Monday, October 13, 2008

Interfaith and Pluralism

October 13, 2008

Yesterday I attended a town hall meeting sponsored by 100 People of Faith a new interfaith organization. The conversation there raised the question for me once again about the underlying vision of ‘pluralism’ in society. We were urged to think of religious differences on campuses, for example, as another kind of ‘diversity’ and work on what I call ‘understanding and appreciating difference’ following the work of Visions Inc. ( about which I have written before.

While I think I agree with the goal of a genuinely pluralistic society I see two major and related problems. One is that pluralism means that every individual or grouping of people must give up power to define and shape the world according to their vision. This means that I am not willing to give up any possibility of self determination that I might enjoy only to find myself being determined or defined by you instead. In other words the ‘salad bowl’ must not develop a predominant taste.)Organizations concerned with ‘diversity’ or ‘interfaith’ or whatever tend to take on their own (predominant) cultural norms and styles which is blessed as being ‘diverse’ but on an experiential level can seem to be a new hegemony of sorts.

The second challenge is that pluralism, especially religious pluralism is calling for recognition that no one faith or group within a faith has the ‘meta-narrative’ or the defining story (world view/perspective) for everyone. And yet religions are generally trying to make sense of the whole world and claim that their world view either can or should make sense for everybody. That is the basis for evangelism, crusades, turn or burn theologies and, I suspect, the basis for conservative movements within religions. I share with conservatives an unwillingness to give up the possibility that the Christian story is for everybody even if I differ from conservatives in my desire to approach people of other faiths with humility such as appears to be the goal of 100 People of Faith.

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