The Dogmatism of Pluralism
Theological pluralism is rampant today, especially in the so-called “mainline” churches, and within our culture generally. Of course, pluralism takes different forms and manifests itself in different emphases (that is part of its very nature as “pluralism”), but the basic idea undergirding religious and theological pluralism is that “god” (however we may perceive of Him, Her, It, Whatever) may be approached and worshipped in many many different and diverse ways. Pluralism teaches that all of the major world religions are valid paths to god and to “salvation” (however that “salvation” is conceived). It is essentially the idea that every religion is equally valid and equally “true” (or, if not equally valid and true, at least fundamentally valid and true to those who practice those religions — though some religions may be conceived of by the pluralist as being “more true” in certain senses than others). Religious and theological pluralists typically pride themselves on being “inclusive,” “open-minded,” and especially “non-dogmatic.” The unpardonable sin in popular religious pluralism is the “sin” of being “judgmental,” which for the pluralist means believing that your religion is true while other religions are false. Such “judgmentalism” is rooted in dogmatism. This kind of dogmatism is viewed by the religious pluralist as being rooted in both ignorance and arrogance. Thus the religious pluralist strives to be “open-minded” and hence “undogmatic.”
The reader should understand that there are both technical and popular understandings of the term “dogma.” In technical theology a “dogma” is a doctrine that has been officially formulated by a particular church body or communion, and thus made part of the official theology of that particular church or denomination. (See Louis Berkhof’s Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology for an extensive explanation of “dogma” in this technical theological sense.) I am not using the term “dogma” in this technical theological sense in this particular article. Rather, I am using the term “dogma” in the popular sense of that term — namely, “dogma” as that which is believed strongly, with full conviction, and to the exclusion of other beliefs. If you are “dogmatic” in the popular sense, it means that you believe you are right and others are wrong on certain issues or beliefs. For many people today, someone is regarded as being “dogmatic” if he or she has strong beliefs and convictions (especially if he or she has strong beliefs and convictions about religious and theological positions or issues); beliefs and convictions which are held with a sense of absolute certitude. I suspect that pluralists in general would claim to be against “dogma” and “dogmatism” in the popular sense of these words (though many of them would probably also be against “dogma” in the technical theological sense as well). In the mind of the religious pluralist such “dogmatism” is associated with “fundamentalists” (which, to many of them, would seem to include any “conservative” or conservative-leaning Christian who actually takes Bible doctrine seriously and who actually believes that the doctrines of historic Christianity are literally true). And, of course, such “fundamentalists” are usually dismissed as ignorant, unscholarly, and rather backwards folk.
In case the reader hasn’t noticed, if my portrayal above is accurate, then the same religious pluralists who claim to be so “undogmatic” and who imagine themselves to have a corner on the virtue of “tolerance” and “open-mindedness” are themselves actually quite dogmatic! (And, at least in my own personal experience with some pluralists, they are not nearly so “tolerant” and “open-minded” as they imagine themselves to be — especially when it comes to how they view those like myself who reject their shallow, uninformed and naive pluralist dogma!) Their “dogma” is the dogma of pluralism — the creed that “all religions are valid ways to God” and that “no one religion is the only way to God.” They tend to hold to this creed with a sense of absolute certitude. Their “dogma” is their claim to be “undogmatic”! They dogmatically celebrate “diverstiy” of practice and “tolerance” for every viewpoint — with the exception that they are very intolerant of those of us who don’t buy into their false dogma of religious pluralism (usually labelling anyone who disagrees with their pluralist dogma as a despised “fundamentalist” or with some other such pejorative term). If the reader doubts my assertions about religious pluralists and thinks I am being unfair on this point, let me offer a hypothetical illustration: I wonder just how “tolerant” a theologically-liberal and pluralist Diocese in the Episcopal Church (the church of my upbringing) would be of a candidate for the Episcopal priesthood who, say, rejected such things as women’s ordination and the validity of same-sex unions, and who also taught that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and thus that those who reject Him as Savior will face eternal damnation (all of which are beliefs historically held in all of the major branches of the historic Christian Church – including the Episcopal Church in its more orthodox past!)? Do you think such a candidate’s views would be “tolerated” and even “celebrated” as part of the grand diversity of the church by such a liberal Diocese? I have a pretty strong hunch that the answer would be a resounding “no,” for sadly in such churches and denominational structures this dogmatic pluralism reigns supreme, and those who dare to question it or disagree with it are often treated as the new “heretics” who are anathematized by the diversity police in the churches. Their pluralist beliefs (which they incorrectly imagine to be “undogmatic”) have blinded them to their own dogmatism.
The fact is that every intelligent, thinking person is dogmatic. Everyone has a “dogma” – a set of beliefs that are held to firmly with a sense of absolute certitude and which defines one’s worldview. (A person who is completely undogmatic about anything — that is, someone who has no firmly held beliefs and convictions whatsoever — is either intellectually lazy, profoundly superficial and completely unreflective, or such a one is morally perverse.) Even agnostics, who claim not to know whether or not there is a God, are usually quite certain of at least one thing — namely, of their dogmatic belief that even if a god exists, it is impossible for human beings to know whether or not he/she/it exists. A consistent agnostic dogmatically claims to know that we cannot know whether or not there is a god, and that if such a god does exist certainly he/she/it has not revealed himself/herself/itself to humanity in any kind of clear and compelling manner. And, of course, this kind of dogmatism is no less present among religious pluralists than it is among agnostics and among orthodox Christians. The issue is not “who is dogmatic and who is undogmatic”? The issue is “which dogma will you accept?” The dogma of religious pluralism (at least in this popular sense) is plainly self-contradictory and irrational, for such pluralism is a dogma that insists that it is undogmatic. All of the world religions cannot be equally true or valid, for they make many contradictory truth claims. It is hypothetically possible for the claims of all of the world religions (including Christianity) to be false, but they cannot all be true.
I would assert to the reader that the “dogma” of biblical, historic Christianity is much more cogent, much more rational, much more consistent as a worldview than is the dogma of religious pluralism. But, most importantly, it is the revealed truth of God’s inerrant Word. As the Lord Jesus Christ dogmatically asserted of Himself in John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth, andthe life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (NKJV, emphasis mine). “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (The Apostle Peter proclaiming Jesus before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:12, NKJV) Which dogma will you accept? The self-contradictory (and hence self-defeating) dogma of religious pluralism, which is based upon sentimentality, emotionalism, irrationality, and muddled thinking about the world’s religions? Or the gospel of Christ, which is based upon the historical facts concerning the Person and saving works of Jesus Christ (facts such as His fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, His miracles, His death upon the cross, His bodily resurrection, and His ascension, these facts being attested in Scripture by multiple eyewitnesses)?
“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16, NKJV) It is religious pluralism, not the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is based upon “cunningly devised fables.” Let the believer in Christ stand firm in his dogma. As the hymnwriter says, “On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” Let the religious pluralist be challenged to re-examine the foundations of his allegedly undogmatic dogma.