The problem with religious purism

In his Oct. 6 column, “Pluralism is anti-intellectual,” Matthew Kuboushek seems to espouse a rather narrow concept of religion. Taking a purist approach, he advocates for the notion that one religion must be completely true and all of the others must necessarily be false (or a mix of some truth and falsehood). In his closing paragraph, he opines that, “It should again be common for Catholics to say that they alone possess the means of salvation or for Jews to say it or Muslims to say it or for atheists to say that nothing happens.” I will assume that Mr. Kuboushek was merely constrained by a word limit, given the fact that he failed to make even a passing mention of any world religion not connected to the Abrahamic faiths or the denial thereof.

In explaining his disapproval towards pluralism, Mr. Kuboushek draws an analogy using science.  Modern proponents of the Flat-Earth theory should not be regarded by other scientists as equally correct, simply in the name of preserving the right of each individual to hold his or her own opinions. Certainly this makes sense, but Mr. Kuboushek has used a rather limited analogy. We live in a day and age where the Earth may easily be photographed from above, thus rendering Flat-Earth theorists as definitively wrong. Unless Mr. Kuboushek can produce such definitive proof of God, then I would suggest that his analogy has little merit.

In the absence of incontrovertible proof, what are the signs and hallmarks of God’s presence within a religious tradition? Within Christianity, there are concepts such as the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, as well as the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. One might also look for instances of prophecy or the working of miracles.

Here’s the thing, though – all of these signs and hallmarks also occur in other religions and spiritual traditions. Whether we are talking about the Abrahamic faiths, the Dharmic paths of India, Native American shamanism, Oriental religious paths or ancestor worship, all of the same indicators may be found. We can argue and debate about religion, as Mr. Kuboushek advocates, or we can recognize and accept that the human family is too large and diverse for one religion. God is One, but God manifests through diverse religious and spiritual traditions.

In lieu of Mr. Kuboushek’s analogy, please consider this one. I would suggest to you that if a sick person went to 10 different doctors, he or she would probably end up receiving anywhere from seven to 10 different diagnoses and prescriptions. (Medical science is not as exacting and objective as we are led to believe!) So what is this sick person to do?

Spending large amounts of time considering the credentials of each doctor will only give the illness more time to worsen. Friends or loved ones who encourage the sick person to believe that only one doctor has the truth are also encouraging delays in starting a treatment. That sick person must make a decision, based upon their own beliefs and what their heart and mind are telling them, and start a course of treatment before it is too late! Staying alert to whether or not their condition is improving, the sick person may have to decide to switch to another doctor’s care, but the treatment has to begin somewhere.

Here’s the kicker – the mystery of how and why we heal is still very deep. If the sick person whole-heartedly follows the advice of any one of the 10 doctors, it’s quite likely that he or she would be healed. However, lack of faith in the treatment plan or in the doctor will sabotage the healing.

Religion is like this. We can argue until we are blue in the face about which religion is “the true religion,” but all of that time spent arguing is time lost from the sincere practice of our own chosen faith. What ever happened to “they will know we are Christians by our love?” Any religion that feels like it needs to defend its own truthfulness is probably not demonstrating any truthfulness through the love and piety of its followers.

 

Jim Earles is a 1998 Loras College alumn.

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