"... it is impossible today for any one religion to exist in splendid isolation and ignore the others. Today more than ever, Christianity too is brought into contact, discussion and confrontation with other religions. To the extension of the geographical horizon of religion at the beginning of modern times there has been added in our own time an enormous extension of the historical horizon."
- Hans Küng, On Being a Christian, p. 89
In has become a commonplace to say that we live in a pluralist society -- not merely a society which is in fact plural in a variety of cultures, religions and lifestyles which it embraces, but pluralist in the sense that this plurality is celebrated as a thing to be approved and cherished.
- Lesslie Newbigin
Note the two senses of pluralism in the quote from Newbigin. Pluralism is:
Christian approaches and attitudes towards other religions can be broadly grouped as:
3.1. The Argument for Particularism
God has revealed the Way and the Truth and the Life in Jesus Christ, and wills this to be known throughout the world.
- Hendrik Kraemer (1888-1965) Christian Message in a Non-Christian World
Particularism says that:
Another term for particularism is exclusivism
3.2. The Two Camps of Particularist
There are two "camps" of particularists:
The predominant criticism of Particularism is that it is inconsistent with the God's desire to save all human beings. What of those who have not heard the gospel, or choose to reject it? For centuries within the church, a standard answer to this question is that they would be condemned. A quote from Fulgentius of Ruspe, disciple of Augustine in the 4th century:
The holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and proclaims that none of those who are outside of the Catholic Church -- not only pagans, but Jews also, heretics and schismatics -- can have part in eternal life, but will go into eternal fire, 'which was prepared for the devil and his angels,' unless they are gathered into that Church before the end of life.
However, while a Particularist may believe as above that all non-Christians will be condemned, they do not have to believe this. In particular in Karl Barth's theology, particularism is still compatible with universal salvation:.
The most significant advocate of inclusivism has been Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner. In volume 5 of his Theological Investigations, he argues that:
In other words, Rahner says:
Rahner justifies his position as follows:
Consider the Old Testament, the outlook of a non-Christian religion, Judaism.
We can do the same with other religions
The term "anonymous Christians" has been widely criticized:
In Rahner's defense, the term "anonymous Christian" was perhaps intended to suggest that Christians should give the faithful adherents of non-Christian religions the same "status" in their reflections on the People of God as they give to their fellow Christians.
Pluralism posits that each religion is a distinctive yet equally valid understanding of God / ultimate reality.
The most significant advocate of pluralism has been the radical English theologian John Hick (b. 1922). Pluralism is presented in his books:
"...we need a Copernican revolution in our understanding of religion. The traditional dogma has been that Christianity is the centre of the universe of faiths, with all other religions seen as revolving at various removes around the revelation in Christ and being graded according to their nearness to or distance from it. But during the last hundred years or so we ... have realized that there is deep devotion to God, true sainthood, and deep spiritual life within these other religions; and so we have created our epicycles of theory, such as notions of anonymous Christianity and of implicit faith. But would it not be more realistic now to make the shift from Christianity at the centre to God at the centre, and to see both our own and the other great world religions as revolving around the same divine reality?"
- John Hick
Hick says we must distinguish between:
He draws on Immanuel Kant's distinction between:
Following Kant, Hick would argue:
This distinction enables us to acknowledge both the one unlimited transcendent divine Reality and also a plurality of varying human concepts, images, and experiences of response to that Reality.
- John Hick
5.2. Pluralism's Explanation for the Radical Differences Among Various Religions
What of the radical differences in beliefs and practices among the various religions?
Criticisms of Pluralism include:
6.1. Summary Table
6.2. Concluding Quote
Hans Küng (an Inclusivist):
Not only Christianity, but also the world religions are aware of man's alienation, enslavement, need of redemption: inasmuch, that is, as they know of man's loneliness, addiction, abandonment, lack of freedom, his abysmal fear, anxiety, his selfish ways and his masks; inasmuch as they are troubled about the unutterable suffering, the misery of this unredeemed world and the sense and nonsense of death; inasmuch as they therefore await something new and long for the transfiguration, rebirth, redemption and liberation of man and his world.
Not only Christianity, but also the world religions perceive the goodness, mercy and graciousness of the Divinity: inasmuch, that is, as they know that the Divinity, despite its closeness, is distant and hidden, that the Divinity itself must bestow closeness, presence and revealedness; inasmuch as they tell man that he may not approach the Divinity as a matter of course, confident in his own innocence, that he is in need of purification and reconciliation, that he needs sacrifice for the remission of sin, that he gains life only by passing through death; in fact, that in the last resort man cannot redeem and liberate himself, but is thrown back on God's all-embracing love.
Not only Christianity, but also the world religions rightly heed the call of their prophets: inasmuch, that is, as they receive from their great prophetical figures -- models of knowledge and behavior -- inspiration, courage and strength for a new start toward greater truth and deeper understanding, for a breakthrough toward revival and renewal of the traditional religion.