The question of which religion leads to God is a contentious issue for many. At its heart is the individual’s validity of belief. Now, while believers across the religious divide will happily debate moral evil, nature of suffering, natural disasters, death and illness (etc), a line is drawn in the sand when it comes to the idea that one religion has been singled out to receive God’s blessing and salvation over another.

With this in mind, the following series will consider the issue of belief from a pluralist and non-pluralist perspective. While ideas of exclusivity and inclussivity are considered from my own Christian perpective, it will hopefully be seen that the issues raised and questions asked do have application for most if not all of the religions and (non-deity based) belief systems. With this in mind, let us start with a consideration of:

Pluralism

Quite simply, the pluralist belief is that God is to be discovered in every one of the world religions. This is the idea that no religion has a monopoly about what truth is nor possesses the only way to access God. Rather, each has a partial understanding of God – an understanding that is incomplete without all being added together to form a collective truth with the other religious groups.

The pluralist believes that people from different religions worship the same God but just do not understand that this is what is happening. The revealed truth of each religion is no greater than that of another because all have equal value. And as pluralism is more of a theory than a revealed truth – because there is no religious leader associated with it – its ideas have often been explained through illustrations such as the ‘blind scribes’ and ‘routes up a mountain’ which we shall consider next.

The Blind Scribes

This imagines a scenario in which religious leaders from each of the major religions are blindfolded and led outside to an elephant. With each leader placed at a strategic point beside the elephant and asked to feel and describe what is in front of them…

  • The Jewish leader feels the elephant’s ear describes it as ‘a large leathery curtain’
  • The Hindu leader feels the tail and describes it as ‘like rope’
  • The Muslim leader puts his arms around the leg and says it feels like ‘a tree trunk’
  • The Christian feels the elephant’s trunk and says it feels like ‘a hose or large water pipe’

The pluralist explanation of this is that in the same way the blind scribes were unable to define the ‘whole’ elephant, so too, this is what happens in the major world religions. Each of the religious leaders such as Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, Guru Nanak (etc), attempt to explain God while not in possession of all the information – or elephant in this case. The pluralist argues that should the blindfold be removed from each of these leaders, they would see all how they are really describing the same God butfrom different positions.

Routes up a mountain

This approach considers how all religions are on the same journey to God. With each religion located at different positions around the base of a mountain, they are unable to view one another as they ascend from the north, south, east and west. As each group makes its way towards the summit, they do not see the others who are also climbing from their different positions – the view being obscured by the rock face in front of them.

From this, the pluralist asserts that all religious groups are actually on the same journey to God, just by different routes. Indeed, they reason that if the religious leaders were able to see the mountain from a position above the summit, they would realise how all of these routes converge on the same point. In other words, people taking different journeys but all arriving at the same destination. An idea thast is compelling for many as it appeals to modern society’s desire for balance and political correctness because it:

  • makes few intellectual demands on the believer.
  • accepts all religions as equally true and valid.
  • has a morally superior air of tolerance and acceptance of all people

We will explore this further in the next post.