Celebrating Religious Pluralism


According to Harold Coward (1985), pluralism is one of the biggest problem and challenges for contemporary humankind. The plurality of religions often provokes horizontal conflict and violence among societies. Social and religious conflicts in Ambon, Maluku, Situbondo, and other regions were display how religions aggravate social stability. Besides, all scripture of religion was demonstrated a message of peace, love and humanity. Many scientists, therefore, look for various ways to harmonize religions’ diversity. Two of them are John Hick and Sayyed Hussein Nasr. What Hick and Nasr state although each has different perspectives is useful.

Facing religions’ diversity, minimally, there are three responses; exclusive, inclusive, parallelist and pluralist. The exclusive standpoint believes that only his/her belief is true, others are false. In Christian tradition, we know the slogan Extra Eccelesian Nulla Salus (there is no salvation outside of church). The exclusive Christians are Hendrick Kraemer, Dutch missionary, and Karl Bath, and exclusive Moslems are Mutawalli al-Sya’rani, Said Hawwa, Sayyid Qutub and Wahbah al-Zuhaily. The inclusive standpoint claims that his/her belief is true, and probably others true. Karl Rahner (1904-1984) writing The Theological Investigation is in this position. The last, pluralism is position in which all religions make good understanding and communication with others to bridge the differences and build a union.

John Hick and Nasr represent the pluralist standpoint, but the two have particular different views. According to Hick, pluralism is truth and therefore religions must modify their truth to the truth of pluralism by making substantial revisions of their theological tenets. Hick believes, therefore, reason, science and human ability can produce good. For Nasr, the truth is the ‘truth’ of revealed religions; what er must do is to be humble before such ‘truth’ and accept it without seeking to change it. Our duty, Nasr states, is not invent truth but to be transparent before truth and reflect it as it is. Therefore, Nasr believes reason to be limited, and considers secular science is irrelevant to know the Real, but, intellect (mystical vision) has a significant part in one’s perception of Reality.

Nasr, furthermore, expounds theoretically pluralism by using philosophia perennis (perennial philosophy) approach, which is more intellectual than sophia perennis which emphasizes aspect of the same truth. Perennial philosophy asserts that there is a Primordial Tradition in every religion that make them same. Perennial philosophy distinguishes between the external and the essence of religions. To some extent, all religions are different in exoteric dimension (outward) but same in esoteric dimension (inward). It is no matter the different language among religion, from Allah, Yahweh, Nirvana, and Tao, but the essence and goal of doctrine remain universal within every religion. In the inner dimension, the unity of religion can be sought. Nasr said that the doctrine of unity become common ground of diversity of religion.

In Hick theory, salvation is simply human transformation that takes place when someone turns from a life of self-centeredness to a life of centered on Ultimate Reality. Everyone can gain salvation whether are Muslim, Christian, Hindus, Buddha and even communist. The Ultimate Reality is ineffable. God, Brahma, Nirvana, Tao are only phenomenal manifestation of the Reality or noumeno in Kantian concept. This view also imply that phenomenal aspect of religion like rituals, laws, ceremonies, are relative because they are only manifestation and cultural expression of Ultimate Reality. Finally, in Hick concept, practical dimension in religion are merely express feature of his or her own avenue to Ultimate. However, Hick cannot conceal an assumption of the religious superiority of his tradition. Hick acknowledges other religious traditions, but he inevitably realizes that he has been formed by the Christian vision of God. He said “an yet looking out toward my friend of other faith, I recognize, with Jalaluddin Rumi, that “the lamps are different, but the Light is the same;” it comes from Beyond”.

Briefly, Hick thinks that the religious plurality is human response to the Divine presence, whereas Nasr assumes that religious plurality is a Divine formulation within the light of various human situations. The rites, the sacred scripture and certain fundamental formulation of theology, therefore, are human response (Hick) and a Divine ordinary (Nasr). Although, they are different each other within describing religions’ plurality, they have the same thought on truth claim in each religion. This claim, according to both, has to be modified become pluralist view, which acknowledges other religions.
The different views mostly caused by different perspectives. Nasr uses traditional perspective (perennial wisdom), which is believed more adequate to describe religious traditions than modern views, while the background of Hick’s thought comes from Western traditions, which is very influenced by evolutions theory such as Frazer and Muller theories.

Whatever the source of religious diversity as well as Hick and Nasr describe, the most important thing is that not everyone can claim that his religion is the only truth. Therefore, I agree with Hick and Nasr suggestion to modify exclusive view. Due to this pluralist view, we can live together among religious diversities.

[Note: This is my assignment of Philosophy of Religion at CRCS]

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