We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.
Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk
Thursday, March 6, 2014
God and Exclusivism—A Trend
The argument is an interesting one and worthy of debate, but at one important point it fails. In the course of his argument, Stevens claims that, "Most today also hold their religious beliefs more lightly than did their ancestors. And we seem less sure of the beliefs we do have: According to a 2007 Pew survey, only about a quarter of Americans are convinced that their “religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life.” Our God, in other words, has grown smaller and become "ordinary" because fewer people are exclusivists.
The assumption is that those who do not believe in an exclusivist religion take their religion less seriously. Firmly held religion, that is, must be narrow minded. Thich Nhat Hanh, by this logic, must be somehow less religious or less serious in his religion than was Jerry Falwell. This is simply not the case. Quite often those who reject exclusivism exhibit the same depth of commitment to their faith as do those who embrace a one-gospel-saves-all doctrine. And the fact that three-fourths of Americans reject the idea that their religion is the only path to salvation could well be seen as a mark of a growing spiritual maturity rather than an indication that people take their faith less seriously. That, indeed, is the key distinction here: the difference between practicing a faith and holding certain beliefs. The intensity with which we hold certain doctrines, such as the doctrine of salvation, is not in and of itself a measure of the seriousness with which we approach a life of faith. In Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh goes so far as to make the rejection of exclusivism his first "precept of the Order of Interbeing." That precept reads, "Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology. All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth."
It may be that today the general public takes God less seriously, but the decreasing prevalence of exclusivism is not a measure of the seriousness with which people take their religion. That's the point.