Inclusivism and Exclusivism

mission-oboeThis is just to follow on from my earlier posting, because I am a priest belonging to an orthodox (little “o”) Christian Church, and have responsibility in regard to my Bishop and the faithful in our Diocese who read my blog. It may seem tempting to let everything go and repudiate Christianity entirely on account of those who misinterpret it and abuse it. Many do.

I invite the reader to consult two pages on Wikipedia, which can point our way to some more serious theological reading. The first is the notion of anonymous Christianity and Karl Rahner, one of the leading influences at Vatican II. The second is the more general notion of Inclusivism. The word is highly controversial, so I will qualify it for the purpose of this posting. It is often used to promote feminism, transsexualism and homosexuality. This is not my purpose. I quote the article on two types of inclusivism:

  • Traditional Inclusivism, which asserts that the believer’s own views are absolutely true, and believers of other religions are correct insofar as they agree with that believer.

  • Relativistic Inclusivism, which asserts that an unknown set of assertions are Absolutely True, that no human being currently living has yet ascertained Absolute Truth, but that all human beings have partially ascertained Absolute Truth.

I think that we Christians cannot escape the notion that Christ’s Gospel message and the Mystery of his divine incarnation, passion, resurrection, ascension and the Parousia are absolute truths. Otherwise, what’s the point? I would go along with the notion that people who are not Christians (or who have left Christianity under the influence of bad experience) or who belong to other religious traditions participate to some extent in the one truth of Christ in spite of being Hindus, Muslims or whatever.

The consequence of such a view would be to continue our Christian witness through the virtue and holiness to which we aspire and make sincere efforts to attain with the help of divine grace. We would allow non-Christians to see and sense what we believe and do, and respect them if they do not convert to the Christian way. We would no longer consider their faith as bogus or evil, nor would we feel we have the right to treat them as sub-human or subject them to constraint.

We need to think a lot about these matters and refine and develop the theories of men like Rahner and others, integrating them into a traditional notion of liturgical and sacramental Christianity. I certainly intend to do more reading on this subject.

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5 Responses to Inclusivism and Exclusivism

  1. Stephen K says:

    Thank you, Father, for the links to Karl Rahner’s ‘Anonymous Christian’ concept and ‘Inclusivism’. Speaking purely personally, I reject both, certainly absolute inclusivism, and possibly also ‘relativistic inclusivism’, as the Wikipedia articles described them. I think that the kind of virtue that ennobles human life and conduct which we are accustomed to think of as “Christian” is not confined to Christianity and not its property. Though without a doubt Christianity involves some notions that are peculiar to it, from a conduct point of view, it appears to have little that could not be found in some equivalent form in other traditions. Thus, Christianity, in my view, encompasses in effect (though not in intent) a formulation of some values in an idiosyncratic semi-Semitic-Graeco intellectual dialect, and each other religion has its own. If I don’t look too closely, analytically, I think I see God in Jesus – hence “incarnation”. But I no longer accept that it is an ultimate formulation. It is certainly, for me, a native one: its meanings are familiar, like an old slipper, but not, for me, definitive, except in a mysterious way, maybe personally – hence the Dalai Lama’s exhortation to people to try to work or develop within one’s own native tradition. I don’t think that all religions are of equal value but nor do I think any religion has supreme value. I think, on balance, I might be what appears to be termed a perennialist and a pluralist or maybe, in some ways, a ‘progressive revelationist’.

    Yes, a very interesting question about which I have thought a lot and continue to do so.

    • Stephen K says:

      By the way, I loved The Mission. It certainly made an impression on me.

    • I have always been impressed by this quote from Matthew 23:

      Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

      I remember the Cardinal in The Mission, who wondered whether it would have been best to leave the Guarani to their old pre-Christian ways.

    • ed pacht says:

      from Stephen: “… Though without a doubt Christianity involves some notions that are peculiar to it, from a conduct point of view, it appears to have little that could not be found in some equivalent form in other traditions. …”

      I find much in this kind of discussion to reflect a pervasive misapprehension of what Christianity really is. As I have come to see it, though there are indeed doctrines, even dogmas, and derivative philosophies in Christianity, and though there are expectations as to conduct that are much a part of faith and practice, these are not what define Christianity as a unique religion. What makes Christianity unique is that it is first, foremost, and almost solely a matter of relationship with a single identifiable incarnate individual whose death, resurrection, and constant intercession/intervention (rather than His teachings) overcome our deficiencies in behavior and, yes, even in doctrine and restore us to a true relationship with Divinity. Philosophy, doctrine, and morality flow from this relationship, and are not capable of producing it without the action of the incarnate Lover.

      I simply cannot accept the view that one religion is as good as another, or that all religions are equally vehicles of truth. I am convinced that the Christianity of the Scriptures and of the best Tradition (however we end up defining THAT) is indeed the “true” Faith, or, better, the best extant attempt of men to grasp the true faith. However, I certainly cannot bind the divine Lover, telling Him who He can love or who He can rescue from his/her sin. Does one need to identify as a Christian or even understand who this Jesus is to experience His redemptive love? I don’t find any such expectation in Scripture, nor any statement that the Savior refuses to reach out to those who’ve never heard of Him. (Jesus, in fact, during his physical life, called to himself a motley group who had no more than a vague idea of who He actually was.) I find rather that “God so loved the world that he sent” [and continues to send] “his only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him” [not in a set of doctrines, but in the Lover himself] “should not perish …”

      That leads me to 1/ the absolute primacy of Christianity as uniquely true, and 2/ something approaching a universalistic view of the salvation wrought upon the Cross.

  2. Stephen K says:

    In case I don’t get another chance this side of Christmas, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my sincerest best wishes to each and every co-reader, and a special thanks to you, Father, for your thoughts and insights. [Oh, and don’t forget, Saturday will be St Stephen’s Day.]

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