Religious Pluralism And Truth -- By: Harold A. Netland

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 06:1 (Spring 1985)
Article: Religious Pluralism And Truth
Author: Harold A. Netland


Religious Pluralism And Truth

Harold A. Netland

Matsugasaki, Japan

We live in a religiously pluralistic world. In recent decades we have been made aware as never before of the tremendous diversity among religious traditions. And with increased awareness of religious pluralism has come a greater emphasis on questions dealing with the relation between various religious traditions. Such questions lead naturally to what is often regarded as the scandal of religious pluralism—the problem of conflicting truth-claims. The problem arises from the fact that adherents of the major religions seem to be saying quite different and even incompatible things about the nature of the religious ultimate and of humanity’s relation to this ultimate. For example, evangelical Christians believe in an infinite Creator who has definitively revealed himself in the incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth. Muslims, while acknowledging God as the omniscient, omnipotent creator of the universe, reject as blasphemous any suggestion that Jesus was God incarnate. Theravada Buddhists, on the other hand, do not regard the universe as the product of an ontologically distinct creator but rather as the product of the creative efficacy of karmic effect. And even within a single religious tradition significant differences emerge: in considering the soteriology of Mahayana Buddhism, for example, we see that followers of Jodo-Shinshu Buddhism maintain that salvation/enlightenment is attainable simply by exercising faith in the Areida Buddha and the recitation of the nembutsu, whereas adherents of Zen, who reject as illusory any worldview that. implies dualism, hold that satori (viz. enlightenment, commonly regarded as the direct, unmediated apprehension of the ultimate nature of reality, transcending all distinctions) is to be attained only through rigorous self-discipline.

Until relatively recently it was widely assumed that since incompatible truth-claims1 are being made not all of the claims made by the various religions can be true. At least some must be false. Thus, it has traditionally been held that the Muslim and the evangelical Christian cannot both be correct in their beliefs about the identity of Jesus. For the sake of convenience let us call this the “exclusivist” view of the relation between religious traditions. On the exclusivist view of the major religions make at least some claims that are incompatible with each other, and where two or

more such claims contradict each other they cannot both be true—at least one must be false.2 It is clear that the exclusivist position has been presupposed by...

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