Nice op-ed on religious pluralism

The Dalai Lama has a thoughtful op-ed on the subject of interfaith harmony in today’s New York Times. I highlight the following passage:

Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions.

I think this is exactly right. Notice that the Dalai Lama is not saying that our religious differences are unimportant or (as the op-ed’s headline, “Many Faiths, One Truth” might imply) that all religions are essentially the same. On the contrary, he rightly says that some degree of exclusivity is at the heart of all religions.

Christianity certainly has an exclusive component. I am a Christian, after all, because I believe that God is definitively revealed in Jesus. Everything I need to know about God I learn from him—because I believe that Christ is God. There is no necessary revelation outside of Christ. This is to some degree exclusive because where the truth claims of Christianity compete with the truth claims of other religions, I side with Christianity—with the caveat that all human knowledge is provisional. At best, we see through a glass darkly. We should always be open to revising our understanding of the truth that Christ reveals.

But our faith is by no means completely exclusive. Inasmuch as other religions reveal this same God, I say a hearty “Amen.” If Buddhism (or any other religion) can teach us something about compassion, then by all means we should be receptive. We’re not surprised or threatened by the fact that we share so much in common with other religions because we believe there is one Spirit revealing this truth.

My point (with which the Dalai Lama would surely agree) is that we don’t get along with people of other religions by minimizing our differences or pretending that they don’t really matter—as many well-intentioned Christians have tried to do by redefining “salvation,” for instance, to some lowest common denominator.

No. We can hold onto our exclusivity while at the same time respecting, admiring, and appreciating other traditions. In fact, we must: otherwise we tell practitioners of other religions that their traditions’ unique and competing truth claims don’t really matter. How is that not offensive and disrespectful?

See earlier entries here and here for more on the challenge of religious pluralism.

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