The Problem of Pluralism

On a (purportedly Catholic-specific) discussion board I’m taking part in, someone posted a comment that ended,

“…What logical person would argue [over] the necessity of the Ten Commandants or similar guidelines (Christianity)? What sensible person would argue [against the idea] that humans suffer because we continually strive after things that do not give lasting happiness (Buddhism)?
Of course, once you choose a path, you’ll find other religious practices and beliefs that may conflict with your own adopted practices and beliefs. Fortunately for humanity, while there are many paths, most lead to God.”

I was satisfied with the way I replied, so I’ve decided to add it to this blog:

While the basic attitude of welcoming and openness that accompanies the pluralistic sentiment you’re expressing is laudable (and “Christian” in a broad sense), I find myself unable to let your post stand without comment.

On the positive side, I would agree with the principle that divine truth is so great that human expression can (and perhaps must) offer it in infinite variety. Further, I embrace the idea that God’s love is given universally, that His truth is written on all hearts, and that, therefore, it emerges in all great works of human creativity—even from those who don’t fully recognize its source. In order to see the truth in those creative products, however, we (especially from a Catholic perspective) must first be guided by the Holy Spirit in the activity of faith.

Interpretation is inescapable, and the accuracy of the notion that ‘many paths lead to God’ requires a mode of interpretation that is already aligned towards God. Otherwise, these same (seemingly benign or even beneficial) texts and traditions can take one down roads that descend ever further from the source of truth, life, and love. Even the Bible itself, left to the whims and wants of human will, can be turned to terrible purpose. As Catholics—and this is evidenced by most of the posts in this thread—we do not excuse or defend the Bible as such but, rather, the living Word of God as informed by our Tradition of interpretation and teaching. To put it another way:

If we look for God, we surely find Him [Dei plena sunt omnia]; but if we look for truth without knowing God, we fail to find either.

In your own example from Buddhism, there is of course a kind of basic human experience expressed in the “First Noble Truth” and you could do worse than to take the lesson of the “Second Noble Truth” to heart. BUT, the First Noble Truth is limited to the human perspective and, thus, misrepresents the divinely revealed reality of creation, and the Second Noble Truth is only useful to our salvation if we read it as another way of saying something like, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2, KJV). Should we, however, take the Four Noble Truths as presented, we soon find ourselves walking down the Eightfold Noble Path… but fascinating as that path may be, it leads not to God the Father almighty, nor to the Only Begotten Son of God, nor to our salvation for which He came down from heaven, and it leads (quite specifically and explicitly) away from “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
I would never seek to deprive the human community of the beautifully poetic expression of healing devotion found in the Bhagavad Gita [Schweig’s translation is wonderful, if you’re interested], but neither would I encourage one to seek the salvific grace of God by way of Bhakti Yoga dedicated to कृष्ण.

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2 thoughts on “The Problem of Pluralism

    1. Then that would be a different problem than the one I was addressing…? What if all roads lead to Waffle House?
      It still wouldn’t change the fact that the pluralistic outlook to which I was responding is problematic with regard to current Catholic doctrine.
      If your question were on an atheist discussion board and I was taking part, I would of course make a different point…

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