Exclusivism, Pluralism, Inclusivism, and Religious Language

Discuss whether you see a way around exclusivism, pluralism, and inclusivism that might still keep integrity of each particular religion in place. Discuss how religious language might or might not play a role in your conclusion.

Exclusivism (the doctrine that only one religion is “true”) is the foundation of many religions.  If Scripture is correct, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”  Whatever a person believes passionately will come out of his or her mouth.  People who believe that their belief system has the only means to salvation; if they believe that souls depend on the truth of that system, that belief will be shared with others. They can fully respect the dignity of other people, and understand the depth of the beliefs of others; they want to share the truth so that all will come to salvation.  One can “witness” or “evangelize” by simply stating one’s belief, while allowing others to share their own beliefs in the same way.

Inclusivism may be compatible with exclusivism, in that (in Christianity, for example) inclusivism maintains that Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation, but salvation (through Christ) can be obtained without a specific belief in Christ for salvation, but through the “general revelation” of nature. People who embrace inclusivism have an understanding that people who have never heard the gospel of Christ, may (through general revelation) may come to a saving faith without ever hearing of Christ).

Pluralism maintains that all religions are equally valid and that any religion may bring a person to salvation.  This cannot be compatible with exclusivism (within a person) but may coincide with inclusivism.  Once cannot simultaneously believe that there is only one means of salvation and believe that there are many ways to salvation.

Within a group of people, discussions can take place that allow sharing and debates of beliefs.  These discussions can get passionate and even heated at times, and they depend on the ability of others to present their convictions and listen to other people and maintain respect and civility for the other people, even if they do not respect the other religion.  If respect and civility are not present, the “doctrine of ‘just shut up’” might come into play.

When two groups of people of opposing faiths meet together, there may be certain “ecumenical” guidelines in place.  For instance, immediately after September 11, 2001, a church invited a local Muslim congregation to a potluck on Sunday afternoon.  The agreement was that the religious leaders would not “proselytize.”  Before eating, the Christian pastor prayed to the “God of Abraham,” in respect of the beliefs of the Muslims present.  The mullah began his prayer with “There is one God and Muhammad is his prophet.”  Both maintained respect for the beliefs of the other group of believers, but only one presented an understanding of “inclusivism.”

At times, it appears that “let’s discuss our beliefs” turns into “just let me talk and eventually you’ll agree with me.”  And “let’s compromise” becomes “just let go of your convictions and come to my understanding and we’ll be fine.”

“Religions for Peace” is an interfaith organization that brings a broad range of religions together to work toward social justice and other global issues.  In this structure, the integrity of each religion can be maintained because the people do not work for evangelism, they work to prevent global climate change or some other such thing.  At the end of the day, people have worked toward their social goals, have not had their beliefs encroached upon and they can get up and attend their own church without having their beliefs challenged.

If, however, within that organization, people begin to preach their “truth” to the people they are trying to help, tension becomes unavoidable, since if one is “right”, the others must be “wrong” (even if the “right truth” is that exclusivism is wrong).  The integrity of the opposing religions cannot be maintained because the “agreement” of ecumenicalism” is not being respected.

The “language” of religion may or may not play a part.  At times it seems as though two people may use the same words, but mean very different things.  Even among Christians, one can ask “What is ‘the Gospel?’” and hear different answers:  “the truth”, “the Good News”, “We sinned, Jesus died” or even “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”  This leads to frustration because the conversation may appear fruitful, until one party or another realizes that “justification” has very different definitions to the people involved.  Only through discussion and honest questioning (and listening) does understanding occur.

“Those who stand for nothing, fall for anything” – Alexander Hamilton.  The ability of a person or group of people to maintain the integrity of their religion includes knowing the beliefs of the religion and having the conviction that the belief is correct.  It means little to belong to a religion if one chooses to remain unaware of the doctrines and (even if aware) is willing to sacrifice those believes on the altar of “can’t we all just get along-ism.”   One can remain firm in one’s beliefs without sacrificing civility.

The integrity of a religion can be maintained…unless it is weakened by those within.

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