MITRA: Passing on the faith once delivered to saints
Religious pluralism is a belief that neutralizes religious differences and denominational conflicts within the confines of faith.
For most religious traditions, religious pluralism is essentially based on non-literal views of one’s religious tradition, hence allowing for respect to be engendered between different traditions on core principles rather than on marginal issues.
It is summarized as an attitude which rejects focus on secondary differences and gives respect to those beliefs held in common.
It is often dictated that, because we live in a pluralistic society, we have no moral right to endeavour to change another person’s beliefs.
We are advised we should pursue dialogue in a multi-faith context on the assumption that all beliefs are valid.
The primary barrier for the Gospel in a variety of settings is ideologically-driven pluralism.
This does not merely extol the virtue of understanding and appreciating cultural differences.
Virtually everyone is for that.
Pluralism holds that distinct cultural beliefs are true for that culture, but not for cultures that operate out of a different paradigm.
Pluralists say truth is a “social construction” created through social consensus and tradition, not discovered in reality that exists independent of our beliefs.
Truth is subjective interpretation, not correspondence between our beliefs and reality.
Since pluralists consider truth to be a cultural construct, it is the height of arrogance to convert someone from their paradigm to the Christian gospel.
That’s what most people mean when they say evangelical Christianity is intolerant.
What does this analysis of pluralism mean for the Christian witness to a secular culture? There are certain principles to deal with this challenge.
First, most peoples’ thoughts about the world’s religions are shaped by their cultural and political legacy.
With this in mind, Christians should not try to defend the indefensible.
The only association many primal cultures have with Christianity has been when it was used as a tool of exploitation and domination.
We need to distinguish between what the Christian message is and how it has been interpreted.
Second, the rise of pluralism requires us to be more sensitive to the role culture plays in personal identity and forming spiritual beliefs.
This might mean looking for opportunities to meet people in places where they are comfortable even if we aren’t.
Subverting the expectations non-Christians have of Christians is an increasingly important part of being effective ambassadors for Christ today.
While acknowledging the challenges involved in being witnesses for Christ in a pluralistic society, evangelicals firmly believe pluralism affords opportunities to witness.
One such opportunity comes in the form of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nation.
Article 18 ensures the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
This right includes freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom to manifest one’s faith in teaching, practice, worship and observances.
Article 19 guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
With such legal sanctions, it is surprising to see the negative reactions elicited over the issues of conversions.
More about recommending one’s faith to another from the biblical viewpoint will follow in a later column.
Narayan Mitra is a chaplain at Thompson Rivers University.