Religious pluralism

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Dec. 1, 2015

This December, the NewBostonPost will focus on religious pluralism and will cover stories that celebrate the great religious diversity of this country.

December being the month of Christmas, we will, of course, include various stories that add to holiday cheer. We will highlight Boston’s many Christmas traditions. And we will consider the question of what pluralism in this country has come to mean and how we might save religious traditions from cheapening commercialization and relativist indifference.

Today, pluralism, multiculturalism, and diversity are terms that are not only trendy but de rigueur. These terms trigger in us notions of a colorful tapestry of cultures, of intriguing smells, sounds, and tastes and unique customs. But to regard pluralism in this way is to embrace a shallow conception of religion as mere cultural curiosity.

This is not the pluralism we mean or intend to celebrate this month. Rather, we understand religious pluralism to mean something deeper.

True pluralism demonstrates respect not only for the existence of different faiths and traditions, but also for the religious certainty of those who adhere to a particular faith.

True pluralism is rooted in the assumption that, indeed, each religion considers its own belief system to be rooted in truth. Simultaneously, any tradition — religious or otherwise — can only survive in any meaningful form when full respect is granted to the motivation of its adherents.

By way of analogy, consider traffic rules. As we navigate from point A to point B in our cars, each of us tries to avoid collisions and damage to our own vehicle. Suppose I drive a Suburban and that I believe that my car is the best car on the road. Because I love my car, I will drive even more carefully than if I have little faith in the power of my vehicle.  And, although I may sincerely believe that my car is the best, I never doubt that someone who drives a Mercedes Benz sincerely believes in the superiority of his vehicle, and that he is driving equally carefully because of it.

Like traffic rules, pluralism recognizes certain rules of engagement among members of different faith traditions. Civility and mutual respect for each others’ “absolute truths” are essential ingredients in protecting pluralism in its purest form. Only by respecting each others’ convictions of truth — without falling into shallow relativism — can we recognize each other as fellow travelers on a spiritual journey with a common goal. Only when we love our faith with passion, be it as Christians, Hindus, Jews, or Muslims, and recognize our common humanity through mutual respect can we all benefit from religious diversity and be awed by the beauty of its different traditions.

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