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Reacting to religious diversity

Conflicting quotations.
Coping with religious diversity.

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Conflicting quotations concerning religious diversity:

bullet"There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God." Baha'u'llah, founder of the Baha'i Faith, "Gleanings," Page 217
bulletI am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." The words of Jesus, as recorded in John 14:6.
bulletNaveen Chawla, longtime friend and biographer of Mother Teresa asked her: "Do you convert?" She replied, "Of course I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu or a better Muslim or a better Protestant. Once you've found God, it's up to you to decide how to worship him."
bullet"I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good...Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don't want equal time. We don't want pluralism."  Randall Terry, Founder of Operation Rescue. Reported by the News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, IN, 1993-AUG-16:
bullet"The idea that Jesus is the only way to God or that only those who have been washed in the blood of Christ are ever to be listed among the saved, has become anathema and even dangerous in our shrinking world." Episcopal Bishop John S. Spong. 1
bullet"...the need to exercise true tolerance towards others' beliefs does not mean that one has to champion the irrational idea that all views are equally true." Joseph Farinaccio, author of "Faith with reason: Why Christianity is true,"
bullet"People consider themselves to be orthodox, and everyone else to be a heretic." Anon
bullet"We're importing Hinduism into America. The whole thought of your karma, of meditation, of the fact that there's no end of life and there's this endless wheel of life, this is all Hinduism.....The origin of it is all demonic. We can't let that stuff come into America. We've got the best defense, if you will -- a good offense." Pat Robertson 2

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How people respond to religious diversity:

The U.S. has been called the religiously most diverse nation in the world. 4

Kenneth Samples of the Christian Research Journal, has written:

"Already home to Native American traditional spiritualities, America’s religious diversity increased through the inherent diversity of Protestant churches established in the colonies and with the 19th and 20th century immigration of Roman Catholics, Jews and persons who practiced Chinese religion, Islam and Sikhism. 'It was not, however, until America’s immigration policy changed in 1965 that significant communities of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains settled in the United States.' " 3

New Age beliefs and Neopagan religions are two additional faiths to be recently added to the North American religious mosaic. 

Non-Christians total about 24% in the U.S. That number is growing. The percentage of Christians is currently dropping by about one percentage point per year.  Diversity is a fact of life. However, religious diversity means only that different religions coexist. It does not imply that the public accepts these religions as valid.

Responses to religious diversity differ:

bulletMany people object to the presence of other faith groups in their community and nation, as indicated by the following statements:
bulletAnti-cult and counter-cult groups exist to convince the public of the dangers that they feel is presented by new religious movements.
bulletThere are two Protestant ministerial organizations in many cities: one for fundamentalist and other evangelical pastors; the second for other Protestant clergy.
bulletSome religions will not marry couples unless both are from their religion; some require both spouses to belong to their faith group.
bulletKenneth Samples continues: "The shadow of vandalism and violence perpetuated against religious groups, particularly minority or ethnic communities, falls across Hindu temples, Sikh gurdwaras, [Muslim] mosques, [Jewish] synagogues and minority Christian churches alike. Our common life as communities is menaced by many forms of belligerence and discrimination, negative stereotypes, benign ignorance and wilful misrepresentation." 3
bulletOthers willingly embrace diversity, as evidenced by the following:
bullet"...the Governor of the State of Kansas, in 1997, issued his first official proclamation on the Muslim observance of Ramadan. In it he called on Kansas citizens to recognize 'the dedication and service of Muslims as an important part of the fabric of religious pluralism which enriches us all.' " 3
bulletPresident Clinton, in 1998, issued similar greetings on an important Sikh observance." 3 
bulletLocal ecumenical and inter-faith organizations are flourishing in many cities. 
bulletThe number of inter-faith marriages is rising rapidly.

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The three viewpoints towards other religions:

Most people tend to view other religions in one of three mutually exclusive ways:

bulletReligious Exclusivists regard their own faith tradition as the only completely true religion. Other religions might have elements of truth in them -- beliefs arrived at either by accident, or by observing nature, or by following their conscience. But they are largely false, and are often viewed as rivals to the one true religion. Among many fundamentalist Christians, other religions are regarded as forms of Satanism, led by demonic forces. They are often vigorously opposed because they are viewed as drawing their followers away from salvation towards an eternity of punishment in Hell

Exclusivism is probably the most common belief among devout Christians in the U.S. One indication of this comes from a 1995 poll showed that only 21% of churchgoers regarded Islam as having a positive impact on society. Only 21% felt that Buddhism had a positive effect.
bulletReligious Inclusivists, like exclusivists regard their own faith tradition as the only completely true religion. They do not view other religions as completely wrong; they are seen to "reflect aspects of, or to constitute approaches to, that final truth." 5 Other religions are thus viewed as incomplete or partially developed faiths.
bulletReligious Pluralists believe that all religions are legitimate, valid, and true -- when viewed from within their particular culture. All faith traditions are deserving of respect. Unfortunately, the term "Religious pluralism" is ambiguous. It is sometimes used as a synonym for "religious diversity" to refer to the fact that many countries have a followers of many religions within their borders. It is sometimes difficult to tell from a written document or speech which definition the author or speaker is using.

We will avoid the use of the term "religious pluralism" in this web site, where "religious diversity" is referred to.

In general:

bulletReligious liberals in North America often tend toward religious pluralism.
bulletReligious conservatives frequently embrace exclusivism, largely because it appears in their holy texts -- the Torah, Christian Scriptures (New Testament), Qur'an, etc. In fact, many Christian and Jewish conservatives do not recognize the liberal wings of their own religion as legitimate.
bulletMembers of mainline denominations are split. For example, at the 2001 General Conference of the Presbyterian Church (USA), salvation for non-Christians surfaced as a major item of concern.

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References used in the above essay:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. J.S. Spong, "A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born,"  HarperSanFrancisco, (2001), Page 179. Read reviews or order this book
  2. Pat Robertson, 700 club program, 1995-MAR-23. See commentary at: http://www.sullivan-county.com/
  3. Kenneth Samples, "The challenge of religious pluralism," Christian Research Journal, at: http://www.iclnet.org/ Also, "Responding to religious pluralism," at: http://www.reasons.org/
  4. Diana Eck, "A New Religious America: How a 'Christian Country' Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation," HarperSanFrancisco, (2001). "Eck, professor of comparative religion at Harvard University, delivers a stunning tour de force that may forever change the way Americans claim to be 'one nation, under God.' Drawing on her work with the Pluralism Project, an ongoing study of religious diversity in the United States, Eck focuses here on the explosion of Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist communities in America, particularly since 1965." Excerpt from Publishers Weekly book review. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
  5. Seena Fazel, "Religious Pluralism," at: http://bahai-library.org/

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Copyright © 2001 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-MAY-20
Latest update: 2007-NOV-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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