A Problem of Pluralism
“No one has the right to tell anyone that their beliefs are wrong.” “People should be free to believe whatever they like.” “There are no “right” or “wrong” beliefs.” These are things that you’ll hear a lot if you speak on or debate the topic of faith. This is the concept of Religious Pluralism, the idea that all beliefs and belief systems are equally valid and equally deserving of respect. It sounds, on its face, like a reasonable and high-minded point of view, inclusive, reasonable, a very live and let live sort of outlook. Yet there is a serious flaw with the idea of Religious Pluralism, the flaw is simply this: Each and every religion mankind has ever come up with is absolute. Every one of them claims their doctrine and tradition is right good and true while asserting at the same time that all other belief systems are false, wrong, incomplete, or even evil. Religion by its very nature rejects the idea of pluralism; what’s more it often requires an absolutist perspective from its adherents.
Religious pluralism is the invention of the modern religious moderate. That species of theist who can pick and choose which tenets of their scriptures to believe in while flatly dismissing some and metamorphosizing others into metaphor and poetry in need of scholarly interpretation. Pluralism becomes the shield behind which the moderate can take refuge. “You can’t challenge the irrational things I believe because I respect the irrational things you believe.” At the same time it becomes another weapon in the fight against the rational naturalistic outlook of the non-theist. It’s “impolite” to question why someone believes in something without a basis for that belief. It’s crude and overly simplistic to state that a position that has no rational objective basis for truth is most likely false. Instead, it would appear, the more acceptable and “polite” tack is to accept that religious faith, all religious faith is valid, not only valid but equally as valid as reason. This is, at least to me a fallacy of the most monumental type.
Pluralism only works if the believer is willing to concede that their beliefs exist solely in the province of their own minds for no other purpose than their own psychological wellbeing. If you’re willing to allow that your beliefs have no bearing on the material world, no basis in history or science, that it is a mental construct designed to comfort you personally that is something different. In this case, as a strictly personal belief, one could make an argument for the case of pluralism. However if you’re claiming that the stories in your text are true, that the bible is historically accurate, and that the dictates of said book are fact and globally binding, then pluralism is an absurdity. How can you genuinely respect a belief system that you truly believe is wrong, or evil? How can you claim to respect another faith while living in certainty that its practitioners are misguided, deluded and destined for a fiery damnation in the next world?
It’s a smoke screen, a high-minded get out of jail free card that the moderate uses to justify the imbalance between the rational part of themselves that allows them to function in the modern word and the part of themselves that hangs on to bronze age mythology and supernatural occurrence as reality. However not all beliefs are valid, and certainly not all beliefs are equally valid. If I claimed to believe that the mantle of the earth was made of toast for instance no thinking person would advocate my right to hold such a belief because, aside from the fact that we can prove it is not so, the idea itself is simply to ludicrous for anyone reasonable or even moderately informed to credit. Yet the beliefs that A) Muhammad ascended to Heaven on a flying horse and B) that no such thing ever happened in reality are equally valid and equally worthy of belief? This is the worst kind of relativistic nonsense.
Aside from that it’s also incredibly dangerous. We live in the most dangerous and precipitous period in human history. There exist, at this very moment weapons of such incredible power that a single human being can kill millions, or make entire landscapes uninhabitable for generations. Add to this the fact that there are literally billions of people on the planet who believe that there is an invisible person in the sky who likes some of us better than others and will in fact REWARD them handsomely for killing those others. This is an unsupportable situation. We’ve grown past the point where we have the luxury of being allowed our illusions about the world and how it works. With the powers we now command we cannot afford any view but those founded on reason and rational decision-making.
The moderate who champions pluralism gives defense and tacit approval to the suicide bomber who blows up a bus, or the gang that beats a homosexual to death because he’s a homosexual in defiance of god’s will. The fundamentalist cannot exist without the moderate, shoring up his position, fighting for his rights, fighting against the right of the secular world to impose a moratorium on the very fount and source of his various madnesses, while all the while decrying the actions of those whose only real crime is faithfully following the dictates of the faith that the moderate picks and chooses from.
Posted on October 9, 2012, in Editorial, Religion and tagged agnosticism, atheism, bible, catholic, commentary, critcism, doubt, ethics, evidence, progress, religion, religious moderates, sense, skepticism, theology, thought, truth. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.