Academic journal article Theological Studies

Religious Pluralism and the Coincidence of Opposites

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Religious Pluralism and the Coincidence of Opposites

Article excerpt

THE EMERGENCE OF RELIGIOUS PLURALISM in the 21st century is a characteristic of the new millennium. Although immigration has largely changed the religious landscape of many countries, our awareness of other religions has largely expanded through the development of technology. Ewert Cousins has identified this new period of consciousness as a "second axial period." The first axial period produced individual, self-reflective consciousness; the second is characterized by global consciousness. (1) The tribe is no longer the local community but the global community that can now be accessed immediately via television, Internet, satellite communication, and travel. Technology has fundamentally altered our view of the world and ourselves in the world. "For the first time since the appearance of human life on out planet," Cousins writes, "all of the tribes, all of the nations, all of the religions are beginning to share a common history." (2) In light of this second axial period Cousins has identified a new "complexified religious consciousness," an interrelatedness of religious centers of consciousness. (3) Religious pluralism reflects the complexified religious consciousness of the second axial period insofar as awareness of religious diversity has reached a new level of convergence.

Diana Eck describes four aspects of religious pluralism that help clarify the meaning of this term. First, she says, "pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in out societies." Second, "pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity." "In a world of religious pluralism, ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly and breeds fear." Third, "pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments." By this Eck means "holding our deepest differences, even out religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another." Fourth, she observes, pluralism is based on dialogue which means speaking and listening to one another, crossing the threshold and entering into the other's religious world and returning home again, enriched by the engagement. (4) Dialogue means genuine conversation, sitting down at table together and meeting one another eye to eye.

For Christians, the existence of religious pluralism creates a boundary of critical distance around Christian doctrine primarily because it challenges the principal belief in Christ as absolute savior. Is Christ uniquely savior or not? Can a person be saved in a religion outside Christianity? Karl Rahner's "anonymous Christian" made famous the problem at hand. For Rahner, adherents of other religions can be viewed as "anonymous Christians" because they receive grace that ultimately derives from Christ himself even though they remain ignorant of this fact. Rahner opposed a "dialectical theology" which posits a sharp distinction between the revelation of Christianity and the unbelief and humanly constructed character that permeates the other religions. He established his transcendental anthropology in an implicit, human existential search for God. Those who follow their consciences, according to Rahner, live lives of salvific faith--not mere belief--made possible by God's self offer in Christ. (5)

If the claim of absolute savior has become problematic in the second axial period, the problem of absolute salvation is compounded by insights from contemporary sciences (such as quantum physics) that describe the universe as evolutionary and interconnected. What does salvation mean in an evolutionary universe with a history of about 14 billion years and a future of perhaps 100 trillion years? (6) Is it feasible to use the category of absoluteness in a universe whose physical makeup includes a quantum world of numerous possibilities and openness to new patterns of order? …

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