Getting Along in a Diverse World

Pretend Pluralism.

That’s how Stephen Prothero regards the popular notion that all religions are basically different paths up the same mountain. According to this professor of religion at Boston University, Pretend Pluralism is “dangerous, disrespectful, and untrue.”

It’s a surprising statement because many believe that what is really “dangerous, disrespectful, and untrue” is to claim that there’s only one true religion. In a religiously diverse world, many assume that can only lead to conflict. So, they believe the only alternative is to declare that all religions basically teach the same thing. But Prothero says that “tolerance is an empty virtue if you don’t even understand what you are tolerating.” Instead, if religions are paths up a mountain, we have to see “practitioners of the world’s religions…on very different mountains, climbing very different peaks, and using very different tools and techniques in their ascents.”

Prothero is not a Christian, but I agree with his critique of Pretend Pluralism. To get along in our diverse world, we need something richer than Pretend Pluralism.

Ironically, the gospel is what we need. I say that’s ironic because the gospel makes some pretty exclusive claims about God. And yet the gospel has the resources to turn believers into agents for peace in our diverse world. I can think of three resources.

Common Grace. Christianity teaches that there are basic values self-evident to everyone, not just Bible readers. So, we can work together with people of other faiths — and no faith — to build decent communities.

Saving Grace. The gospel teaches that our salvation comes by grace alone. God drew us to himself not because of our nationality or our ethnicity or our moral self-discipline. It wasn’t that we were smarter or had a greater moral sensitivity. It’s all of grace. So we can relate to others who don’t get it, because there was a time when we didn’t get it.

The Example of Jesus. At the very heart of the Christian story is a man who died for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness. Reflection on this can only lead to a radically different way of dealing with those who are different from us.

Sadly, Christians don’t always put these resources into practice in their relationships in the world. But the more we understand the gospel, the more we can communicate the exclusive claims of Jesus in a manner that builds relationships with those who don’t accept our claims. Let’s discuss this further on Sunday. At our 10am service, I’ll address the question of whether Christianity leads to an intolerance of other beliefs, and then I’ll field questions during a live Q&A. Join us on campus or online.