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Embracing Pluralism

PBS station KIXE‘s World Channel (Channel 290 on Charter and Channel 189 on Comcast) recently had a series on Independent Lens called Beyond Theology focusing on the topic of American Pluralism.

The Pluralism Project at Harvard University has a mission “to help Americans engage with the realities of religious diversity through research, outreach, and the active dissemination of resources.” They are a good resource for interfaith links.

Diana L. Eck defines pluralism as follows:

  1. Pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Diversity can and has meant the creation of religious ghettoes with little traffic between or among them. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in our societies.
  2. Pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which we live today, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly.
  3. Pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments. The new paradigm of pluralism does not require us to leave our identities and our commitments behind, for pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.
  4. Pluralism is based on dialogue. The language of pluralism is that of dialogue and encounter, give and take, criticism and self-criticism. Dialogue means both speaking and listening, and that process reveals both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean everyone at the “table” will agree with one another. Pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table — with one’s commitments.

Organizations such as Inter-Faith Ministries of Wichita demonstrate how people of diverse faith traditions can come together to serve their communities.

In 2002 the California Council of Churches made a decision to respond to the episodes of violence and mistaken identity that followed 9/11 by creating an interfaith curriculum: Building Bridges of Understanding.

Southern California’s Claremont Lincoln University recently announced a graduate university in that brings Christians, Jews and Muslims together in the same classrooms to educate leaders for churches, synagogues and mosques. Talk about interfaith cooperation!

My online friend Adam Walker Cleaveland posted this resource about pluralism on his Pomomusing blog.

Gregg Churchill, another friend of mine in Redding, CA is having a reconciliation seminar on January 20, 2012 with the topic “From Tolerance to Engagement Between Denominational Lines.” Sign up today and join us.

My wife and I are recent transplants from Silicon Valley where as a real estate agent, I became very aware of the varied ethnic and religious background moving into those communities. An example of this diversity is the city of Fremont, CA, which is thought to be the most religiously diverse city of it’s size in the USA.

By comparison, Redding is much less ethnically diverse; nevertheless, Shasta County Interfaith Forum (SCIF) was created in the 1990’s with a mission to “bring together faith leaders and interested individuals to encourage cultural and spiritual diversity… and promote critical thinking and developing programs that encourage physical and spiritual health and wellness by all.”

John B. Cobb Jr. believes that christocentrism “requires of the Christian the rejection of all arrogance, exclusivism, and dogmatism in relation to other ways.” Further, “the more faithful and loyal we Christians are to Christ the more open we are to others.”

How open are you to the Spirit of God in others?