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Reacting to religious diversity

Conflicts involving
religious exclusivism

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Conflicts between exclusivism and religious pluralism:

Exclusivism and religious pluralism are two opposing ways of looking at world religions in relation to one's own faith.

Most people in North America and the rest of the world probably take an exclusivist position: they believe that their religion, and only theirs, is completely true. Most believe that their God communicated universal truths by special revelation given to their spiritual ancestors or patriarchs. This knowledge has been passed on to present-day humanity, often in the form of religious texts. People hold tenaciously to their particular faith, believing it to be God's revealed wish for all humanity. They view the Gods of other religions as false. Some may even view other faith groups or denominations within their own religion to be false.

Harold Coward commented:

"Many religions exhibit an inner tendency to claim to be the true religion, to offer the true revelation as the true way of salvation or release. It appears to be self-contradictory for such a religion to accept any expression of ultimate reality other than its own" 1

It is probably difficult for them to recognize much merit in other religions. 2,3 The only valid parts of other religions that many can acknowledge are instances where they agree with their own religion -- beliefs arrived at either by accident, or by observing nature, or by following their conscience.

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Exclusivism and religious freedom:

Exclusivism, the belief that one's religion is true and that all others are false, can develop into hatred of other faith groups and their members. Religious exclusivism is often a major cause of much of the world's civil unrest, civil wars, mass crimes against humanity and genocide. Yet, the U.S. and Canada have enjoyed a high level of religious freedom and a relative absence of religiously motivated conflict -- even though a mainly non-violent form of exclusivism is probably predominant here. 

The American and Canadian public have a very high regard for human rights, including religious freedom. Thus, they are willing to tolerate other religious beliefs, even though they consider them to be false. If this is true, then it would appear that the best way to reduce religiously based friction throughout the world is for governments and religious institutions to promote human rights generally, religious freedom in particular, and respect for minority religious beliefs.

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Exclusiveness and pluralism in the Bible:

The authors of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) were often exclusivist. Some of the most frequently quoted passages reinforce this belief. For example:

bulletAccording to Christian Scriptures, salvation and the avoidance of an eternal punishment in Hell is available only to Christians:
bulletJohn 14:6: "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (all KJV) (More details)
bulletMatt 7:13: "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat."
bulletActs 4:12: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
bulletJesus considered a follower of at least one other religion to be sub-human. According to Matthew 15:22-28, Jesus was approached by a non-Jewish woman seeking healing for her daughter. Matthew calls her a Canaanite; Mark 7:25-30 calls her a Greek / Syrophenician. Being non-Jewish, Jesus considered her to be sub-human, and not worthy of his attention; he referred to her as a dog: 
bulletMatthew 15:26 quotes Jesus as saying: "...It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs." 
bulletMark 7:27 repeats this as: "...it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs."
bulletAccording to Paul, the Gods of other religions are actually demons. One should not even befriend non-Christians: 
bullet1 Corinthians 10:20: "But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils."

However, there is one passage in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) where the prophet Micah prophesied about a coming time when nations will stop attempting to exterminate each other. The peoples of the world will live in peace and pursue their different religions, each worshipping their different Gods and Goddesses. Meanwhile, the Jews will continue to follow Jehovah.

His prophesy largely came to pass for the known western world during the Roman Empire where religious were generally tolerated (except for the intermittent persecution of Christians). There has not been any period since the fall of the Roman Empire when tolerance of religious minorities has been generally observed worldwide.

bulletMicah 4:3-5 "...they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hat spoken it. For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever." (KJV)

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References used in the above essay:

  1. Harold Coward, "Pluralism ; Challenge to World Religion," Sri Satguru Publications (1996), Page vii. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store 
  2. Jim Lefell, "Christian witness in a pluralistic age," Xenos Fellowship, at: http://www.xenos.org/
  3. Gregory Koukl, "Religious Pluralism," Stand to Reason radio program, at: http://www.str.org/

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Copyright © 2001 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-MAY-20
Latest update: 2007-NOV-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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