Is Religious Pluralism The Will Of God Or The Devil? – OpEd


For almost all of the 20th century issues of nationalism and socialism engaged the hearts, minds and activities of large numbers of people throughout the world in ways that were both positive and negative. In the last two decades the rivalry and conflicts of these two ideologies have been in decline, and a world wide religious revival is now occurring. 

Few can doubt that political-religious ideologies and movements in the 21st century can and will be both liberating and destructive for many societies as well as many millions of individuals.  

People, organizations and movements who are fully committed to contributing to a world at peace, and who are equally committed to respect both our own religion and our neighbor’s, will need to do all we can to promote interfaith religious respect through the advocacy of religious pluralism as the will of God.

Religious pluralism as the will of God is very different from religious, moral or cultural relativism. Relativism teaches that all values and standards are subjective, and therefore there is no higher spiritual authority available for setting ethical standards or making moral judgements. 

Thus, issues of justice, truth or human rights are, like beauty, just in the eye of the beholder. Most people, especially those who believe that One God created all of us, refuse to believe that ethics and human rights are simply a matter of taste. Religious pluralism as the will of God is the opposite of cultural or philosophical relativism. 

The fundamental idea supporting religious pluralism is that religious people need to embrace humility in many areas of religion. All religions have always taught a traditional anti self centered personal egoism type of humility. 

Religious pluralism also opposes a religious,  philosophical, and self righteous intellectual egoism that promotes a tendency to turn our legitimate love for our own prophet and Divine revelation into universal truths that we fully understand and know how to apply. 

Religious pluralism teaches that finite humans, even the most intelligent and pious of them, can not fully understand everything the way the infinite One does. This is true, for every human being, even for God’s messengers themselves. When prophet Moses.”who God spoke face to face, as a person speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11) asks to see God face to face, he is told, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see My face and live.” (33:20)  

Similarly, in the Qur’an prophet Jesus admits to God, “You know everything that is within myself, whereas I do not know what is within Yourself”. (7:116) In  the New Testament when prophet Jesus is asked, in private, by his disciples, “What will be the sign for your coming (back) and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) Jesus warns his disciples about all kinds of upheavals and false Messiahs that will come. Then Jesus concludes by saying, “But about that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the son: only the Father”. (24:36) 

A similar statement was made by prophet Muhammad when he was asked, “Tell me about the Hour”. Muhammad replied: “The one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner.” (Muslim book 1:1&4)  Prophet Muhammad taught the general principle of epistemological humility to his followers when he said, “I am no novelty among the messengers. I do not know what will be done to me, or to you.” (Qur’an 46:9) 

If, even the messengers of God humbly admit that they do not know the answers to many questions, how much more should we ordinary believers refuse to claim to know it all. When it comes to religious truths,  we can see them, but only in part. The part we can see derives from the prophets and the holy scriptures that Jews, Christians and Muslims have been blessed with.  

As the Qur’an declares, “Every religious community has a direction towards which they turn; so compete together wherever you may be as if in a race towards all that is good. Surely Allah will bring you all together.” (2:148) Monotheistic religions are to compete with one another, but not by claiming to have a superior prophet or to be in possession of a better or higher truth.  

Religions should compete in doing good deeds. This is a test of the commitment and effectiveness of each community’s leaders, and the sincerity and devotion of each religion’s followers. Competing in doing good is a test for us as believers. It is not a test for determining which religion has the truest truth. As the Qur’an proclaims: “To us shall be accounted our deeds, and to you, your deeds. Let there be no contention between us and you: God will bring us all together – for with Him all journeys end” [Quran, 42:15]. 

This is why God made us into many nations, and many religions. “For each We have appointed a clear way of life and a comprehensive system. If Allah had so willed He would surely have  made you a single community: but (didn’t) in order to test you by what (Scripture) He granted you. So compete together as if competing in good works. All of you will (ultimately) return to Allah and then He will make you understand what you have differed about.” (5:48) 

Only after resurrection, at the time of final judgements, will humans be able to understand the full meaning of their various sacred scriptures, and the truths contained in the differences between them. In this world, God has determined that religious humility must rule.

Large scale immigration, the ubiquity of modern media, and the Internet have transformed our world, and now require religious leaders to spend much more time and effort studying their own tradition to find and publicize ideas of religious pluralism. I firmly believe that throughout human history, prophets and holy men have appeared in every nation and every tribe to speak God’s words.

“Assuredly We have raised up within every community a Messenger (proclaiming) the worship of one God alone, and keep away from false Gods and the powers of evil. Among them (each religious community) were people whom God guided, just as there were among them those for whom straying was their just due. (Qur’an 16:36). 

A Gallup poll taken during May 1-24, 2023 found that the percentage of Americans who believe in hell and the devil has edged downward by three to five percentage points since 2016. Still most Americans believe in hell 59% and in the devil 58%. However, nearly three in 10 Americans do not believe in hell or the devil. 

If people who no longer believe in hell and the devil start to search for a different religious community this should not be seen as a sign of apostasy. Questions about the afterlife will only be answered in the afterlife itself. Religious Pluralism Is The Will Of God.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

One thought on “Is Religious Pluralism The Will Of God Or The Devil? – OpEd

  • July 29, 2023 at 6:21 pm

    I can only suggest that ‘Religious Pluralism’ should remind us that the religious quest is probably incomplete and unfinished! That no religious tradition wields an authentic moral authority outside its own adherents or can demonstrate their origins to be anything more than ‘theological’ should indeed give pause. I would expect G-d will have the last laugh on us all, but I doubt the world will find it funny?


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