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In what ways can Christianity understand its relations with other 'religions'?
Are adherents of 'religions' other than Christianity saved?
To a Christian, what non-Christian institution actually constitutes a 'religion'?
Religion is: Griffiths: A form of life that seems to those within it to be comprehensive, incapable of abandonment, and of central importance. Kueng: A social and individual relationship, vitally realised in a tradition and a community, with something that transcends or encompasses man and his world. PJ Griffiths, Problems of Religious Diversity A religion is 'a form of life that seems to those within it to be comprehensive, incapable of abandonment, and of central importance'. 'form of life': a pattern of activity that seems to those within it to have proper or appropriate boundaries, actions, and limitations on behaviour (e.g. marriage). 'comprehensive': a form of life is comprehensive if it seems to those within it to take account of and be relevant to all things, both everything within their day-to-day activity, and 'everything' in a broader, existential sense. 'incapable of abandonment': a form of life is incapable of abandonment if it appears to those within it to be sufficiently constitutive or definitive of who they are that to leave the religion would be to leave a fundamentally important part of themselves behind. 'central importance': a form of life is of central importance to one within it if it appears to address questions of paramount importance to the moral or existential elements of that person's life. Home religion vs. alien religions: that which you belong to against the collected 'others', constituted of religious aliens. If one is non-religious, all religious people are religious aliens. The term 'religion' is one regarding which it is difficult to reach a consensus, since different people's definitions of religion are often born out of a number of different areas, such as generalisation from religious beliefs and practices held by that person as an adherent of a particular world religion, or definitions of religion developed as a response to professional requirement - in the practice of law, or academic history, etc. Similarly, the terms 'religious' and 'religiously' can be used in all manner of ways, without any apparent common denominator to their employment. The Question of Salvation The fundamental question of salvation: what is the proper end for human beings? What is the proper culmination of the 'process' of human existence - what is its purpose?
Inhabitants of any religion typically do believe that salvation is real, and a real possibility for all humans. Most Christians would assert that this salvation is only available to those who have been explicit followers and worshippers of Christ, just as some Buddhists will assert that one can only escape the cycle of death and rebirth once one fully engages with Buddhist teachings and doctrine, and adhere fully to the way of life it proscribes. Most religions envisage a single proper, universally relevant end for all humanity, but this leads to the critical question with regard to the interrelation of religions: how is salvation to be understood in light of the multiplicity of religions?
A properly Christian understanding of, and conviction about, salvation is not to be had or communicated by means of critical argument.
Coming to know of religious diversity forces upon religious believers the question of what it is about their home religion that has to do with salvation, and further, what about those alien religions has anything to do with it!
Membership of the home religion:
1. necessary but not sufficient for salvation
2. sufficient but not necessary for salvation
3. necessary and sufficient for salvation Religious diversity forces religious believers to consider how membership of alien religions impacts upon salvation - is inhabiting an alien religion useful, sufficient or relevant for salvation? Three answers are traditionally given to this question: exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism. As well as how one gets saved, we must ask the related question of who gets saved - what portion of the human race will attain its proper end? This question moves us toward what characteristics are those of humans that will be saved, and this leads us toward the question of the uniqueness and effectiveness of particular religious identities (universalism vs restrictivism). Pluralism: belonging to the home religion bears the same relation to the attainment of salvation as does belonging to any alien religion - it is sufficient for the attainment of salvation to belong to any world religion, so long as one is appropriately sincere and its tenets suitably 'good'. Pluralism enshrines the belief that there is no benefit to salvation provided by belonging to one religion rather than another. It is possible to posit pluralism in negative terms - that rather than all religions providing the appropriate conditions for salvation, membership to any religion or none has no effect upon your salvation, which is determined by some other unknown factors, since God's salvific action is not concerned with adherence to any one earthly religion over another. Such negative terms are not appealing to the religious, understandably. There are, however, clear and unresolvable incompatibilities in the teachings of the world religions, and thus we must ask how it can be the case that membership of any one religion is as useful as membership of any other as a means of salvation?
Hick on pluralism: Hick detaches the notion of salvation from its specifically Christian connotations. Salvation for Hick can be understood in terms of the effect that belonging to a particular religion in fact has upon people, and upon their 'moral and spiritual quality' (J Hick, 'Religious Pluralism and Salvation', Faith and Philosophy vol. 5 (1988), pp365-77, p366). Where do we get the notion of what moral or spiritual qualities are evidence of a religious transformation, however, if not from those qualities considered valuable in such a sense by our own home religion?
Hick asserts that at 'the level of their most basic moral insights the great moral traditions use a common criterion' (Hick p367), namely that of unselfish and loving regard for others. If this is so, Hick has a basis upon which to carry out his empirical assessment of the salvific effectiveness of the world's religions. And 'so far as we can tell, no one of the great world religions is salvifically superior to the rest' (Hick p369). Hick's claim is actually that if we limit our consideration to the world's major traditions, we can't easily tell whether one is more or less well fitted to salvation than any other.
Hans Kueng - Christianity and the World Religions - Toward Dialogue In terms of inter-faith dialogue, we are at present (1993, anyway) roughly at the stage that we were at fifty years before with regard to inter-confessional dialogue - we are experiencing a slow awakening of a global ecumenical consciousness. Ecumenism must incorporate the 'great religions', not just the 'community of Christian churches'.
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