The human condition has long featured a doubt or uncertainty concerning humanity’s place in the universe, especially considering the presence of suffering and tragedy in lives aimed at attaining happiness. People have long used religion as a method in explaining or excusing their cosmic condition: suffering could be explained by previous sin or could be explained as simply the way of earthly existence. Regardless, religion seemed to guarantee, through scriptures or the teachings of prophets, that there would be a time that an individual’s suffering would end.
If humanity enjoyed a single, homogeneous religion, the promise of a happy end to suffering would surely make great strides in alleviating earthbound human suffering. However, the varied and numerous religions that exist today prevent any such easy solution. Certain religions teach that those of their faith are the only ones that are saved and that those who follow “false” gods are subject to eternal damnation. This practice falls under religious exclusivism, a belief or teaching that a particular religion alone brings salvation.
Others are convinced that their religion is the most valid, but believe that people from other religions are subject to salvation through their moral actions. This follows religious inclusivism, a belief that people can achieve salvation regardless of their religion. Lastly, some religions or, more suitably, some faithfuls, believe that all religions are equal, or at least all contain enough truths to be justified as a religion of good and God; to a pluralist, all religions, in the sense that they are all searching for similar truths, have the capability to send their followers towards eternal salvation.
Evangelical Christians hold a very strict belief in exclusivism. Backed by the Bible, evangelical leaders are convinced that their notion that the submission under Jesus Christ will send faithfuls to eternal salvation. They believe that Jesus Christ alone saves, “and there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Religious exclusivism involves the conviction that no religion, except that which one is holding, can pay for one’s sins and bring them to salvation.
This exclusivism plays on the very strong faith one has, mirroring something near fanaticism, towards his God and the teaching associated with Him. For an exclusivist, salvation is attainable only by following the one true God, which is his God. Christian exclusivism relates to the Bible as proof that no other religion can bring people to the real God and, logically, there is no other road to salvation. Paul said, “for there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
Therefore, according to Christian exclusivism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and any other religion will not save one from their sins. It could give them comfort and happiness during their time on Earth, but will not find a place in God’s kingdom nor receive God’s grace. Further, to Christians, sins are not atoned solely by moral acts, but also by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was sent to save humanity from their sins. The Bible says, “for Christ also died for sins one for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
Also, “the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14). In other words, only those who submit themselves to believe that Jesus Christ, a God and man, sacrificed himself in order to save them will receive eternal salvation. Criticisms against Christian exclusivism started an increase in believers of inclusivism. Though not centrally attributed to Christianity, inclusivism has been well-used by less evangelical Christians. Inclusivism centers on the belief that while one’s own religious beliefs are the most correct, other religions do contain truth themselves but do not necessarily guarantee salvation.
In the Christian tradition, while Jesus Christ is seen as the savior, inclusivists have made allowances for people of others faiths to achieve salvation. Both the Council of Trent, a Catholic body that lasted from 1545-1563, and the Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962-1965, allowed that those who were not aware of the existence of Catholicism could still benefit from the salvation of God and Jesus Christ, as long as the exhibited a morality palatable to the Christian God. The Second Vatican Council went as far to say that people of other Christian faiths were eligible for salvation.
Inclusivists, in the Christian methodology, believe that God is all-loving, which allows entrance to heaven to those who do not call Him as He is. Not rejecting Jesus Christ because one does not know of his existence, inclusivists reason, is not a sufficient reason to be condemned to Hell. What becomes central to the inclusivist mindset is morality; the good go to heaven, the bad go to hell. Jesus said, “He who is not against me is with me” (Mark 9:40). Another benefit of this belief is the allowance for religious tolerance.
While different religions are intolerable under religious exclusivism, different religions can still be just and holy under religion inclusivism. Pluralism offers the most open-minded view of religion, although differences in pluralism can inform how open-minded the view is. Under the first tenant of pluralism, other religions are seen as both true and equal to that being held by the faithful. In this doctrine, pluralists hold that all true religions in the world lead believers to God. People, as long as they believe in eternal salvation and act morally, will reach Heaven.
Pluralism can also be used as an allowance for good-natured inter-faith dialogs, which can even include side-by-side worship. While going further than inclusivism by allowing for more similarities between religions, this brand of pluralism does not mandate the two are necessarily equal, just that they both hold some truth. What is central in both forms of pluralism is the understanding that all religions have religious practice, all religions serve a specific purpose, and all religions possess a structure.
Some pluralists even go as far to say that foreign religions have simply received different riches from God than the religion they hold; in this way different religions can be informed from others, as all have received the word of God, just in different ways and at different times. Bede Griffiths, author of The Vedic Revelation, affirmed the emergence of the more open-minded society towards world religion. He speaks of “new Christians” who believe that God has communicated with man in many ways, not simply through the Bible. “Christians begun to discover the riches that God has lavished to other nations,” he wrote.
Not just limited to believing that Christianity is the only one true religion loved by God, Bede is convinced that the world is now emerging to the allowance of sharing the gifts given to them by a God who appeared in many ways to many prophets. It is doubtless to say that he is a pluralist in the broadest sense based on his description of the different revelations God made to different men. He sees all religions in equal standing and equal accuracy in their communication with God. Scriptures are eternal, given by God to man, whether the scripture is the Koran, the Torah, the Bible, or the Vedas.
Regardless, he admits there are sure to be errors in any communication between man and God, particularly in how the Words are understood and written. From this, one can infer that Griffiths feels that the true word of God can be discerned by combining the scriptures of many religions. Accordingly, I think that pluralism does create a more understanding and cooperative view of God between religions. Regardless of our beliefs, we can never judge another’s faith as somewhat false or wrong. Indeed, God has communicated with us in many ways and in many forms. Similarly, we can communicate with God using varying methods in form and substance.
Exclusivism attracts conflict, with the possibility of religious discrimination. Discrimination can easily lead to great misunderstandings, even war, as seen by religious wars that have persisted throughout history. The view held by exclusivists and inclusivists alike, that only one religion is true, proves one great human error, that man has a tendency to position himself perfectly against another man simply because of a lack of open-mindedness towards the unknown. God is compassionate to His creatures and gives them the freedom to find their way back their love the way they wanted to.
Salvation is not achieved only by submitting under a single truth that disregards the right of other people despite the fact that they are also pursuing a similar path, although in a similar way. Jesus Christ, I think, would not want His people to look lowly at other people who are morally pursuing their paths. God wants us to love Him in the best way possible and He will judge us according to our actions. He will look at our deeds and will certainly, I think, punish more those who have denied the faith of equally good people simply because they do not hold equal religious beliefs.
Everyone hopes that after suffering in this world they will reach a certain kind of peace and be removed from their fatal obligations here on Earth. Even the bad people, deep in their hearts, are longing to be saved from their misery. Thus, we are all thinking that someone external from this world will save us. Our hopes prompt us to join other people and act morally. Certainly, we are not in the position to speak for Him as he is far more understanding of one’s suffering than a human could be. Let us believe what we think is best for us and act accordingly. Let Him judge us at the end of our time and avoid judging those by how they see Him.