Counterfeit Truth

Anyone who regularly follows Sifting Reality knows how important I think it is to be accurate in the beliefs one holds; especially in the arena of religious ideas.  One’s views on God are of ultimate importance.  If God is real, then it is highly significant who God is; what God is like; and the actual characteristics of God.  For the sake of this article I will assume God exists, since it is not so much about whether God exists, but rather our beliefs about God and our approach to religion and religious ideas.  I particularly enjoy reading articles and essays which discuss “Why I am a…” or “Why I am not a…”.  I like to know why people believe the things they do.  I think it is important for people to know why they believe what they do.  But also I like to challenge the reasoning people use to form their beliefs especially when those beliefs challenge the nature of truth, or reject opposing belief systems which claim the truth.

Those religious beliefs which challenge truth, or reject belief systems which claim exclusive truth tend to place a high value on spirituality, and a rather low value on any grounding of their particular belief system.  High on feeling, low on thinking.  I do not say this pejoratively.  I get a sense that when it comes to religious beliefs, most people are content to hold their religion and beliefs to essentially function as a system of ethics rather than an organized expression of discovered truths about God.  So when I came across a blog post describing the particular religious view of the blogger, I was immediately interested in what this author had to say.

One aspect which seemed of particular importance to this author was the notion of tolerance and respect of other religious beliefs; that no one particular religion held the truth.  Accordingly, his religious system lacked the arrogance which accompanies the claims of exclusivity.  What escapes the author is that while his view boasts tolerance, respect, and modesty–if we use his terms in like fashion–is guilty of intolerance, disrespect, and arrogance.

Before continuing, we should be clear on the terms in question.  The ideas of tolerance, respect, and arrogance have taken on for themselves new nuanced usages, far different from their original and ordinary meanings.   Please note that I understand the definitions of the terms are relatively unchanged, but rather it is their common usages in religious discussion settings which have shifted away from their respective definitions.  Ironically, each of the new usage of the terms are all guilty of the condemnations they levy upon those whom the accusations are directed.

Tolerance has traditionally been applied to people.  You respectfully disagree with people who hold views contrary to your own.  Recognizing that not everyone will believe the same things to be true, you agree to disagree.  However, in the last couple decades or so, tolerance has increasingly become applied to ideas; usually religious ideas, but not in the same way.  What it now means to tolerate an idea is to affirm that a view contrary to your own is as valid as your own, or has an equal possibility of being true.  To believe a contrary religious view is false is to be intolerant.

Akin to but different from tolerance, respect basically is the declaration of tolerance.  Put another way, intolerance is the belief contrary views are false, not respecting another’s convictions is verbalizing other views are false.  To respect another’s religious views means never telling them you believe their views are incorrect.  As opposed to the previous use of the term which described how you interacted with others with whom you disagreed.  You were cordial, mild-tempered, and showed decorum.

Finally, arrogance describes someone who is intolerant (new usage) who believes their own view is correct, then verbalizing the opposing view is incorrect, now insists their own view is correct.  Whether you are polite while arguing your points is irrelevant.  The mere fact that you will not concede your view makes you arrogant.  No longer is your behavior, to speak condescendingly and dismissively to someone, the sole deciding factor for being assigned the label arrogant.

It is in the adoption of the new usages that author uses to cut off the branch on which he is sitting.  It is obvious the author is concerned with other people’s feelings, the desire to “COEXIST” as it were.  This of course is the product of religious pluralism, which is symptomatic of not truly taking your beliefs seriously enough to defend.  Rarely will someone who holds beliefs of this kind be willing to commit to standing up for what they believe.  But if the pluralist does commit to their view, they are guilty of their own accusations.

By condemning the exclusivist as intolerant, using the understanding above, they themselves are now guilty of intolerance.  This point no doubt escapes the inclusivist, from their perspective they are not being so narrow as to say other religious beliefs are wrong–all beliefs are equally valid, but there is a catch.  All are valid except the exclusivist.  The charge of intolerance is overlooked in this case since in their mind, they are including your religious ideas, just not your claim to exclusivity.  However, for the Christian, Jew, and Muslim, their religious views are inherently exclusive.  If it is intolerant to believe someone’s religious views are wrong, then no matter whose or what view you believe is wrong, you are being intolerant given this new usage.

Proceeding further in the conversation the pluralist will provide many reasons why the exclusivist view is incorrect.  In so doing they are now guilty of their own charge of not respecting the exclusivist’s convictions.  It is my experience that when this is brought to their attention, it will make no difference even if they concede the point.  It is quite ironic actually, it seems they will generally admittedly place themselves under no obligation to respect the exclusivist view because the exclusivist is intolerant, disrespectful, and arrogant.

Perhaps the weightiest oversight by those who would affirm religious pluralism is, in arguing that “all roads lead to Rome” they are also making the same claim as that of the exclusivist.  One complaint the pluralist has with exclusivism is the exclusivist believes their view is correct and all others is incorrect.  But that is precisely what the pluralist does.  They claim their view (all roads lead to Rome) is correct and all others which refuse this idea are incorrect.  It is carefully camouflaged in acceptance language and sounds very open.  But in arguing that it is the case that “all roads…” they are in fact advancing the notion that religious pluralism is the only view which accurately represents how one is to understand God.

Given the drawbacks mentioned above, I think the most damaging aspect of pluralism is that it is self-contradictory.  If the view states all religions and religious ideas are valid, we have a problem.  Christianity, Judaism, and Islam  among others, all claim religious pluralism is false.  So if pluralism is true, that all religions are valid, then Christianity, Judaism, and Islam on this view are true, then it must also be true that religious pluralism is false.  There is no way around this without the pluralist selectively dismissing the exclusivity claims as false within the religions but retaining other aspects.  This would prove to undermine their view.  This necessary ‘editing out’ of the exclusivity claims would violate their fundamental claim that each religion is valid; in essence it would be claiming these religions to not be true, which is a claim the whole enterprise seeks to avoid.

When an idea is self-refuting, it is necessarily false.  Religious pluralism, and the reasons for holding it create a situation where  it is guilty of the complaints and accusations made against religious exclusivism.  If intolerance, not respecting others convictions, and arrogance are used as reasons to reject exclusivism, it suffers from its own claims.  For in believing exclusivism to be incorrect, pluralism is intolerant.  If one argues in favor of pluralism, the pluralist is not respecting the exclusivist’s convictions.  If the pluralist insists pluralism is the only correct view, they are arrogant.  By their own words they are condemned.

To argue in favor of the truth of pluralism is also to make an exclusive claim.  Even under the cover of acceptance of a spectrum of ideas, pluralism makes the claim that pluralism alone is the only true understanding of God.  This is precisely the opposite of what the idea of religious pluralism argues for, and is one of the many self refuting claims made by the view.

When properly examined, pluralism actually affirms religious systems as true which claim pluralism is false.  Though only implicit is the claim to truth, it cannot be true.  The complications are subtle but deeply intrenched within the entire framework of pluralism as to render any appearance of truth, counterfeit.  The claims which appear true are in fact false and irreparable.  What the pluralist has only appears to be the truth.  As with counterfeit currency, counterfeit truth is of no value.

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Related Articles: Do Differences Matter?, The Elephant in the Room, Do You Believe…Really?, What’s That Supposed To Mean?

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