Approving Religious Diversity to Sustain Intercultural Dialogue
The USA is a country with a biggest number of different churches, denominations, sects, and cults. Almost all world religious denominations are represented here. Religious pluralism, which is inherent to the USA, is the outcome of the historical development of the country. The reason for that is the fact that the number of its population gradually increased for account of emigrants from Europe, Asia, and Africa, who profess different religions. As a rule, in the USA, dozens of new religious organizations, new denominations, and religious sects appear annually. Some of these organizations are not even registered. This religious diversity has gradually increased due to the emergence of new denominations or their split. Present social situation demands conducting intercultural dialogue on all levels; in order to make it effective, it is vitally important to get approval of religious diversity meaning the adherents of various religious groups.
In the light of religious pluralism, there exist two tendencies in the practice of religious institutions. First of all, by adapting to the situation, they can acknowledge religious freedom and tolerance to other confessions. Secondly, they can deny such adaptation and continue to exist and confess the truth in its genuine form. However, along with choosing the position, the process of their politicization takes place. It is manifested in changes of religious concepts, consolidation of social commitment of religious organizations, and their participation in economic, political, social, and spiritual processes. Currently, the religious factor is present in political and interethnic conflicts. Adherents of particular religious groups manifest rejection of the beliefs of other religious denominations. There are confrontations, violence, and aggression on the ground of religious intolerance that usually complicates interethnic conflicts. According to McKim, “it is difficult for major religions to treat each other with adequate seriousness”. However, the problems of the relations between world religions seem less complicated than the conflicts inside denominations that leads to failing of the main function – supporting unity of ethnic community. “The religions contribute to the cohesion of communities and provide various sorts of psychological support, including comfort for the bereaved and afflicted”.
There has always been a question: is pluralism good or bad? If it is good in the animal world or the world of musical forms, what is the reason for considering pluralism to be bad in religion? From the one side, people got the Holy Scriptures that tell the followers to show love and obedience through concise deeds, strictly following laws. From the other side, the Holy Writ was written by many people during many years. The information written by one person can be interpreted in a different way by another person since everybody has his/her own reality. Johnson refers to Hicks and claims that “Any pluralistic theory that claims all religions are manifestation of the same ultimate reality faces an immediate difficulty: the contradictory truth-claims that different religions make”. It means that religions contradict one another, and they cannot be a manifestation of the same reality. In that case, it is necessary to mention that according to Hick’s examination, there are a couple of levels on which the disagreement of religious traditions occurs. They are:
- matters of historical fact,
- matters of trans-historical fact,
- differing conceptions of the Real.
Besides, usually such historical debates occur between adherents of the same tradition. Nevertheless, the author claims that it is possible to resolve the disagreements even though it is rather difficult. In that case, Hick claims that people have to tolerate such historical differences.
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Nevertheless, it is vitally important to tolerate not only historical differences. Tolerance means letting other persons have a wide discretion or freedom of expressing opinion; it is tolerant and unprejudiced attitude to the points of view that differ from ours. McKim also speculates on this topic:
In spite of this great diversity, we find that among those who hold the various views associated with the major traditions are many people of integrity. These are people who at least in the ideal case, know a great deal, avoid exaggeration, admit ignorance when it seems appropriate to them to do so, have an interest in the truth, and are intelligent, serious, sincere, insightful, decent sensible, and reflective.
Studying Hick’s hypothesis, Johnson also supports this idea: “almost every religion brings positive moral change in the lives of its followers. Therefore, many find it implausible to believe that only one religion is true.” Besides, Hick presented hypothesis that has a strong intuitive appeal thanks to providing a framework by which we can claim that if the religion transforms the follower’s life positively, then it is valid”.
Probably within time, new religious denomination will appear. Eternal questions concerning religion are the same, and the answers will differ depending on the person. The emergence of a new religious denomination certainly depends on three elements, which in their turn depend on people. First of all, there must appear people who will formulate and develop new religious ideas. Secondly, there must appear a leader or group of leaders who will manage to popularize these ideas. Thirdly, there must also appear followers of this religious denomination. Every historical period offered perspectives of mutual relation between the God and the men. In any case, religious denomination has to become a spiritual shelter for a big group of people. Some of these people cannot satisfy their spiritual needs through the existing religions, and other people respond to everything new, unusual, revolutionary, and sometimes even scandalous. New philosophy of morality has to help people develop new life principles and realize fundamental rules of relations in society for the sake of social agreement between different religious denominations, groups of people, organizations, and countries with variable development level. There is no doubt that this process will take some time; however, this is a way for the modern society to organize approach and principles of moving towards moral and intellectual person of the future.
Pluralism is a peaceful coexistence of different racial, ethnical, or religious groups in the same society. The present day undermines traditional homogeneity of society. There are also insiders and outsiders who face each other physically (thanks to urbanization and travelling) or virtually (thanks to mass media and communication). Pluralism has become accelerated and expanded thanks to globalization and integral part of life and consciousness of people. On the institutional level, “pluralism” means that the recognized religions can no longer be considered understandable; thus, more, and more people passively acknowledge their authority. It is necessary to persuade people to recognize this authority. On the level of individual consciousness, it means that religious precision is becoming more and more seldom phenomenon. Religious pluralism is one of the most important factors of stability in the American society. It is consolidated by the system and symbols that were called “civil pluralism”. It is connected to the peculiarities of American ideological system that has such typical features as high value of religion, religious tolerance, principle of the separation of church from the state. Despite all the historical debates, it is important to emphasize the fact that the solution of all the disagreements is also based on religious tolerance. What is more, it is considered that no matter to which religious denomination the person belongs, he or she has a chance to undergo moral change in life.
Many people nowadays are in dire need of spiritual satisfaction; as a result, they are looking for religion to convert to. Every person has a right to choose any religion he or she would like to follow. The reaction on global pluralism will acquire different forms. All religious communities are facing the choice: opposing to pluralism, keeping back from it, and acknowledging and accepting. Any choice includes difficulties and risk, and only the last one is compatible with democracy. We live in time when religions have to persuade. However, they cannot forget about their missionary performance in society, paying attention to the truth, values, and the beauty of traditions. Pluralism makes churches follow the principle of religious sects. They have all the characteristics of the church, but people join the sect voluntarily, and it recognizes the existence of other sects. Concerning their compatibility with the modern liberal democracy, the acknowledgement of pluralism to a great extent can be the thing that evidently differentiates religions. In any case, each person gives meaning to each religious denomination and has its own point of view concerning religious tradition. Even if a person makes a decision to adhere to conservative version of this tradition, he or she will be able to change this decision in the future. In such a way, despite all the differences in world religions, preached moral values contain much general information. It means that the dialogue is possible not just between the cultures but also between the religions. It is vitally important to hold such dialogue regularly.
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