Wednesday, June 25, 2008


by Jake Magee

According to a new survey, 70 percent of Americans affirm that there are many religious traditions that may lead a person to God. 57 percent of evangelical church attenders agree.

“57 percent of evangelical church attenders agree.”
Do they attend our churches? You might be surprised.

What’s the attraction to this growing belief called “Pluralism”?

Rev. Tom Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, voices the conviction: “Hey, we don’t have a hammer-lock on God or salvation, and God’s bigger than us and we should respect that and respect other people.”

Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance chimes in, “It indicates a level of humility about religion that would be of great benefit to everyone.”

Also, among the buzz words was “tolerance.”

So allegedly the draw is respect, tolerance, and humility in one’s religious faith. A person is respectful, tolerant, and humble when she affirms many paths to God. Doesn’t that sound noble?

So I guess the question is this: does pluralism really promote respect, tolerance, and humility?

What about respect?

Is a person being respectful when they dismiss out of hand a critical component of a number of religious traditions? Exclusivity is critical to Christianity, as well as to other traditions. Is a person being respectful when they casually treat doctrines counted as sacred and essential?

It seems to me that for many of those who affirm “many paths” to God, either they have not and do not want to take the time to understand the historical faiths of which they are referring and are merely assuming their compatibility with pluralism. Or, they have taken the time to investigate the traditions, and because they dismiss their absolute truth claims, they assert to the world their compatibility with pluralism. The former is ignorance, the latter is dishonesty. In either case, I don’t detect respect.

What about tolerance?

Tolerance implies opposition and disagreement. We don’t tolerate the things we like and agree with, we tolerate those things we dislike and disagree with. I tolerate my wife’s taste for Dancing with the Stars, I don’t agree with her taste. My wife tolerates my taste for sci-fi, she doesn’t agree with my taste. Laurie would be intolerant in attempting to convince me that Dancing with the Stars is really Sci-Fi, and so I must enjoy it if I’m consistent. She’s trying to “redefine” Sci-Fi so that she can smuggle in her Chick-Show.

Pluralism argues that there are essentially no eternally significant differences between faith traditions. Worse yet, it ignores or redefines the differences, because at bottom Pluralism doesn’t tolerate differences. Pluralism is Intolerant.

What about humility? Humility is a “modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank.” Humility is a property of humans, not of other things like facts and world views. I’m humble about my worth, not the value and majesty of mountains, math, justice, and God. If by “humility”, Welton Gaddy means that a religious adherent has a “modest opinion or estimate of one’s own faith tradition,” then that’s just Hubris masked in Humility. To undervalue one’s faith tradition to the point that you’ll redefine what it has always taught, doctrines for which people suffered, is the height of hubris.

Respect, tolerance, and humility? I think not.