In a Glass Darkly

A while back Bill Vallicella linked to this excellent post at the Big Hominid (n.b.: some bad language) on the topic of pluralism, truth, and religion. This sparked a series of equally interesting posts on the question of whether every religion should be understood as offering a path to salvation and/or liberation.

Rather than enter directly into this debate, I thought I’d use it as a convenient point of departure for some of my own thoughts on the matter of truth and pluralism in religion. For my part, I tend to be an exclusivist about truth, but a relativist about justification. In other words, I believe that the claims of classic Christianity are true always, everywhere, and for all, but showing to them to be true is a complicated, messy, and probably inevitably incomplete matter.

Part of the reason for this is that I agree with much of what sails under the flag of postmodernism insofar as I think the attempt to find a kind of universal starting point for argument, one that all rational beings would assent to, is a fool’s errand. Rather, I think arguments proceed in an ad hoc fashion and vary depending on the conversation partner. Much will depend on what, if any, shared assumptions or beliefs each party brings to the argument. This doesn’t require starting from “scratch,” but from where we happen to be.

With that in mind, I think it’s clear that there can be no fool-proof method for convincing others of our truth claims on pain of irrationality. That doesn’t mean we need to give up our commitment to the truth of our beliefs. To believe something just is to believe that it’s true, even if we can’t show it to be true in a way that will convince everyone. But it does perhaps mean we should display more humility in advancing our beliefs. In fact, I think the character of the arguer can be just as important in advancing a truth as the cogency of the reasoning. In the early years of Christianity, for instance, it was primarily the love displayed by Christians, for each other as well as outsiders, that attracted new converts.

For Christians, it may be that truth is an eschatological concept. We are assured that one day “every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord,” but for now “we see in a glass darkly.” In the world we live in, sorting through claims and counter-claims of truth is a messy business. This means recognizing that people of good will can come to different conclusions on these matters, even as we strive to lead lives of faithful witness to the truth as we have received it.

One thought on “In a Glass Darkly

  1. Pingback: From inclusivism to (soft) pluralism? « A Thinking Reed

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