Pluralist theories of religion

Many Unitarian Universalist espouse pluralist theories of religion. What is a pluralist theory of religion? According to S. Mark Heim, such theories “attempt to transform religious diversity from an apparent embarrassment for claims to religious truth into supporting testimony for one truth subsistent in all faiths: (“Pluralistic Theology as Apologetics,” ch. 4 in Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion,Orbis: 1995, p. 123).

This is the familiar argument that while all religions might be different in specifics, they all have the same goal. One analogy used is that all religions are paths up the same mountain — the paths start from different places, and take different routes up the mountain, but they all wind up at the same summit. That’s what a pluralist theory of religion is.

Back to Heim:

“There is a great deal of discussion today about ‘post modernity’ and about the possible changes which may follow the dethroning of North Atlantic views of history, knowledge, and justice from their supposed universal status through a recognition of valid alternatives from other cultures. Insofar as such a transformation were actually to take place, pluralistic theologies would seem to be among the most likely casualities, defensively structured as they are around the presumed universality of the codes of modern rationality. Ironically, pluralistic antidotes to Christian particularism may prove to be much more culture and time bound than the theologies they condemn. The very religious traditions pluralistic theologies wish to affirm may find on the whole they have as much to fear from the pluralists’ embrace as the exclusivists’ denial.”

Ouch. Take that, Unitarian Universalists. Heim is telling us that we can’t have our commitment to rationality, which is a Western invention, and at the same time claim a commitment to pluralism, since by claiming the universalist of rationalism we’re undermining the very pluralism we claim to support. Heim continues:

“The primary challenge to pluralist theologies is to make explicit their case for the global normativity of the Western critical principles that determine their univocal definitions of religion.”