In the global village, people are encountering more and more diversity in their daily lives. I am confident that slowly and gradually, people are replacing fear and ignorance with curiosity and understanding, with regards to different cultures and religions. We see evidence of this happening at a shallow level in the growing importance of political correctness and in the ‘tolerance’ battle cry. (See my articles “Political Correctness: More Than Just A Filter” and “Beyond Tolerance” for more.) These tactics work to create a society that deals effectively with diversity. But if we want a society that thrives off of diversity, pluralism must be employed.
A true pluralistic perspective, as advocated in the interfaith movement, means recognizing the possibility and perhaps the actuality of many valid religions as well as dismissing any notions of superiority of one tradition over another (Knitter, 54). We cannot just live in separation and annoyance of the Other, we must acknowledge true equality and legitimacy of other traditions. Shallow ‘tolerance’ does not achieve this. Instead, “… pluralism is a deep understanding of the unique values of different communities, and trying to communicate with different communities about these values…” (Kyung, 102). This communication has endless real-world applications in diplomacy and problem solving, not to mention opportunities for new types of spiritual experience. Given the state of our problem-ridden world, more people need to carry a genuine, pluralist world view.
Those from Eastern traditions may have an easier time adopting and maintaining a pluralist world view as opposed to their Western counterparts. Eastern traditions are not mutually exclusive. It is perfectly acceptable and common for one to follow Buddhism, Confucianism and the Tao fully and simultaneously. The East has had plenty of practice recognizing the equality and legitimacy of different traditions. Traditions common in the Western world however are often mutually exclusive, each claiming possession of ultimate truth.
Giving up this claim of superiority and acknowledging the truth in other traditions may seem rather New Age to devout believers of ‘one true’ religion. However, it is a long way from pluralism to syncretism. (I hope to explore the relationship between pluralism and syncretism at a later time.) But none the less, pluralism is sometimes seen as a threat in those traditions where superiority is part of their belief system. Regardless, the pluralist effort needs to be universal. ‘Tolerance’ simply won’t deliver what this global village desperately needs: understanding, or at least a genuine effort to understand one another. Given the qualities of the Eastern traditions, it may very well be the East that leads the world in this effort. Given the qualities of Western traditions, our effort to break structures of thought to make room for a more dynamic way of life must be fervent and constant.
Knitter, Paul. Cincinnati Interview 2006 in, The Quiet Revolution: The emergence of interfaith consciousness, by P. Kirkwood, 2007. Sydney, Australia: ABC Books.
Kyung, Chung Hyun. New York Interview 2006 in, The Quiet Revolution: The emergence of interfaith consciousness, by P. Kirkwood, 2007. Sydney, Australia: ABC Books.