Sunday, February 04, 2007

Inter-religious theologies

I'm taking a course in Religious Plularism--from a Christian perspective. I.e. the course is not a course in World Religions--one week Hinduism, next Islam, etc.

But rather from a Christian theological stance, how are we to account for religious diversity, particularly in a globalized world, especially in a world where Christians inevitably find themselves living next to, possibly voting for (or against), encountering in one way or another people of other faiths or "no" faith at all. [I don't believe that anyone is without faith--everyone bases his/her life on some core principles, whether they are explicitly religious or not].

There are three main camps in the field: exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism.

Exclusivism says that there is one and only one religious path to truth (mine) and all others are false. For example, you must confess that Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior or you will die in hell. Although the sentiment is universal: there are exclusivists of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist (yes Buddhist: see Sri Lanka), etc. persuasions.

Inclusivism says that there is still only one path to truth but that this path can be at work in other religions. Sincere believers in other religions can find salvation/enlightenment but through a different mechanism. So far example, Jesuit (Roman Catholic) theologian Karl Rahner wrote that sincere believers of other faiths are "anonymous Christians." Of course there is still some problem with this point of view--how do I know as a Christian I'm not an anonymous Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, or Muslim? Or D.T. Suzuki: All true religion is Zen. Really?

Pluralism states that there are multiple paths--to the same goal? different goals?--and often that these paths are equal. Again whatever equal means here. Pluralism has the advantage of being (supposedly) non-imperialistic, but it can just as easily become its own form of theological dominance. You will except other traditions. It is not pure pluralism in the sense that all views (like inclusivist and exclusivist) are welcome. If all are equal do each cease to have meaning?

One other option is that of liberation theology which states that arguments about inclusivist, exclusivist, pluralist are just elite concerns, predominantly Western--even Easterners and Middle Eastern religions living in the West. The norm for liberation is the experience/theology of the poor. The religions come together in liberation from the forces of death/sin for the outcast.

Now those systems could be correlated, very roughly, with Fowler's stages of faith and/or value systems. Something like excl: blue, inclu.: orange, pluralist: green (or pomo Western red), lib.: Green/orange.

The Liberation model has some strengths. It understands that all such dialogues and discussions are (in part) political. They support consciously or otherwise, certain social and economic classes and systems over others, certain political points of view over others. The Liberation model recalls the billions of power in our world. That this world of such immense poverty is an affront to the God of Justice. It is sinful and we are all guilty by participating in its death dealing machinations.

On the other hand, the liberation model is a reconstruction by the middle/upper educated classes themselves. Liberation theologies are written by educated peoples' experience and understanding of their encounter with the poor and the God of the poor. It is not the poor themselves who have said their experience is the norm. As such, this model creates a new duality and commits (in its excess/worst moments) the reverse sins of that which it criticizes.

What I find interesting in all these positions is that they know. They know in some fashion or another the way it is. All of them give a coherent, rational picture of the world, religious diversity, and the ultimate meaning(s) to life.

In that sense I think they all fail. I don't actually think myself we know. While I deeply appreciate and have learned from and have experienced profound piety in people of other faiths', how do I honestly not know that any one of them isn't actually the right one and we should all be X. Or that there is one working secretly in the others.

Evidentially and phenomenologically, all I can know is that there are people of religious traditions other than mine who are evidently holy and devout, and who are so by being precisely their own tradition. Whatever that happens to be. That would tend towards a pluralist pov prima facie, except that beyond that experience I don't know. I don't know beyond that perspective.

Because I'm not on that path. Exclusivism, inclusivism, even pluralism are still almost (if not totally) from my lens. Particularly the first two, but still very much at work in the last. As well as the liberationist view.

We can not know beyond our own workings, path, injunctions, and worldviews. Because even imagining beyond that is still already a perspective, a space, an activity. I'm interested in mystery explored together and for justice in this world and for the world itself (ecologically). In that space, that emptiness beyond the theories, beyond them not before them--I really stress that point, you need to be all three/four of these positions before the spirit is ready for this empty space I'm discussing--perhaps there we can just be and do together.

The question itself in other words, as long as one is looking for answer, one is going to fall back into one of the four positions mentioned--some combination, some variation perhaps, but basically those are the contours.

What I'm arguing is that a so-called integral response is to 1. recognize the true and partial nature of the prior answers, the ones already in existence, already in our world, in relationship with us 2.have the need for the question to be answered (which is really more about us than God or Ultimacy I think) itself dissolve. Not be solved but dissolve.

I think the answer is in that sense, mostly apophatic. It is not exclusivist, inclusivist, pluralist, or liberationist, though not the opposite nor combination of those either.

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At 9:14 PM, Blogger Durwin said...

was your post...enjoy your clarity of thinking...and the way you bring originality to integral approach


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