on religious pluralism

religious ‘multiculturalism’ is perhaps even more difficult than the cultural version.

i was at my yoga lesson on saturday when the conch was blown at 6 p.m. to honor of the gods in the little temple built on the roof of the house on which we do our yoga. Everyone stopped their breathing exercises and raised their hands to their heads in a sign of devotion. Though a good post-christian and longtime quasi-atheist, i nevertheless had some qualms about being, well, religious. My guru however admonished me to play along, pointing out that i needn’t worry since he also had a picture of my god in the temple. The obvious point being that i didn’t have to worship shiva but could stick to jesus. Indeed, he has a painting of a very aryan-looking jesus alongside photographs of all of his personal gurus.

What struck me at the time was that this religous but intelligent man could absolutely not understand: (1) that as a westerner i could also not be a christian or at least religous; (2) that Jesus is not exactly ‘the God of the christians’ and certainly not an avatar of the universal supreme deity; and (3) that a christian might not want to raise her hands in devotion to a picture of Jesus Christ while a hindu is blowing a conch in order to call over Shiva, Lakshmi and Krishna to come to the temple.

My guru was interpreting christianity through hinduism, seeing Jesus as one among many avatars of God and didn’t realize that christians, and monotheists in general, don’t like mixing their unique god with a multitude of other ones. This brings me to a general thought on religious pluralism.

Religious people have a very hard time imagining what the world would look like through another religious person’s spiritual eyes. The reason, is simple: as soon as religious people manage this feat … they loose their religion. I know many very liberal christians and some hindus. However, those who can still be properly called christians or hindus remain incapable of understanding other religions – without interpreting them through their own faith. A christian will accept that hinduism is a valid and perhaps somewhat good religion – because it is an approximation to christianity. And vice versa.

Those who do manage to see through different religions in effect abandon their first faith. They do not, however, necessarily become atheists. It seems that such people move one notch up the religious ladder and become simply religious. That is, they continue to believe that the religious instinct in humans is valid and useful – but that no existing religion is quite up to the mark.

Once you have risen above the religion of your childhood, you cannot go back – nor do you usually want to. Such people (we) require a meta-religion, a sort of general religious framework that adopts the good structural features of religion, while abandoning or relativising the substance of particular faiths.

Within such a framework we could perhaps understand why my guru’s wife wants to blow her conch every day at 6 p.m. and i could figure how, if at all, to play along, instead of half-heartedly playing lip service to the hand motions. Until then, however, the religious will probably continue to talk right past one another.


One Comment to “on religious pluralism”

  1. While talking about religious pluralism, I wanted one to think about this piece I had written sometime back. If we are really interested in the almighty, as all religions are supposed to be, I do not understand how antagonism finds a place mongst various forms.

    FOOD FOR THOUGHT – Do We Really Need Tolerance Towards Other Religions?

    Religious tolerance has been preached as a virtue for ages. But I believe the concept in itself is flawed. Tolerance is a derivative of ‘to tolerate’, which signifies a voluntary non-action against injustice, pain or rather anything unacceptable. Therefore, the term religious tolerance signifies that the very existence of another religion is painful and unacceptable to any other religion or any person belonging to such religious sect.

    Religion is a conglomeration of people with allegiance to a common faith in a particular form of the almighty. If one believes in the unity of god, no matter what form we chose, our allegiance lies to the one and only almighty. I such a case, is there any rational in one religion no even willing to accept the existence of other religions? So much so that one is pushed to the verge of having to tolerate the others. What kind of virtue is it for, say, a Christian to tolerate Hindus, Muslims, Jews etc? Is secularism about tolerance or is it about the acceptance of other’s freedom to pay allegiance to the almighty in whatever form they believe the most? Is it not time for us to accept freedom of religion than tolerate it? Is not the concept of religious tolerance the very negation of the unity of the almighty?

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