Darkness Into Light

Darkness Into Light

Another photo from the Bryn Athyn Cathedral taken during the Landmarks in Lights celebration.

A number of earlier posts took on the problem of religious exclusivism - the idea that "outside the church there is no salvation". It is important to note that not all churches, congregations and individuals hold exclusivist beliefs. Religious pluralism is the view that religions can co-exist in society, and all religions are valid when interpreted within their own culture. Pluralism can be summarized in this Sufi proverb: "There are as many paths to God as there are souls on the Earth".

Although some atheists may argue that there is a strong correlation between "religion" and "evil" by citing various religious conflicts in history, in essence, they are referring to conflicts arising out of the belief in religious exclusivism. Exclusivism is the first step towards fundamentalism. If you believe that other faith groups worship demons, or that they will go to Hell, then you might be only a few steps away from being brainwashed into committing violence...

Religions can no longer hold on to exclusivist dogma. In fact, exclusivism might be the reason for the decline in church attendance in many developed countries of the world; after all, it is hard to sell religious particularism to an educated populace. Churches have to move from "darkness into light" when it comes to religious exclusivism, otherwise they will fade into irrelevance as Zeus, Ra and Odin did. Orthodox religions have a lot to learn from pluralist spiritual traditions.

When religious exclusivists are confronted with ideas of pluralism, they generally take one of two stances; They either take a "you're going to hell and you don't know it" posture, or they talk about how some other religion is going to enslave them. I'm sure you've heard the rant about "Sharia Law" in the United States, or, "evil missionaries" in the Islamic world. The real threat to religions is not other religions, or even atheists. The threat is in their own exclusivist dogma. With materialism and hedonism becoming the syncretic religion of the times, religions have to take on the extra burden of guiding people through the complexities brought by modern culture. Isolation is out of the question. The only way a religion can remain "competitive" will be in its ability to qualify the lives of people in this ever-complex world. We are sentenced to a pluralist future...

And finally, religions institutions have to take a global role and a global stance on issues - beyond their own interests. If the environment is destroyed, there will be no one to proselytize. In the current global economy, poverty, corruption and military conflict are interlinked global problems effecting people of all faiths simultaneously. All religious leaders have to take a stance on these issues, rather than turn a blind eye. A sin is a sin no matter who commits it!

Peace cannot be built on exclusivism, absolutism, and intolerance. But neither can it be built on vague liberal slogans and pious programs gestated in the smoke of confabulation. There can be no peace on earth without the kind of inner change that brings man back to his "right mind". -- Thomas Merton

Song of the Day: Give Peace A Chance - John Lennon (1969)
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