Business Connect Host 2015: The Promise and Perils of Pluralism

One more post sharing reflections from the Business Connect Host event.

In this post I want to talk about the promise and perils of pluralism.

In the final session of Host Linda Woodhead asked us to entertain a very interesting question: If you had to design a religion "from scratch," from the ground on up, what would you include?

It's an interesting thought experiment. What should a religion include? And what things should be left out?

We had a lively discussion and toward the end of the conversation Linda asked another interesting question: Since we're creating religion from scratch should there be only one religion for the world? Or should there be many? Should pluralism be built into religion?

Fascinating question. It sounds really creepy to insist that the whole world should subscribe to only one religion. Pluralism seems more desirable here, for a variety of reasons. And yet, implicit in many religions is the assumption that there should only be one religion for the whole world, the impulse to convert the whole world to your faith.

So maybe there should be many religions, or at least more than one.

And yet, religious pluralism also seems to be at the source of a great deal of conflict, often violent conflict. Pluralism seems desirable but we can't seems to handle it.

When it comes to pluralism it seems we're damned if we do and damned if we don't.

Trying to overcome the suspicions between groups was at the heart of Tim Nash's presentation, his effort to foster greater understanding and sympathy between the West and China. Difference is hard and we have to be intentional not to default to the worst impulses of group psychology.

Of course, one thing that might be suggested here is that the best answer to Linda's thought experiment is that we should have no religions. In my opinion, not surprisingly, I think the problem isn't religion but the tribal instinct at work in human psychology and sociology. I don't think we're wicked because of religion. I think we're wicked because of human evolution. And religion is often captured by those beastal instincts. Religion at its best works against those impulses. Religion at its best makes us human.

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5 thoughts on “Business Connect Host 2015: The Promise and Perils of Pluralism”

  1. Maybe the best way to look at religion would be how Abraham J. Heschel once described how he viewed his own faith. In as much a he loved Judaism and the Bible, he likened his faith to, "My wife is not the only wife, but she is MY wife".

    Religions are like families. THEY are here; never will there be just one, and no one thing will take their place. Yes, some, like religion, have been violent toward others; yet, abuse does not have the power to make life's gifts obsolete. As you summed it up, Richard, they make us human.

  2. I like Meister Eckhart's prayer: "god, deliver me from God."

    When it comes to writing the word, I'm drawn to using the lower case "g" when referring to the One who is that is, and using the upper case when referring to the God so easily claimed in the market places and airwaves; such use strikes me as merely a symbol for a shared worldview that erases a line between religion and politics and gives weight to propaganda rather than serious thinking.

    In the end, this easy and prevalent use of the word "God" is in reality a noun; such usage falls under the rules of grammar.

  3. This reminds me of one of my first college courses, some sort of World History or Civ survey class. We were discussing the movement from polytheism to monotheism and the prof asked if we were inventing a religion which would it be. I was the only one who vocally advocated for polytheism. I was actually taken aback by how vehement the opposition was to the idea.

  4. In the mid 1960s the "ecumenical movement" got a little headway, and there were a few years when ministers of different churches exchanged pulpits. It was expected that the visiting minister share some history and mission of their own church with the host church. I spoke to a Baptist college group, Episcopal church, and Lutheran church, but I had to keep this a secret lest I be accursed by my members. Now, as we know, the opposition to even this small bit of sharing was eventually stopped. And the lack of sharing continues to this very day.

    However, recently I was invited to speak at a Methodist church during their "Holy Week" services on "Women Who Walked With Jesus." This is highly unusual for preachers of my faith to do this. The only way you are allowed to do this is to go and preach on why you are right and they are wrong doctrinally. I also went back later and gave my Mary Magdalene presentation. So I'm pretty much negatively labeled among my brethren where I live. But I will go anywhere I am invited to speak on biblical topics and issues.

  5. So all religions are inherently pitted against each other for control because tolerance has no positive strategic outcome. At best your numbers stay the same, at worst they decrease. Actually I don't think this is necessarily representative of religions as a whole but rather reflects the small subsets that always emerge in pursuit of power, and their ability to achieve it easier in a non-competitive environment. Maybe because the wrong answer feels more comforting then no answers sometimes?

    I suspect that tolerance and pluralism is the norm with most believing their god will sustain their faith despite outside interference. While a smaller more vocal group who is more fixated on their personal power and authority tries to expand their personal empires by coercing the poorly informed to serve them by dressing it in the language of faith.

    The remarkable thing about Jesus is how he negates the whole power struggle by taking the ones none of the others want, the poor, the sick, and the inconvenient burdens. I don't think this is a Christianity thing though, and if history is any judge Christians may well be worst followers of Jesus's teaching.

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