RELIGIOUS PLURALISM: LIFE-SUSTAINING VISION



RELIGIOUS PLURALISM: LIFE-SUSTAINING VISION
Today it is the conviction of all committed scholars of religion that plurality of religion should be accepted as a reality.  Religions have to be tolerated and differences acknowledged.  Madhukar writes, “in a world haunted by fear and torn by strife what is the need of the moment is a spirit of tolerance and understanding, not the mere grudging admission of other religious views but the glad recognition of the variety of the human mind.”1 
It is to be accepted that, the present world situation has gone to a state where every one is keen on maintaining his/her own identity on the one hand, and at the same time co-mingling with people of other identity on the other. S. J. Samartha goes to the extent of saying “the rejection of religious pluralism is a more serious form of injustice than the merely economic.”2  Therefore, John Hick calls for the recognition of the oneness of humanity and the diversity of revelation.3  In short, acceptance of religious pluralism demands the recognition of many revelations and the oneness of humanity.

13.1  Religion on the Wrong Road
Another remarkable finding of the scholars is that in the course of history, religions were used more for war than for peace.  They had been used to disunite the people. Paul F. Knitter writes, “still today the battle cries of Protestants and Buddhists and Hindus in Sri Lanka, and Sikhs and Hindus and Muslims in India are sad testimonies that religions continue to be more effective at motivating war than peace.”4  Taking cue from the frequent communal conflicts from the Indian context, Samartha says that “religions are used as handmaidens to political interests.”5  A. Pushparajan identifies the misuse of religion in the local riots too.  He says “many non-religious factors very often influence the riots.  However it is undeniable that the riots have been coloured by religious considerations.”6  In spite of such misuses, religions can be used for constructive purposes, if they are united.  

13.2  Importance of Co-Operation
Wilfred Cantwell Smith writes “unless men can learn to understand and to be loyal to each other across religious frontiers, unless we can build a world in which people profoundly of different faiths can live together and work together, then the prospects for our planet’s future are not bright.”7  S. J. Samartha states the need for cooperation among religions as “it is agreed that the most helpful relationship between persons of different faiths in the world today must be one of co-operation in pursuing common purposes like justice, peace and human rights.”8  In the words of Paul F. Knitter “religions must speak and act together because only so can they make their crucially important contribution to removing the oppression that contaminates our globe.”9  He also highlights the necessity of union and enrichment of religions.10

13.3  Context for Co-Operation
Having said that religions should co-operate in order to play their constructive role, it is important to examine the context for their co-operation.  Paul F. Knitter suggests that, the “world of suffering, which provides the context or Kairos for dialogue, is all around us.”11  In another place he says, “… peace can and must become a common commitment and a common ground for conversation and action.”12  Another insight he provides is that, as the world faces suffering and want of peace, it needs salvation i.e. in its comprehensive sense. For this he proposes a soterio-centric approach.  But later he affirmed “working for eco-human justice becomes a common context in which we find ourselves using our different religious stories and symbols.”13   Therefore he suggestes the functioning together of liberation theology and theology of religions.  He writes, “their encounter, may be even their marriage, can bear much fruit for the Christian Churches and the world.”14 This idea has been expounded in his later works.  He says: “so people and events in my life have led me, sometimes lured me, to what has become for me the moral obligation to join ‘pluralism and liberation’ or ‘dialogue and global responsibility’.” 15 
In this context, Aloysius Pieris proposes a new paradigm for the Asian context for the religions to work together.  It includes three aspects: “the first is the acknowledgement of a third magisterium, namely, that of the poor; the second is the liberational thrust that defines our theology of religions; and finally, the social location of this theology is the Basic Human Communities (BHC).”16

13.4  Concern for Life
It is significant to note that in the on going debate on religious pluralism, concern for life occupies the central role.  This is in opposition to the traditional way of placing church, Christ, God etc., at the centre.  In this context, Herbert Jai Singh writes, “it is however, perhaps not in rigid theological formula that we find the secret of relating ourselves to men of other faiths but in the personal awareness of our common humanity.”17  Further, “we are thrown together in the common task of life and this is so whether we like it or not.”18  Taking this with seriousness he said,  “what we need to learn is to live with one another’s differences in religious matters.”19  A similar idea can be found in the writings of Madhukar that “what we have in common is not religion but humanity.”20 
S. J. Samartha goes deeper into the aspect of social responsibility of the enlightened and writes, “unless the Hindu-Christian quest for truth is related to the ongoing life of the community, to the life of people who are struggling, suffering, and dying in the world today, it will remain isolated.”21  These ideas are shared by Paul F. Knitter too.  He says all religions are concerned with the welfare of all life.  His repeated emphasis is on the liberation of humanity from the sufferings of the world.  He writes that, “there is today a growing awareness among religious persons that their religious identity must somehow be related to those common experiences of suffering and global threat.”22   It is to be appreciated that the concern for the poor has been the key thrust of almost all the committed pluralists.

13.5  Challenges to Christianity
The challenges awaiting Christianity are many. One of the challenges pointed out by S. J. Samartha is that the “future of Christianity in India lies in liberal Christians combating Hindu fanaticism and at the same time co-operating with liberal Hindus.”23
Another challenge that the Church has to face is to redefine its understanding of mission. Because the traditional, propagation-oriented activities has been challenged by people of different faith-traditions. The Church is also expected to re-evaluate the role of Christianity as a religion, in the midst of other religions.

13.6     Life-Sustaining Vision
            It was discussed earlier that the world is threatened by various disastrous forces. These forces are to be tackled with the help of bringing together all the spiritual resources of different faith- traditions. Many theologians of religions have grappled with this issue in order to lay a sound religious and theological foundation to this venture. In this context, the traditional Church- centeredness of Christian approach to other faith-traditions was challenged by the Christocentric approach. Later, even the Christocentric perspective was challenged by the more comprehensive Theocentric- view. The inadequacy of this approach too was identified and new perspectives have been proposed by committed thinkers.
Now the attention is shifted to humanity. The common humanity with its variety of challenges at the global level has become the focus of attention. In short what is required is a LIFE-SUSTAINING VISION. This life is not unique to selected people, but common to all.

 13.6.1  Spirituality of Life-Sustaining Vision
In the life-sustaining vision of religious pluralism, spirituality is the source of inspiration. Every individual must be rooted and filled with the Sakti or spirit of that particular faith-tradition to which he/she belongs. This is what called in the Indian tradition as the state of “Jivan Mukta”. The Jivan muktas consider the world as one i.e. Vasudevakutumbam.
The seed for promoting equality of religions, people, and concern for the cosmos germinates from the womb of spiritual realization. This realization dawns on a Christian because of his/her intensive commitment to the principles of Jesus. Irrespective of the faith-traditions to which one belonged, every one may have to ask oneself a question- what distinguishes me as a human being by adhering to a particular faith-tradition? A close observation of life of the people of different traditions can teach us that every human being is striving to live a better life which is what every one is aspiring for. In this struggle for life, no individual is better placed because of his/her religious identity.                                                                                       
Life therefore is the central theme that is needed to be stressed in any inter-religious encounters. Our endeavor in working for the friendliness of religions is to strengthen life. Life-sustaining vision of religious pluralism is the tangible solution for religious harmony in India.     
Every religion is good. They were established for the sake of humanity. Their aims were rewarding. God revealed himself in diverse forms so that no human being is left without the guidance of the one Reality. Therefore, every one is entitled for the spiritual realization.
The Original vision of every religion was pure and genuine. Soon many human elements entered in to those original and pure revelations to despoil its vision, which are now used for political gain.
Just as a ruler decides with his selfish motives whether a war is holy or not, a politician decides when and where a temple for a god is to be constructed. Thus the vote-banks and the power-equations decide the fate of gods.
In this issue of religious pluralism, Christians have a great mission to perform. They have to fight against the human-made religiosity and help the people to realize the original revelation and the original relation between God and the rest of creation. Christians cannot do this alone. They have to mobilize the help of all fellow religious seekers.
A Christian has to maintain his/her faith and conviction in the unique revelation of Jesus Christ. At the same time he/she should help his/her neighbours to realize the uniqueness of his/her own revelation. A strongly religious minded people alone can work towards the Life-sustaining vision of religious pluralism. A life- sustaining vision includes all humanity, the lives which support and sustain human life, the planet earth, all the life-giving resources, with a strong opposition to the inequalities and sufferings of the world.
Jesus came to do the will of God. He came to enrich human life. He wanted to obliterate all the religious systems and practices which worked against the life of the people. Jesus broke away many traditional laws to give life to the needy. For him, if laws and practices were not in consonant with the lives of people, they should be avoided. His main fight was against religions which functioned at the cost of human life and suffering. He was always of the view that religion is for man and man is not for religion.
All efforts to solve the issue of religious pluralism should be focused upon the life-sustaining vision: A life that enjoys peace and freedom. This is possible only with a strong spiritual foundation. This foundation can be further strengthened by the mutual co-operation between religions to work towards this life-sustaining vision.



1 Madhukar, “The Role of Religions in Ensuring the Welfare of the People”, Religion and
Society, Vol. 42. No. 3 (September 1995), p. 13.
2 S. J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions, op. cit., p. 2.
3 John Hick ed., The Myth of God Incarnate Seventh Impression (London: SCM Press Ltd.,
1985). p. 180.
4 Paul F. Knitter,” Inter-religious Dialogue and the Unity of Humanity”, Journal of Dharma Vol.
XVI, No. 4 (October – December 1992), p. 284.
5 S. J. Samartha, “Inter-religious Relationships in the secular State”, p. 62.
6 A. Pushparajan, Op. cit., p. 18.
7 Wilfred Cantwell Smith, “The Christian in a Religiously Plural World,” Christianity and other
Religions, Op. cit., p. 95.
8 S. J. Samartha, Courage for Dialogue: Ecumenical Issues in Inter-religious Relationships
(Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1981), p. 30.
9 Paul F. Knitter, “Toward a Liberation Theology of Religions,”The Myth of Christian
Uniqueness, op. cit., p. 181.
10 Paul F. Knitter, No other Name? op. cit., p. 6.
11 Paul F. Knitter, One Earth Many Religions, Mutlifatith Dialogue and Global Responsibility
(New York: ORBIS, 1996), p. 58.
12 Ibid., p. 66.
13 Ibid., p. 113.
14  Paul F. Knitter, “Religion and Liberation in Defense of a Pluralistic Theology of Religions”,
NCC Review, Vol. CXII, No. 4 (April 1992), p. 229.
15 Paul F. Knitter, One Earth Many Religions, op. cit., p. 11.
16 Aloysius Pieris, Fire and Water, Basic Issues in Asian Buddhism and Christianity (New
York: ORBIS Books, 1996), p. 156.
17 Herbert Jai Singh, “The Christian Approaches to the Sikhs,” Religions and Society, Vol. XI,
No. 1 (March, 1964), p. 103.
18 Ibid., p. 104.
19 Ibid.
20 Austin B. Creel, “Religion and the Relation of Religion,” Religion and Society, Vol. XXXI,
No. 3 (September 1984), p. 53.
21 S. J. Samartha, Courage for Dialogue, op. cit., p. 156.
22 Paul F. Knitter, One Earth Many Religions, op. cit., p. 57.
23 S. J. Samartha, Between Two Cultures,oOp. cit., p. 160.

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