Sunday, January 25, 2004

a further pluralism wrinkle

[NB: Please do yourself a favor and read the previous post first, to put this one in context.]

I recall something my favorite prof at CUA said: missionaries often end up being some of the most open-minded and tolerant people, thanks to the tough style of interreligious encounter in which they routinely engage. Missionaries frequently find themselves becoming friends with, and not attempting to convert, those of different faiths who live in proximity to the mission. Perhaps they never reach a satisfactory compromise with their interlocutors; perhaps they never convince them of anything. But many missionaries do end up in relationships with the unconverted that display great warmth and understanding.

So I don't want the previous post to present the wrong picture: while I'm a pluralist who assigns a largely negative valence to exclusivism on the whole (to the extent we even accept the exclusivism/inclusivism/pluralism typology), by no means do I believe exclusivism is inherently evil. I am, in fact, more and more convinced that Plantinga may have a point regarding the nature of, warrant for, and justification of exclusivist belief.

It's interesting to hear people's perspective on the Jesuits. Having gone to Georgetown, I took classes under quite a few. I found them, to a man, to be scarily knowledgeable individuals, and very open-minded-- something they often attributed to the Ignatian ideals, in which healthy curiosity and scholarly industry are valued. It's no exaggeration to say that many Jesuits are multiple PhD holders and well-versed in several fields-- worldly people, not to mention good drinkers.

At the same time, many Jesuits begin their careers as unbending products of a system designed to propagate the Christian gospel and Catholic dogma. Some older folks I know speak ill of the Jesuits for this reason, and have exactly the opposite perception as mine: they find the Jesuits to be closed-minded, pushy, arrogant, and intolerant. I tend to think that one's impression of a given Jesuit depends on what point in his career you get to know him.

I believe the best and richest dialogue results when people who are well-rooted in their respective traditions come together and frankly hash out their differences. Much that is useful arises from such encounters, which aren't always in the form of formalized, self-conscious dialogue. To that extent, I'm actually not so different from Ryan in appreciating what exclusivism has to offer. If nothing else, it presents a clear, stark, and decisive point of view-- one that's ripe for dialogue.

And pluralism often is the result of such dialogue and exploration (again, we're talking about choices), and shouldn't be denigrated or dismissed as somehow illegitimate: it's part and parcel of the larger process of religious evolution. And regarding formal dialogue, it's good to remember Thich Nhat Hanh's contention that, yes, one should be well-rooted in one's tradition, but dialogue, if it's honest, must include an implicit readiness to be changed by the other (to which I'd add a willingness to risk being reinterpreted by the other). This caution is especially relevant to exclusivists, who often aren't ready to take that step.

UPDATE: On Tacitus, another example of Muslim exclusivism.


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