Pluralism C, 2007
Luke 6: 20-21, 24-25
A LIturgy is also available
PLURALISM: GOING BEYOND EXCLUSIVE BOUNDARIES
Richard Dawkins says it is the root of all evil. 1
Christopher Hitchens says it poisons everything. 2
Both are talking about religion.
And they are not alone in their ‘evangelical atheistic’ comments.
There have been at least half a dozen popular books
preaching an anti-religious message, which have appeared
in the past year or so.
As one Australian newspaper columnist has said:
“This swelling of atheist literature is a reaction to a worldwide rise in fundamentalist religion. But in kicking back at extremism, the bestselling atheists don’t discriminate between mainstream faith and the loony fringe. It’s religion itself they object to” (T McCamish. The Age). 3
Being in the so-called religion business I reckon we should be
aware of these author’s thoughts. Especially on this day.
For today, in the traditional lectionary of the church, is Pentecost Sunday.
The so-called ‘birthday’ of the Christian church,
even though scholars of any repute would claim
the traditional story is the result of Luke's own literary imagination,
rather than an historical report.
On the other hand, today (2007) in progressive church circles
also carries another title: Pluralism Sunday.
A day to give thanks for religious diversity.
So in response to the comments of the ‘evangelical atheists’,
both written and on TV programs, let me
share some thoughts around pluralism
and why christians need to take this far more seriously.
Taking the lead on Pluralism Sunday are two American based groups.
The Institute for Progressive Christianity, and
The Centre for Progressive Christianity.
In a recent interview the coordinator of the Project, Revd Jim Burklo, said there
were three general ways in which religions relate to each other:
(i) Exclusivism, which is the idea that my religion is correct,
and all other religions are wrong, at best, and evil, the worst…
(ii) Inclusivism, which is the idea that my religion is the only true one,
but yours is interesting. So we should tolerate each other's religions
and find ways to cooperate and communicate…
(ii) Pluralism, the idea that my religion is good for me
and your religion may turn out to be as good for you as mine is for me.
I quote Jim Burklo:
“…pluralism is the concept that there are multiple loci of truth and salvation among the religions. [It] does not imply that all religions are the same or that all religions are equal; but it does recognize the possibility that my way is not the only way and that my religion is not necessarily superior to your” (Burklo. TCPC web site, Pluralism Sunday, 2007).
So this morning, in celebration of Pluralism Sunday,
we have heard in the liturgy some readings or stories from several religious faiths:
Buddhism, progressive Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
They are only a sample, but I know for some of you it will be
the first time you have heard or read anything from these faiths.
I know it is the first time I have ever included readings
from other faith traditions in any liturgy I have shaped.
So what are some of the overseas ‘progressive’ churches doing?
First Congregational Church, Long Beach:
will have an Islamic leader as the preacher;
Christ Community Church, Spring Lake:
is studying the book ‘The faith club’ – a book by three women, a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian -
who sought to find common ground on which to share their faiths;
University Place Christian Church, Enid:
will use multiple languages to express the wisdom of different world religions in worship;
Mizpah United Church of Christ and Beth Shalom (Reformed Jewish), Minneapolis:
will have a ‘pulpit’ exchange.
Unfortunately I can’t share with you what other Australian churches are doing,
because I suspect we may be the only ones celebrating Pluralism Sunday.
But I really hope I am wrong!
This is such an important occasion, every church and congregation
should be celebrating it, and being educated by it.
So what can we hear and learn?
As some of you may know, His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama,
leader of the Tibetian Buddhists, will be visiting Canberra next month.
And I know some of you are planning to attend
this important event. I too would like to attend.
I have learned from an overseas colleague (who happens to be an Australian)
that the Dalai Lama advises his lamas who travel to different countries
not to emphasise the teaching of Buddhism too much,
as trying to convert people may not only fail
but could also weaken their faith in their own religion.
He says it’s better to encourage those who believe
in something, to deepen their own faith.
“The point isn’t to convert people, but to contribute to their well-being” (Ian Lawton. 3C/Christ Community Church web site, 2007).
The Dalai Lama says this:
“I haven’t come to the West to make one or two more Buddhists, but simply to share my experiences of the wisdom that Buddhism has developed over the centuries. If you find anything I’ve said useful, make use of it. Otherwise just forget it” (Quoted in Ian Lawton, Christ Community Church, 2007).
In response, my colleague says:
“Now there’s a balanced attitude to east/west dialogue. I can just hear a new form of Christian evangelism - which states ‘This is our tradition. This is what it has meant for us. If you find it useful, use it. If Christianity contributes to the well-being of people, and contributes to world peace by inter-faith relations, then take and apply it. Otherwise, just forget it…” (Ian Lawton).
And then Ian Lawton concludes:
“This is the attitude which will give Christianity a bright future. It should come as no surprise to us. This was also the way of Jesus” (Ian Lawton).
While another colleague on the ‘Literacy and Liturgy Seminar’ of the Westar Institute,
recently wrote this on his blog site:
“In a time of religious tension, and in what I see as increasing tribalism, when Christians think the only way to peace is to convert Muslims to Christianity and when Muslims think the only way to peace is to convert Christians to Islam, I think Jesus would shout: ‘Enough! Convert yourselves! Listen and discover the better way’" (John Shuck. Shuck&Jive blog site, 2007)
“I am a Christian. Christianity is unique and it has much to offer our world. But being unique does not necessarily mean being right or being the only way to be. Hinduism is also unique, as is Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Wicca, Native [Aboriginal] religions, you name it. We all have truths and shortcomings. We all have something to offer. We all have something to learn from one another. Pentecost is a great day to listen to the Spirit's voice present in other traditions as well as our own” (John Shuck)
Pluralism is not some religious ‘fruit salad’ where anything goes.
It is about embracing other religions and honouring them
at a deep level of respect and openness.
And Pluralism Sunday is about letting the world of newspaper columnists and TV producers
and the neighbours with whom you chat over the back fence,
know there are Christian pluralistic churches out there
that challenge the exclusive dogmatism of the fundamentalist churches
who claim Christianity is religiously superior.
There is a way to be authentically and particularly religious,
involved and immersed in a religious culture, and
practice a specific religion and path, but…
“if you go all the way with that, you will discover that we all end up on the top of the same mountain [with]… brothers and sisters of other faiths who have done the same sort of thing” (Burklo, TCPC).
This Pentecost, may we commit ourselves to a deeper pluralism
which both encourages and allows us to:
• enrich our own faith, as well as
• learn from the faith of our neighbours.
1. Dawkins R. 2006. The God Delusion. London. Bantam Press
2. Hitchens C. 2007. God is Not great. How Religion Poisons Everything. Allen & Unwin.
3. McCamish T. “Against God”, The Age, 15 April 2007.