This topic deals with the questions raised by a multi-faith society and looks at the different approaches towards way religions and religious people should view one another.
This topic is dealt with at length in the OCR A2 A level so if you wish to do some additional wide reading you could begin with the A2 resources here. A word of warning though, the terms 'inclusivism' and 'pluralism' are defined slightly differently at A level.
The issues of, religious and non-religious beliefs/teachings about, and the (differing) attitudes of religious and non-religious people to: the responsibilities of religious and non-religious people, living in a multi-faith society, to those of other faiths or none; promoting the development of a multi-faith society, and examples (including local ones) of interfaith relationships in practice; and differing attitudes (and the reasons for them) within religious communities towards relationships with people from other religious traditions and non-religious people, including proselytisation, exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism.
Christian beliefs/teachings about relationships with other religions, and which help to promote the development of a multi-faith society. Examples of interfaith (including interdenominational) relationships, involving Christians, in practice.
Exclusivism: (The belief that) only one religion is true and avoiding people who follow other religions
Inclusivism: (The belief that) there is truth in all religions and welcoming and working with other people, whatever their religion
Multi-faith society: Different religions living together in one society
Pluralism: The belief that a multi-faith/multi-ethnic society is desirable
Historically most people lived in societies in which one faith dominated. They might occasionally come across members of other faiths but they did not regularly come into contact with other religions. Often the dominant religion in an area would have been intertwined with with things like laws, marriage customs and education.
In the last hundred years society has become a lot more varied in many parts of the world. Migration from one country to another, foreign travel, inter-cultural marriage and increased tolerance of religious diversity have contributed to the growth of the multi-faith society.
Historically Britain had a large Christian majority. Whilst Christianity is still the biggest religious group in the UK other religious groups are growing in numbers and in some local areas Christians and atheists may find themselves in a minority.
Most people would regard the growing diversification of society as a good thing, but others have their concerns.
There are many advantages to living in a multi-faith society.
Pluralists regard living in a multi-faith and multi-ethnic society as a good thing!
Individuals could promote good interfaith relationships by setting a good example themselves and by encouraging their friends to do likewise. They might go out of their way to make friends with people from other religions and they might show and active interest in their beliefs by discussing theological and ethical issues with them. Parents could teach their children to be tolerant and respectful which would help ensure better interfaith relationships in years to come. They could also participate in national and local interfaith organisations.
In 2008 the UK government published the document Face to Face and Side by Side which outlined ways to promote multi-faith harmony. The Inter-faith network for the UK (which had been founded in 1987) organised the UK's first 'Multi-faith week' in 2009. Since then Multi-faith week has run every year. During the week religious communities across the country take part in a huge range of activities. Read about the complete list of 2011 events here.
The government could ensure that schools teach comparative religion in Relicious Studies so that children grow up knowing about the beliefs of other people. The government could also provide funding for interfaith initiatives and establish national events such as inter-faith week.
In addition to positive measure to encourage good interfaith relationships those in government can ensure that prejudice and discrimination are not tolerated. In the UK the Racial and Religious hatred Act of 2006 made it illegal to do anything with might be perceive to be inciting religious hatred. Under the 2010 Equality Act (which unified previous anti-discrimination legislation) it is illegal discriminate on the basis of religion.
In Scotland, one Anglican minister allowed the local Muslim congregation to use the parish church for daily prayers. The Reverend Isaac Poobalan said ''Jesus taught his disciples to love your neighbour as yourself and this is something I cannot just preach to my congregation, I had to put it into practice...I felt very distressed when I saw my neighbours praying out in the cold and I knew I needed to do something to help.'I know I cannot solve the world's problems, but when there is a problem I can solve, I will.'
Read the bbc report here.
The Church of England is involved in various different interfaith initiatives. They participate in the Council of Christians and Jews, The Inter Faith Network for the UK and the Christian Muslim forum.
The Roman Catholic Church has also been increasingly involved in promoting interfaith dialogue. In 1986 Pope John Paul II organised an day of prayer for world peace which faith leaders from many different world religion attended.
Individual religious leaders in local areas could make sure that they preach and teach tolerance to their congregations. They might establish links with a different faith community in their own parish. They could then use this partnership to organise discussions and talks so that people can learn about each others' faith which would help to promote good relationships because if people would be able to see the shared values and understand their differences. They might organise social events like shared meals or trips to encourage people to make friends with each other. The UKs national Interfaith Week relies on local leaders getting involved and organising or participating in activities.
Lists taken from 2011 Interfaith week brochure
Christian exclusivists argue that Christianity is the one true religion and all non-Christians are condemned to hell. They would say that Christianity alone is based on God's self-revelation because when God became man in Jesus (the incarnation) he revealed himself to the world in a unique and special way. This means that Christianity is superior to other religions because it is based on a genuine revelation of God. Furthermore, if Jesus genuinely was God then his preaching must have been the word of God. This means that no other religion can possibly have anything useful to add to the Christian message. Furthermore, exclusivists generally claim that humans cannot by their own efforts be good enough to deserve heaven. Human beings are sinful, it is only through Jesus' actions as saviour that salvation is possible.
Exclusivists generally believe that it is an important Christian duty to proselytise. This is because Jesus taught people to love their fellow man. If you love someone you care what happens to them therefore you should do everything in your power to ensure that they do not end up in Hell. Exclusivists are also very keen to make sure that they bring their children up within the Christian faith to accept Jesus as Lord.
Evaluate: Why might it be theologically problematic to say that you cannot go to heaven unless you believe in Jesus? Do all people have the chance to believe in Jesus? Consider whether there is anything in the Bible which contradicts the exclusivist position.
Inclusivists believe that there is more than one route to God. Christian inclusivists would say that you do not necessarily need to believe in Jesus in order to be saved.
Some Christian inclusivists believe that Christianity has more truth than other religions and other religions are therefore subordinate. However, they still contain genuine elements of revelation and God will save non-Christians (in spite of their errors) because he is loving.
Other inclusivists (sometimes called pluralists) believe that it is impossible to know which religion (if any) is most right and therefore we should treat them all as equally valid forms of revelation.
Two useful inclusivists to mention are John Hick and Karl Rahner. Hick is a 'all religions are genuinely equal' type inclusivist and Rahner is a 'Christianity is more true' type.
Hick borrowed what was originally a Buddhist parable.
Imagine three blind men and an elephant. Each man describes how the elephant feels to them. The one who has touched the elephants leg says an elephant is like a tree, the one with the trunk says no, an elephant is like a snake. The one by the tail says it is like a rope.
They are all right to an extent but not one has the complete picture.
Religions are like this when talking about God. Religious language is all about describing how God appears to you. If you discuss the different points of view you can learn from each other's experiences.
John Hick argued that Christian beliefs about God lead naturally to the inclusivist position.
Hick used a distinction (which he borrowed from the philosopher Immanuel Kant) between the noumenon and the phenomena. The noumenon is the thing in itself. The phenomena is the way people experience it. People hearing the same piece of music might experience different emotions and to a certain extent they 'hear' it in different ways. Hick said that there is 'the Real' and then the different religious traditions result from the different ways people have experienced the Real over the centuries.
Hick rejects the idea that Jesus was genuinely God incarnate. He believes that the term was a metaphor which was intended to sum up the fact that Jesus behaved in a way which reflected God's love. If Jesus was not really God then Christianity loses its claim to superiority.
Karl Rahner takes a different approach. He says that many non-Christians behave in a way which seems to reflect Jesus' teaching. He argues that such people are 'anonymous Christians'. They do not actively claim to be Christian but their actions mean that they count as Christian in God's eyes and do not need to deliberately follow Jesus (or even believe in God) to be saved.
Evaluate: What happens when religions teach contradictory things (e.g. polytheism vs monotheism or resurrection vs reincarnation)? Could these really be seen as both coming from the same 'God'? How do Christian inclusivists deal with the Biblical teachings that seem to state very clearly that belief in Jesus is a necessary prerequisite for salvation?
Link back to Edexcel RS IGCSE Section D page.
Background on interfaith week and links to other interfaith week resources here.