The Perversion of Pluralism
We have often read or heard that we are living in a pluralistic society in which many different philosophies and beliefs may co-exist with a degree of tolerance exercised by all. We are living in an age and dwelling in a land of extensive religious pluralismbut is this reasonable and right?
We especially want to focus on religious pluralism which is a belief that may be described in this way:
Religious pluralism is an attitude or policy regarding the diversity of religious belief systems co-existing in society. It can indicate one or more of the following:
1. As the name of the worldview according to which one’s religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth, and thus the acknowledgement that at least some truths and true values exist in other religions.
2. As acceptance of the concept that two or more religions with mutually exclusive truth claims are equally valid. This may be considered a form of either toleration (a concept that arose as a result of the European wars of religion) or moral relativism.
3. The understanding that the exclusive claims of different religions turn out, upon closer examination, to be variations of universal truths that have been taught since time immemorial. This is called Perennialism (based on the concept of philosophia perennis) or Traditionalism.
4. Sometimes as a synonym for ecumenism, i.e., the promotion of some level of unity, co-operation, and improved understanding between different religions or different denominations within a single religion.
5. As term for the condition of harmonious co-existence between adherents of different religions or religious denominations.
6. As a social norm and not merely a synonym for religious diversity.
If this is a working description of religious pluralism, what can we say about this system? Notice the points above. The first point says that one’s religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth. But is this something that our Lord Jesus would promote? Although religion is an ambiguous term that is often used or misused, we must say that if Christ is true (and He is) and if he taught the truth (and He did), then He definitely is the sole and exclusive source of truth.
Someone rightly said of Him: Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any (Matthew 22:16). This is correct. Remember Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6). He told Pilate that He came into the world to testify to the truth (18:37). This would mean that if Jesus taught something, any religion that would contradict this must of necessity be false.
The second point on pluralism is equally false. In this case, pluralism is acceptance of the concept that two or more religions with mutually exclusive truth claims are equally valid. This is clearly false. What is the sum of two plus two? The answer is four! It cannot be three, five, of eight. Regardless of how strongly someone believes that the sum of these two numbers is three or seven, the one and only sum is four! This may disturb some people in our post modern age, and it may cause some to charge one with intolerance, but the clear answer is four and only four, as exclusive as this may sound. Similarly, if the Lord Jesus is the only way to be saved (Acts 4:12), anyone who would deny this or propose that one can be saved through Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Sun Myung Moon, or Charles Taze Russell, must of necessity be false.
The third point above is equally false. This is the assertion that the understanding that the exclusive claims of different religions turn out, upon closer examination, to be variations of universal truths that have been taught since time immemorial. Again this is a contradictory view that the truth-seeker must reject. For instance, if Islam says that Allah has no Son, and Judaism says that Yahweh has no Son, and Christianity says that God does have a Son (Jesus Christ), we know that these views cannot all be correct. They do not represent universal truths but are false views since they deny a basic tenant of Christianity. While superficially, there are certain points such as respect and kindness that various religions teach, even these rest on different foundations.
The fourth point has only a partial truth. This is the one that promotes ecumenism, the promotion of some level of unity, co-operation, and improved understanding between different religions or different denominations within a single religion. The way of Christ would seek to promote peace between people (Romans 12:18), but this would not be an approval of other religions. We should all seek understanding between people, but this must not mean a working together with all religions.
Paul puts it this way: Do not be bound together with unbelievers, for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15). We must not be bound together with those who are not in Christ, in the name of pluralism or to accomplish ecumenism.
In the fifth point, pluralism may be the condition of harmonious co-existence between adherents of different religions or religious denominations. This is correct, to some degree. There should not be hostility and conflict with any other religion. But there definitely is a limit to which we may be in harmonious co-existence with others (see 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 again). We must maintain peace but cannot suggest or agree with any understanding that all religions are compatible or that those out of Christ are not lost or under the wrath of God (Romans 1:18).
We are not sure what the sixth point is affirming when it states that pluralism is a social norm and not merely a synonym for religious diversity. If this means that many different religions are found in each locality, then this is the way it is and we cannot deny it. It is not what God wants, but we must accept the fact that most people refuse to place themselves under the authority of God. It may also mean that society as a whole is pluralistic. Again, we cant deny this but it is not what God wants, not what He directs, and not what pleases Him.
What can we say about pluralism and what it represents in light of Gods Word? We come to this question with the presupposition that there is a God and that He has made His truth known to all. He wants His truth to extend around the world and says that without this truth, people are alienated from Him now and will be separated from Him for all eternity (John 3:16-18, 36; Matthew 25:41, 46).
Somehow we tend to think that it is a virtue to accommodate all religions, or no religion, and express this toleration of anything a person believes. If one rejects such inclusiveness, he is considered a bigot, or intolerant fundamentalist, a blinded cultist, an exclusivistic religionist, or an obscurantist.
But what about the issue of truth? We know instinctively that two incompatible truths cannot both be right. The Law of Noncontradiction says that this is so. This is true in our everyday lives as well. We cant have a sunny and a rainy day at the same time and at the same place. A car cannot be black and while at the same time and in the same way. In the spiritual realm, we see vast differences and incompatible beliefs between the different religions. They cant all be right.
Lets notice the view of various religions on the person of Christ Jesus. Consider first, Islam. Muslims, as guided by the Quran, believe that Jesus was the virgin-born Messiah. He was a miracle-worker and taught a number of truths that we should accept. In fact, He was a leading prophet before the time of Muhammad. But what else does this leading religion believe?
Muslims reject the idea that Jesus was sinless and utterly reject the fact that He was the Son of God. To them, this truth is blasphemy! However, John says that the reason that he wrote was so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31). Furthermore, Muslims deny that Jesus was crucified and was raised on the third day, something that Paul says is at the center of the gospel (good news) of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-22). Islams beliefs clearly contradict the Word of God, thus there can be no harmony between the Muslim view and the Christian view.
What about Judaism? The Jewish view is that Jesus was either a good teacher, a misguided fanatic, or a deceiver. Some are more charitable than others regarding Christ. But they plainly deny the gospel of Christ that is necessary for salvation. Peter declared, There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Paul said that there is one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). In order to be saved from sin, death, and hell, one must accept that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and is the only way to heaven (John 3:16-18, 36; 5:24; Romans 5:1-11). Therefore, there is no way that Christianity and Judaism can be reconciled.
Some may think that Hinduism and Christianity might be harmonious, if we look below the surface. But this is far from the truth. While we could look at many aspects of this religion and compare them to the way of Christ, lets just look at the person of Jesus:
In contrast to some of the more recent religions, such as Islam and Baha’i, Hinduism does not refer to Jesus in its scriptures, and he plays no role in any of the classical Hindu mythology. Nevertheless, due to the contact with Christianity over the last few centuries, some Hindu thinkers have found a place for Jesus in their view. These considerations have taken the form of two particularly noteworthy ideas.
The Hindu god Vishnu. The first one is that Jesus was one of the incarnations (avatars) of God. Most Hindus believe that God, specifically Vishnu, took on human or animal forms at various times in order to perform certain feats that would preserve true Hindu teaching (the dharma). In this context, then, it has been argued that Jesus, along with Rama, Krishna, and others, was just one more divine self-embodiment. Whereas Christians generally believe that Jesus was the one and only incarnation of God, this view would hold that he was an incarnation, just not the only one.
The second way of trying to incorporate Jesus into Hinduism, not necessarily incompatible with the first, is to claim that Jesus learned the teachings which he later proclaimed in India. According to this notion, Jesus spent his so-called silent years between ages twelve and thirty at the feet of Hindu masters in India, and it is their teaching that he then proclaimed during his ministry. . . . A Christian might respond to the second theory by pointing out that Christ’s teaching was, of course, nothing like Hinduism, so that if he had learned it in India, he either forgot it or modified it beyond recognition on the way back to Palestine. And this problem also vitiates the idea that Christ was an incarnation of Vishnu because he certainly did not teach the Hindu dharma. And finally, since Jesus claimed to be the only way to God, if his teaching was true, he could not have been one of several ways to God. Thus, the attempts by some Hindus to incorporate Jesus tend to be forced and not very helpful. (christiananswers.net/ evangelism/beliefs/ hinduism.html).
While some Hindus claim that they will accept Jesus Christ into their worldview, it cannot be done. Of the 330 million gods in this religion, Jesus cant just be accepted as one of them. The Lord Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (John 14:6). The only way to be accepted by God in heaven is to go through His dear Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Buddhism poses its own problems. Siddhartha Guatama taught many things about the nature of life, the nature of sin, and the nature of the future that contradict the truth of God found in Scripture. The whole philosophy and meaning of life is in conflict with the truth found in Gods Word. This is one explanation about the Buddhist view of Christ:
The Buddha never considered himself to be a god or any type of divine being. Rather, he considered himself to be a way-shower’ for others. Only after his death was he exalted to god status by some of his followers, though not all of his followers viewed him that way. With Christianity however, it is stated quite clearly in the Bible that Jesus was the Son of God (Matthew 3:17: And a voice from heaven said, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased) and that He and God are one (John 10:30). One cannot rightfully consider himself or herself a Christian without professing faith in Jesus as God.
Jesus taught that He is the way and not simply one who showed the way as John 14:6 confirms: I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me. By the time Guatama died, Buddhism had become a major influence in India; three hundred years later, Buddhism had encompassed most of Asia. The scriptures and sayings attributed to the Buddha were written about four hundred years after his death.
In Buddhism, sin is largely understood to be ignorance. And, while sin is understood as moral error, the context in which evil and good are understood is amoral. Karma is understood as nature’s balance and is not personally enforced. Nature is not moral; therefore, karma is not a moral code, and sin is not ultimately immoral. Thus, we can say, by Buddhist thought, that our error is not a moral issue since it is ultimately an impersonal mistake, not an interpersonal violation. The consequence of this understanding is devastating. For the Buddhist, sin is more akin to a misstep than a transgression against the nature of holy God. This understanding of sin does not accord with the innate moral consciousness that men stand condemned because of their sin before a holy God (Romans 1-2). (gotquestions.org/buddhism.html).
We can see that Buddhism is far removed from the truth of Scripture, thus there can be no harmony between this religion and true Christianity. Pluralism just cant work when there are mutually exclusive views of Christ and the way to heaven.
Some may bring up various churches or groups that claim to be of Christ, such as the Jehovahs Witness cult, the Mormons, the Christian Scientists, the members of Unity, and other such religious movements. As one examines the view of Christ Jesus found in these and hundreds of other similar groups, we see a wide gulf. If ones view of Jesus Christs nature and work differs from true Christianity, we can see no agreement at all. Those who laud the religious pluralism in America and many other parts of the world are simply blind to the disharmony and conflict that exists between the truth and any given religion.
When someone says that a religion such as Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam agrees with the way of Christ, either they are self-deluded, or dishonest, or ignorant. We think of the word of God through Isaiah: Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (5:20). Christs way is an uncompromising way and there is no honest way to find agreement with any other way.
It is true that we are living in a pluralistic society in America and in many other nations of the world. We must not be mean, harsh, or belligerent as we declare the way of God in this fallen world. But we need to clearly express the exclusive nature of true Christianity rather than falling for a false inclusivity brand of watered-down religion that has come with this postmodern age.
Since there is only one way to God in heaven and we must believe that way now if we want to enter heaven, it is not loving, kind, reasonable, or honest to give people the impression that they are fine in the religion of their choice. No, the most loving thing we can do is to share the truth now that they may be saved from their sins, repent of their wrongdoings, and place their faith in Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life. There is no other way.