Responding to Religious Diversity

  by Andrea J. Graham

Some days it seems the only thing we humans can agree on is that we disagree and how we respond to that disagreement is another point of disagreement! This disagreement is often colored in nice terms like “plurality” and “diversity”. Though Diversity makes for interesting dinner conversation (sometimes), and it can often be a very good thing (for instance, cultural diversity), but that isn’t a universal. Again, this is another point of disagreement among people. When it comes to religious diversity, suddenly, the fighting gloves come on—even among those who welcome Religious Diversity!

There are two main points that while making religious discussions an interesting sport (spectator or otherwise), also contributes directly to the problems that make it so interesting in the first place. First, most religions make a claim to absolute truth. This is because one of the deep-set needs that religions fill is a desire to understand the truth and the nature of reality. Even those who claim there is no absolute Truth have this need—they have come to the Absolute Truth that there IS no Absolute Truth (which is why logically these religions make no sense.)

But of course, religion, when you put away all your college text books, is merely Man’s attempt to put God in a box where he either dissects and studies him or tries to remake the Creator in the image of the Creation—or tosses Him in the incinerator and when that fails to destroy Him, hides Him under the bed or in the back of the closet.) Now, I do not consider my faith (Christianity) to be a religion, however, for convenience sake, I may use the secular terms even when referring to it from time to time.

Speaking of such, the clearest claim of Absolute Truth was made by my Lord and recorded by John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No One comes unto the Lord except by me” (quoted from memory). I, naturally, stand by this scripture wholeheartedly. The problem is there are many other religions that (falsely in my opinion) make these same claims. This is very confusing for many people, 3 million religions (unfortunately this is probably not much of an exaggeration) all claiming to be The Truth. The possibilities seem to boggle the mind: Are they all the Truth? Are any of them the Truth? If not, which one is? How could they ever pick just one?

The second point is related to the first, that is the culture of plurality and diversity in the United States, which encourages us to respect all religions equally and whole l and embrace our differences with open arms. Now this to me seems to require that either all the religions that claim to be The Truth are lying or that they are all telling the truth and some how all are the only way. But how can they all be the ONLY way? At the least you have them misguided. The two claims contradict each other and are irreconcilable.

People’s responses to diversity generally fall into one of five categories:

Firstly, some people respond that their religion is telling the truth—that it is the exclusive way and that all other religions are false. This tends to be a mostly Judeo-Christian perspective.

Being a Christian, I myself back my Lord’s claim that he is the Only Way, to even the exclusion of Jews that reject Him. I believe wholeheartedly that only Christianity is true and only Christians go to Heaven. In fact, I believe, as my Lord said, that there are many that call on his name (i.e., those who call themselves Christians) who do not truly know him and will be sent away from his presence at the final Judgment. I also believe there is a way to test the Spirit in someone claiming Christ to see if they truly have a Christian spirit—”By their fruit, you will know them” Jesus advices us.

I also believe that all other religions are authored by the Devil and that he crafted so many false religions to claim that they are the only Truth for the express purpose of confusing us and leading God’s people astray. Why do I believe this? Because I have studied the bible and found that this is what it says. And in my short years Jesus has already more than proved Himself to me. He is unlike any of the other false religions and has given me no reason to doubt His Word.

The second category people fall into is the logical end result of the juxtaposing the two earlier stated facts after rejecting Christ: No religion is exclusive and no religion can rightfully claim absolute truth—the “there is no Absolute truth” claim I mentioned earlier. They generally go in two directions: All religions are wrong and society should be secular (this would be the group that claims to be the absolute truth while holding that there is none), the second says that while some religions may misguidedly believe they are the absolute truth, they are all equally valid and that the choice is up to the individual. This sure sounds nice, but it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Thirdly, some believe that while their religion is the one true way, most other religions have some degree of the truth, but that truth has become distorted. Hindus and Muslims are prime examples of some people that believe this.

To me, this view point both makes sense and does not. It makes sense in a way. I may even partially agree, at least to the point that unconsciously most do believe in the One True God and know subconsciously what he requires, but have chosen to reject Him. Points of agreement tend to relate to that. More pertinently, the bible warns that the Devil can counterfeit anything (which would include the truth), and tradition warns that the most dangerous lie was half-true. Logically, however, the belief of the third group itself doesn’t make much sense to me, though I see how one might come to this conclusion.

Fourthly, some believe that all religions are on the same mountain climbing towards unity, towards the absolute truth. Of course, their religion is generally the fulcrum at which the religions will meet. This dangerous stand point is partially true. I tend to view this as the Devil giving his game plan away. My reading of the apocalyptic literature of the bible indicates that the religions are in fact destined to be united under the reign of the coming AntiChrist, so I generally view this group, among others, as a sign of the times.

Lastly, we have the affirmationists who try to cling to their own religion being the absolute truth while attempting to stay open to the possibility that there might be another way. They intend to hold onto their own identity while celebrating each others’ differences. With all due respect, while their intentions are very noble, either one’s religion is the absolute truth and the only way, or it is not.

I agree that, to a point, diversity is a good thing. The Body of Christ is the most diverse organism that I know of and we should by all means stop picking at one another and start celebrating our differences, but not at the sacrifice of Truth. I agree also that we have the right to choose when it comes to religion and would not dream of denying any one that right. But God retains the right to punish those who choose to rebel against Him.

I tend to try to understand other people and why they believe as they do, though I do have a moral obligation to speak the Truth to them, I seek to leave the choice of what to believe up to them. I protest the idea that exclusivists view nonbelievers as objects of conversion. I believe this is unbiblical. I see why one might think that we see people this way, and some may mistakenly do this, but that is not the gospel to which we are called.

I personally view nonbelievers as human beings who have a choice to make and understand that it is my duty to love them even as I shun any evil practices and beliefs they may hold to in my own walk.

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