It was somewhat poignant that in my World Religions class we had to write an analytical essay on Religious Diversity when I just blogged about the current tensions concerning Terry Jones, the Egypt uprising and that stupid movie which caused the big uproar. While I know some may not be familiar with the philosophical theories concerning religious diversity, I wanted to share my thoughts on it via my essay I turned in for the class. So here goes:
When considering the question of religious diversity, there is a current underlying theme of dissension and contradiction. First, exclusivists define themselves and their religion as the one and true path to salvation. They hold a belief that there is only one correct path to liberation and found in only one religion, usually that of their own. This first philosophy conflicts with the other two views, that of the pluralists and inclusivists. Pluralists maintain that all religions carry a certain legitimate claim to authenticity and there are many ways to salvation and liberation. Those who define themselves as inclusivists, state that “there is only one true account of how salvation can be achieved, but that people from different religions are saved because of the nature of this account of salvation.” Much discussion takes place within the philosophical world regarding these three philosophies, and when summarizing the debates, there seems to be a problem with those who claim a viewpoint of pluralism or inclusivism, as many of these individuals move in and out of the sphere of exclusivism on a whim.
Is there a one and true answer for religious diversity? No! Because at the very root of this problem is the underlying theme of non-tolerance for diversity? While one person may attribute their beliefs to that of a pluralist or inclusivist, at the very heart of their soul remains an exclusivist. This can certainly be seen within one of the readings which were discussed in class. This example is that of scholar Harold Kasimow, and his article on Heschel, the Jewish Rabbi. In this reading, Kasimow asserts several pluralist views that Heschel preached. “The Jews do not maintain that the way of the Torah is the only way of serving God,” Kasimow quoted Heschel. He also claimed that Heschel’s pluralist viewpoint included the fact that the Jewish Rabbi felt that “it is less important what religious path people follow than that they show compassion for their fellow human beings.” Yet, there is a hidden root of exclusivism, and Heschel travels in and out of its realm. This contradiction can be seen in the following statement of the Rabbi: “If God is alive, then the Bible is His voice. No other work is as worthy of being considered a manifestation of His will.” This directly conflicts with Herchel’s pluralist standing. Would God perhaps have revealed himself in the Qur’an, or another text? This is indeed possible. If Herchel was accepting of religious diversity, he would not have stated that the Bible is the exclusive manifestation of God’s will.
In reflecting upon the question of religious diversity, I am drawn to a statement from the John Hick’s article, On Conflicting Religious Truth-Claims. Mr. Hick expresses that on a higher and more momentous level, or plane, there will be differences in our ways of “conceiving and experiencing” what the divine Reality may be. I concur with this statement, as I feel that religious diversity can be paralleled to the myths of Noah and the flood. There are numerous cultures which have in their history a version of some paramount deluge which destroyed the world. In these cultures, the perception and myth may vary, but underneath these stories all deal with one thing, a flood. The “conceiving and experiencing” of these ancient people of the flood will be different because of their perceptions. These personal perceptions can explain why there are so many different oral myths and/or beliefs of the same God, and this personal perception can also explain why there is so much religious diversity.
Perhaps this is how one could view the existing problem of religious diversity. Diversity exists because the ultimate divine is our own personal perception, and thus, we will create our own personal God to whom we worship. People may come together to worship a similar deity, because in their perception, these other individuals are like minded. Hick’s statement in which he maintains that although religion takes “many different forms,” it “is the transformation of human existence from self-centredness to Reality-centredness,” to which all humanity strives for; clarifies what perhaps should be considered by all humans as an ultimate goal in acceptance and understanding of other religions. With that in mind, when re-thinking religious diversity, there should be no wrong or right answer. It is only our own personal perception which will bring us to our own personal heaven, nirvana, etc, and we must be tolerant of others’ perceptions.
Being able to study world religions in a class setting is a way in which one could gain the knowledge and understanding of others in this world and their perception of the divine. This particular class has been helpful to me as I delve deeper into the history of the people and cultures which shaped the religious practices of ancient and modern peoples. Without education, though, regarding the diverse religions, we grow no more mentally to a higher conscience or tolerant of things which we do not comprehend.
Hick, John. “On Conflicting Religious Truth-Claims.” Religious Studies, Dec. 1983: 485-491.
Kasimow, Harold. “Heschel’s View of Religious Diversity.” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations (The Berkeley Electronic Press) 2, no. 2 (2007): 19-25.
Sweetman, Brenden. “Religious Diversity: Is There a True Religion?” In Key Concepts in Philosophy, 141-156. London: Continuum, 2007.
 Brendan Sweetman, Religion, Key Concepts in Philosophy (London: Continuum, 2007), 145.
 Sweetman, Religion, Key Concepts in Philosophy, 149.
 Sweetman, Religion, Key Concepts in Philosophy, 153.
 Harold Kasimow, “Heschel’s View of Religious Diversity,” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 2 (2007): 22.
 Kasimow, “Herschel’s View of Religious Diversity,” 22.
 Kasimow, “Herschel’s View of Religious Diversity,” 23.
 Hick, “On Conflicting Religious Truth-Claims,” 489.