the equivalent of holding your hands over your ears and screaming when confronted with an uncomfortable reality. Religious pluralism has seen its day, has had its chance to prove its worth, and has done nothing to enhance our religious dialog. It is time we abandon the myth of religious pluralism, or risk being destroyed by it. Until we can approach religion realistically, we won't be able to deal with any of the problems or solutions it offers in meaningful ways.


  1. So, Sean. I do agree with this. What is your explanation for the billions of people who perceive spiritual reality regardless of their particular religion? More simply, if there are no deities, why do so many people believe they interact with them spiritually?

  2. Religious phenomenon has been the subject of many books, for instance the Evolution of God by Robert Wright. I would encourage anyone looking to learn more about why religious belief is so common to check it out.

    To answer your question simply, I will look to history. Before the invention of modern science, most people believed that the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the Earth. So to someone like Copernicus, one might have heard a similar question being directed at him: "if the world is round, why do so many people all over the world think it is flat?"

    The answer to your question is obvious: there is a lack of understanding. General consensus is not the definition of truth. Just as most people who lived before the 1500's believed, incorrectly, that the world was flat and the sun revolved around the Earth, so to are most people today incorrect about their religious beliefs.