Session 1 The Various Meanings of Pluralism
Session 2 A Brief History of Religious Pluralism
Session 3 The Influence of the Modern Era on Religious Pluralism
Session 4 The Influence of Postmodernity on Religious Pluralism
Session 5 Responses to Religious Pluralism Among Christians
The Influence of Postmodernity on Religious Pluralism
It would be good if we could begin with a universally agreed upon definition of postmodernity. For numerous reasons, no such definition exists. Kenan Osborne observes, “ ‘Postmodern’ remains a fairly undefined word. It seems that Federico de Osnis first used it in a Spanish essay around 1934.”37 One reason for the absence of a universally agreed upon definition is that the contours of postmodernity are still emerging.
Suggestions regarding the beginning of postmodernity have also been forthcoming. In a Study of History, Arnold Toynbee said the modern historical period ended somewhere between 1850 and 1918. Others suggest 1966 when Robert Venturi published his architectural manifesto. Or maybe postmodern began on July 15, 1972, when a high rise residential structure for the poor was demolished in St. Louis, on the grounds that it was uninhabitable. The point is that rather than having to decide which claim is the correct one, we should see each suggestion as but an important marker in the emergence of postmodernity.
Postmodernity was born because of severe crises in modernity that broke out along broad fronts . . . postmoderns believe that modernity claimed entirely too much for itself— for reason, for the limits of knowledge and for what is worth knowing, for the objectivity of reason, for the rational organization of society, the autonomous self, and so forth.
Paul Tillich said that “reason” should have claimed occupancy for only one room in the house of knowledge and meaning, and should have left space for other “residents.” Religion, the wisdom of traditional cultures, emotions, aesthetics, and communal knowledge should have had plenty of living space as well.
Sources of the “Crisis” in Modernity
The “crises” that jolted modernity has many sources. One was the growing recognition of humankind’s ability to abuse the very “reason” that was supposed to have been an impartial liberator.
Another source of the crisis was the occurrence of two world wars in half a century that shook confidence in reason and progress.
The sciences were supposed to be “objective,” free of subjectivity, and our pioneer guide to the promised land. We now know that while they can be enormously beneficial, the sciences can just as easily be pressed into the hire of greed, national interests, and Wall Street. Original sin is barred by no human door.
“Objective reason” as touted by the Enlightenment proved to be “a myth.” History and postmodern thinkers have exploded it. “Objectivity” closely examined, will usually, if not always, reveal the “subjectivity” of the person or culture doing the reasoning.
Characteristics of Postmodernity as They Affect Religious Pluralism
- The first thing that marks postmodernity is a resurgence of religion, often in novel or “unconventional” forms.
Much of the resurgence of religion is occurring outside the established religious institutions.
In recent decades the world has also witnessed a wave of fundamentalism within the established faiths. These include Islamic, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist fundamentalism.
- A second feature of postmodernity that intersects with religious pluralism is its dismissal of the notion of complete objectivity.
Even though many modern thinkers dismissed the notion of “religious truth,” they replaced it with another “truth,” a modern vision of how human life should be understood, organized, and lived.
Also . . . has been a growing change in our understanding of “knowledge.” In place of our confidence in “objectivity” has come a recognition that “knowing” is inescapably “located.”
- The third feature of postmodernity that has implications for religious pluralism is its emphasis upon holism and community.
Postmodernity, by contrast, views persons in holistic terms, as constituted by their relation to other persons, communities, themselves, and the environment.
Postmodern Implications for Pluralism
- The first lesson is that one must simply come to grips with the postmodern assessment of the many religious stories or narratives in the world.
The conclusion is that only uninformed persons would at this juncture in history be so crude as to boast that his or her religion “ought” to be the narrative for all persons everywhere.
The Holy Spirit is the only one who might persuade a person to joyously join the dance of God’s grace as manifest in Christ.
- “When it comes to other religions, the challenge in modernity was to prove that we’re right and they’re wrong. But I think we have a different challenge in postmodernity. The question isn’t so much whether we’re right but whether we’re good. And it strikes me that goodness, not just rightness, is what Jesus said the real issue was.”38
- A third implication is that the various narratives must listen to each other.
Why listen? We listen to hear—to hear the meaning one’s religious narrative offers them and their culture, to hear how the gracious God may already be active far beyond our expectations and limitations, and not as a clever device for tricking persons into uninvited proselytism.
- A fourth implication derives from the postmodern marker known as holism. An adequate appreciation for the various religions must include the whole context from within which they view communities, persons, and nature in relationship to the sacred.