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Theology Of Religions: Pluralism, Inclusivism, Exclusivism

English: Resurrection of Christ

Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Domenic Marbaniang

The term ‘theology of religion’ is to be understood here as the branch of Christian theology that attempts to theologically and biblically evaluate the phenomena of religion. Three important schools within this field are pluralism, inclusivism, and exclusivism. Each of them will be briefly examined here.

1. Pluralism

Pluralism is basically the belief that the world religions are true and equally valid in their communication of the truth about God, the world, and salvation. The chief expounder of this view is John Hick of Claremont Graduate School in California, who first propounded it in his book God and the Universe of Faiths (1973). His view is not different from the popular Hindu view capsulated in Krishna’s saying in the Bhagavadgita:

By whatsoever way men worship Me, even so do I accept them; for, in all ways, O Partha, men walk in My path. [IV.11]

This is the popular view that all religions lead to the same God and all ways lead to heaven. According to Hick, Christianity is not the one and only way of salvation, but one among several. To a pluralist such as Hick, Christianity is not the absolute, unique, and final way to God. While pluralists assert the validity of all religions, they also deny the finality of all religions. According to Hick, in the evolutionary scheme of things in which at isolated ages and places the early religions are succeeded by higher religions, it is the same message of God that comes distinctly to a particular group but as different from the others. Hick challenges the older view that Christ or Christianity must be seen at the center of religions. Rather, he says, God must be seen at the center of religions. The pluralistic contention is that all religions are fundamentally the same though superficially different.

‘The attraction of pluralism,’ says McGrath, ‘lies not in its claim to truth, which are remarkably elusive and shallow, but in its claim to foster tolerance among the religions.’ To an evangelical Christian, however, such pluralism only means the abolition of kerygmatic mission, i.e., the mission of evangelizing the world with the salvific gospel of Jesus Christ. However, the reasons for rejecting pluralism go beyond the cause of evangelization. Any sincere study of world religions expressly reveals that contrary to the pluralistic contention all religions look superficially the same but are fundamentally different. Each of them differs from the rest in its view of God, sin, salvation, death, and eternity. Obviously, the pantheistic notion of the world as God and the monotheistic notion of the world as creation of God are not the same. The only way to call them same is by jettisoning the notion of absolute truth itself; however, that would mean that no absolute statements about anything can be made, including the statement that all religions are the same.

Another point against pluralism is the counterfeit posture it assumes. Pluralism contends that it is different from exclusivism in that it accepts the validity of all religions. Thus, truth is both relativized and pluralized. However, one basic feature of truth is exclusivity. Truth by nature excludes everything else contrary to it. Thus, every statement in order to be meaningful must exclude all its opposite. Thus, pluralism by contending the validity of all religions against the segregated contention of each to validity excludes all other views contrary to it. For example, it excludes the view that ‘all religions are not true.’ Therefore, though assuming the form of pluralism, it is none other than a variant of exclusivism itself.

2. Inclusivism

Inclusivism is the belief that God is present in non-Christian religions to save the adherents through Christ. The inclusivist view has given rise to the concept of the anonymous Christian by which is understood an adherent of a particular religion whom God saves through Christ, but who personally neither knows the Christ of the Bible nor has converted to Biblical Christianity. This position was popularized by the Roman Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner (b. 1904).

One important issue that Rahner raises is about the salvation of those who have never had the opportunity to listen to the gospel Jesus Christ. To Rahner, then, people can be saved apart from allegiance to the Christian church. It is God in Christ who reaches out to the individual in his own personal religious history to same him. Rahner used the term ‘anonymous’ to denote people who experience the grace of God in Christ regardless to what religion they belong to. Inclusivism is based on two axioms: the first is that salvation is through Christ alone, the second is that God wills the whole world to be saved. Consequently, God saves people through Christ alone; however, he makes this possible through ways that extend to all humanity.

To Rahner, a non-Christian religion is a lawful religion for until its followers have a Christian witness it is a means by which non-Christians gain a right relationship with God. Also, the religion is included in God’s plan of salvation which God has ordained for the communication of His grace.

Inclusivism has a great appeal to people because of its sympathetic approach to religion. However, it ignores the fact of ungodly elements within religions. It would only be a contradiction in terms to conceive of a God who reveals that he is against idolatry and at the same time assert that he saves a person in his worship of idols. Jesus said it is by knowing the truth that one is liberated. When the apostles spoke of salvation by the name of Jesus, they never meant that people could be saved within allegiance to the lordship of Jesus; on the contrary, they expressly meant that only by a voluntary submission to the Lord could one be saved. The will of God for salvation of all men in 1 Timothy 2: 4  is qualified by His desire that all of them will come to the knowledge of the truth for which Paul testifies as being appointed a preacher. Thus, the Bible is clear on the point that knowledge of Christ precedes the reception of saving grace in faith.

Inclusivism is seen as arrogantly exclusivist, if seen from the perspective of other religions. It tells that Hindus are not saved by their dharma, and Muslims are not saved by their works, but all are saved unaware by Christ. This not only proves that the salvation doctrine of all other religions are false but also that people are not saved because of following the religious way of their religion. This is something like saying that the neighbor is living by my money though it is he who earns his livelihood and lives by it. The claim is unwarranted. Finally, Christ assumes a nebulous and abstract character and personal commitment to the historical Christ almost loses soteriological value as can be seen in the case of M. M. Thomas’ Christ-centered syncretism. Therefore, inclusivism cannot be accepted as Biblically warranted.

3. Exclusivism

Exclusivism is the theological position that holds to the finality of the Christian faith in Christ. The finality of Christ means that there is no salvation in non-Christian religions. Notable among the exclusivists of this century are Samuel Zwemer, Hendrik Kraemer, and Lesslie Newbigin.

Based on the Aristotelian concept of truth as one and not many, exclusivists regard all other religious claims as false and invalid since the Christian revelation is accepted as true. Exclusivists hold that salvation is through Christ alone. It is through a personal experience of commitment to Christ that one receives assurance of salvation. The non-believers cannot receive such assurance since they are neither aware of the uniqueness of Christ neither do they acknowledge His lordship. The exclusivist begins with the Bible as the source of all knowledge about spirituality and salvation. The Bible is the criterion of all religious truth. The Bible relates the history of redemption, gives a foundation to personal faith, is a guidebook of the Christian community, and tells us of the future of the world that links up all history, life, and service with meaning and purpose. Exclusivism, thus, establishes the uniqueness and identity of Christianity among world religions. Such exclusivism can take either an extremist or a moderate viewpoint. The extremist view regards all non-Christian religions as demonic and enemies of Christian truth. On the other hand, the moderate view sees some non-Christian religions as containing elements whereby a dialogue with them can be initiated. However, all exclusivists in general agree that salvation is exclusively only through Christ and received by a personal commitment to the Lord.

An exclusivist view is inevitable in any dialogue of truth. As has been seen, neither the pluralist nor the inclusivist could avoid being exclusivist at some point. Truth by nature is exclusive and any claim to truth is exclusive. The only way to deny exclusiveness of Christ is to deny the veracity of the Bible. The exclusivist view rightly sees the exclusiveness of the Bible in its proclamation of Christ as the only way of salvation. However, at the same time, it must be affirmed that the Bible also speaks of God involved in the history of the nations. Therefore, it must not be thought non-Christian religions are totally devoid of virtue. Thus, though being very vociferous in his attacks on Hinduism, Nehemiah Goreh could say that ‘Most erroneous as is the teaching of such books as the Bhagvadgita, the Bhagvata, etc., yet they have taught us something of ananyabhakti (undivided devotedness to God), of vairagya (giving up the world), of namrata (humility), of ksama (forbearance), etc., which enables us to appreciate the precepts of Christianity.’

Thus, of the various schools of approach to the study of religion, theologically speaking, moderate exclusivism proves to be the best, since it neither distorts the meaning of truth, as pluralism does, nor forces itself over the other religions, as inclusivism does, but remains true to its source of doctrine, viz. the Bible.

© Domenic Marbaniang, 2007

About the Author

Dean of Post-Graduate Studies, Professor of Theology, Religions, and Missions, Author, Editor of Theological Journal, and Pastor

Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/Theology Of Religions: Pluralism, Inclusivism, Exclusivism

Note – Since this article was first published, there have been some changes to articlesbase.com. The original links have been left intact. 

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Pelegianism and authoritarian personalities

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Was Thomas Merton a great mystic?

Was Thomas Merton really a great mystic, as indicated above?

name lost in internet. Seems to be Mystic Marr...

“Seems to be Mystic Marriage of Christ and the Church” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I think of great Catholic mystics people like St. Faustina Kowalska come to mind. She was so busy suffering for others and having daily visions of Christ that she barely had time to write out her Diary.

Can bookish scholars/writers like Merton be mystics?

Maybe.

But I don’t think they can be great mystics. They might have an inkling of what the great mystics talk about.

Also, how do we know what a great mystic is? Need they be church approved and funded? Could there be other mystics who go unnoticed? Could the knowledge of these “wildflower” mystics, as I call them, surpass what the Church recognizes as a mystic or a saint?

I don’t know.

Ronald E. Powaski has written about the Trappi...

Ronald E. Powaski has written about the Trappist monk, peace activist, and writer, Thomas Merton. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But my gut tells me that Merton, who was keen on study, talk and world travel, was not a great mystic. He might have been a great Catholic public figure. But that’s a totally different story.

I know everyone is different and it’s not a competition when it comes to serving God. But it seems there’s a sort of childish Catholic ‘cult’ mentality out there that I sometimes question.

Do some people need to believe in semi-mythical accounts for inspiration? Do they artificially elevate certain figures who really don’t deserve it? Are some religious people borderline fanatics?

Myself, I much prefer trying to get at the truth of things rather than following an overzealous, unthinking crowd.

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All you need is love… and maybe a little wisdom

This morning I replied to a Tweet that said the important question is whether a person is “alive” before death.

I suggested that it might be more fruitful to talk about being “awake” before death because to imply that someone isn’t alive – i.e. dead – seems a bit judgmental and final.

“Awake” and “asleep” are softer terms than “alive” and “dead.” And rarely do strong proclamations or insinuations do any good in helping ourselves and others.

So afterward, I walk to my local parish. And funnily enough the theme (and wording) for today’s Mass was about the soul not dying!

It made me think…

What did Jesus really say? The Bible has so many additions, glosses, translations, contexts, versions, and deletions that sometimes we can’t be sure. Even scholars and linguists quibble over the precise meaning of biblical terms (probably partly why I never bothered to learn Hebrew and Greek).

Dead Awake

Dead Awake (Photo: Wikipedia)

After a short while I came to the tentative conclusion that we’re all different and have unique roles to play in the grand scheme of things. So even someone who seems spiritually “dead” could be doing something vital. And even someone who seems spiritually “alive” could be out to lunch on other important issues.

Instead of a “this or that” approach, I think it’s more realistic to view people as complex, evolving creations. This involves a multi-dimensional or, if you like, a multi-factorial model of consciousness instead of a binary one.

With a multi-model we would be less inclined to judge and more open to finding out the inherent strengths in others. And more importantly, we might be better disposed to love, even if the “dead” or “sleepers” irritate or harm us.

Now let me be clear. I’m not talking about being a doormat. Nor am I suggesting we don’t defend ourselves or speak out against perceived injustices. I’m just talking about making practical instead of ultimate judgments.

For sure, I steer clear of people if I have reason to believe they’re borderline and possibly violent. You get people like that in big city churches. But I don’t hate them. And I don’t think they’re hell bound or simply going to disappear at death.

Loving people who have insulted or hurt us is not always easy. It might take a while to work through our own resentment. But I find that choosing to love usually works best for everyone, provided it’s done with discernment.

Discernment is a Catholic term with two related meanings. On the one hand it means finding out God’s will for us. On the other hand, discernment is learning to recognize the good and evil influences acting on our souls. Like anything, sincere seekers tend to get better at this over time.

So what will you choose?

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Catholic gender stereotypes rooted in the ancient world?

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Please don’t get me wrong. I consider myself a Catholic but, at the same time, cannot switch off my critical faculties just because I converted to that faith from a rather limp Anglican practice (limp because I rarely went to Church as a kid and young adult, except for the obligatory weddings and funerals).

I love the Catholic Eucharist and really don’t know if I could survive without its reliably uplifting love. For me the Eucharist literally is bread from heaven. I feel it and live it, and no atheist, materialist or neuroscientist will ever convince me that this experience is qualitatively the same as, say, a beautiful sunset, a Mozart sonata, or falling in love with another person. That’s just dead wrong.

However, some of the cultural and questionable aspects of the Catholic scene didn’t suddenly disappear the moment I was confirmed. It’s almost like I have to shut down my mind whenever I hear something that rings false or hypocritical during the Mass, all the while feeling the tremendous presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s a slightly strange situation. But when was life ever simple or straightforward?

With this preamble complete, I’d like to ask. If women are especially “religiously receptive,” as we see below, why can’t they be ordained as priests?

Image via Tumblr click for larger size

Image via Tumblr – click for large size

I know the standard Catholic answers. Or most of them. The reasoning I’ve heard seems weak—both logically and ethically.

So what do you think? Will Catholicism ever get past its ancient male chauvinism and reach out to one half of the human population in a fair, sensible way?

My guess is it will take at least a hundred years. Maybe more. Right now there is a known shortage of priests. And it seems the Church is mining the so-called “underdeveloped” countries for potential priests because so few in the so-called “developed” world are willing to commit. This global search is a good thing because it makes the Church more international here at home.

But still, the priest situation remains all male. And I find it a bit unsettling that not a few Catholic women and men identify with prefabricated gender stereotypes that the Church continues to legitimize and reproduce.

Source for quote appearing in this article: Printed flyer distributed in Catholic parishes by http://www.catholicmomsgroup.com


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New ways of thinking about psychological discomfort and distress

Note – As we see on CNN and elsewhere, for educational purposes the following talks about the n-word (in reference to black people) and the f-word (in reference to gay people) 

Today’s tweeted story reminds me of a somewhat unpopular viewpoint of mine and a few others.

I don’t expect this view to be embraced overnight. In my opinion society is not yet in a place to fully get it. Sometimes I feel like a feminist, black or gay rights activist must have felt in the 1940s. It’s not too hard to imagine how most people back then would have reacted to innovative thinkers concerned with social justice. And it is not so different, I believe with the idea of mental illness.

The word “illness” lends support and legitimacy to the current medical model. And the term is used so often that to simply question it is usually met with indifference or, worse, hostility.

But there are other ways of looking at psychological discomfort and distress. Ways that involve personal transformation, spirituality and, yes, our largely unknown and mysterious universe.

Catholic devotional image of Saint Dymphna, the patron of those afflicted with mental and nervous disorders

Catholic devotional image of Saint Dymphna, the patron saint of those with mental and nervous afflictions

So when I see the term “mental illness” a red flag goes up.

Several corporations have launched “Let’s talk about mental illness” campaigns. I’m not certain how sincere these campaigns are. They may be genuine. They may also be an effort to publicly shine with the hope of boosting profits. Possibly both.

But what concerns me most is the persistent and widespread use of the phrase mental illness.

Consider:

  • In the doctor’s office I saw a sign that read, FACE MENTAL ILLNESS
  • On an Ontario highway a large billboard said I GOT MY DEGREE DESPITE MY MENTAL ILLNESS, replete with a smiling, slightly unusual looking woman wearing a mortarboard
  • At Catholic Mass a Jesuit priest and a Monsignor repeatedly offer up prayers “for those suffering from mental illness”

And, as I say, corporations regularly advocate discussion and promote charities for “mental illness.”

Sounds good, right?

Well, not to me. Sometimes I’ve felt that these drives are tantamount to saying something like:

  • It’s okay to be a n*****
  • Face being a n*****
  • I got my degree despite being a n*****
  • We offer our prayers for the n*****s among us
  • Let’s talk about being a n*****
  • BEING A N***** IS NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. BUT STIGMA AND BIAS SHAME US ALL

Or, perhaps, something like:

  • It’s okay to be a f**
  • Face being a f**
  • I got my degree despite being a f**
  • We offer our prayers for the f**s among us
  • Let’s talk about being a f**
  • BEING A F** IS NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. BUT STIGMA AND BIAS SHAME US ALL

If that’s not clear enough, I am alluding to the old, pejorative n-word once commonly used for black people, and the old pejorative f-word once widely used for gays.

For those who question or see beyond the overly medicalized understanding of psychological suffering, many signs and slogans about so-called mental illness seem strangely paradoxical and indicate just how unenlightened we are in 21st century.

It’s time to not just talk about mental illness in the mainstream sense, but also about the negative and limiting connotations carried by the very phrase, mental illness. This phrase is widely and unconsciously used today, just as the n- and f-words were once ignorantly tossed about in the past.

Words have power. They affect how people think and act. And the built-in assumptions and implications of many words can be harmful or helpful.

So I offer this perspective as something to think about. It’s time to talk. Not unconsciously, just kicking the same old ideas around—but consciously, with open, discerning minds.

About the Author

Michael Clark did his PhD in Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa, Canada (1997). His doctoral thesis focuses on Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity and Michel Foucault’s postmodern theory.


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Mysticism needs a reality check

This is one of the better articles on mysticism I’ve seen in a while. Not only does it gently rebuke those Christian fundamentalists who proclaim that mysticism is “of the devil.” But it also mentions how Evelyn Underhill, one of my favorite writers on mysticism, points out as far back in 1914 that the word mysticism means different things to different people.

To a Zen monk, mysticism might mean stopping one’s thoughts and living in the moment. To a Hindu, it might mean feeling a psychological expansion, making the ego and worldly affairs appear trivial.

Most conventional Catholics interested in or claiming to be mystics seem to frame their approach, experiences and understanding within some – but usually not all – of their Catholic teachings, legends and practices.

Over the years I’ve heard some pretty questionable claims from some self-proclaimed Catholic mystics. One element that unconfirmed mystics seem to have in common is that they believe they have no need for dialog or spiritual direction. In their minds, they are right about practically everything.

English: Evelyn Underhill. Author given as Wil...

Evelyn Underhill via Wikipedia

But who among us is without some kind of human limitation?

Because we are all limited, I believe it is essential for budding mystics to receive some kind of direction from another person or persons. I don’t believe a Catholic must necessarily see a Catholic spiritual director. That may help in traditional situations where everyone shares the same beliefs without question. In common parlance, if it’s a good fit, why change it?

But for Catholics uncomfortable with aspects of the greater Catholic culture, guides and critics from other traditions and with different perspectives might be more appropriate in keeping them real.

This reminds me of another type of mystic I have encountered. I call these creative souls “wildflowers.” Unlike the well cared for “hothouse flowers” of traditional Catholicism, the wildflowers are just out there. I’ve found them in the most unusual places, each different but definitely tuned in.

One had pink hair and worked in a record store, another was a ‘normal’ looking man who owned a milk store. And yet another lived in my apartment building back in my student days. These wildflowers seem to be able to access subtle, interior insights without really having to go to any kind of church or temple.

Sometimes I wish I was more like the wildflowers. But it seems I am something of a hybrid between a wild and a hothouse flower. I need the Catholic Eucharist to stay on top of things. However, I do approach my religion in my own way. I don’t do this to be rebellious. On the contrary, I feel it’s important to approach one’s religion by the spirit rather than the letter of the law.
harding_gs

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

~ 2 Corinthians 3:6

This is a basic Christian teaching that sadly, I think many Catholics have forgotten with the rules, regulations and hypocrisy that might be turning so many thinking people away from discovering something truly glorious.