Religious Pluralism and Society

The Development of Multi-Faith Societies

  • The UK became a predominantly Christian country aound the seventh century as the result of missionary work by Christians. Before the Romans came to Britain, there were local religious practices centred around fertility and ancestor worship.
  • The UK changed from being dominated by Christianity to being a multi-faith society, although there have been small groups of people from other faiths living in the UK for hundreds of years. For centuries most people never encountered anyone from a religion other than Christianity.
  • In the 2011 census, 59.3% of people responded to the question 'what is your religion?' with 'Christian.'
  • Multi faith societies develop as travel and communications become easier and less expensive. People move from different countries for work, ir as refugees, to seek a better quality of life for their children and for many other reasons. People convert to a different religion more readily as information is more easily available and more people can read, giving people insights into the beliefs and practices of others.
  • Atheism and agnosticism have become socially acceptable, with many people openly rejecting religious beliefs and practices.
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The Challenges of a Multi-Faith Society for Christ

Christianity originated in a multi-faith context amongst Jews and those who followed Greek and Roman religion. It has had to face the challenges presented by other religions from the outset.

Living in a multi-faith society can present positive opportunities for Christians=

  •  It can provide opportunities for demonstrating co-operative living together in peace.
  • It can encourage Christians to think more deeply about the reasons for holding their own beliefs rather than just accepting Christianity because everyone else does.
  • It can provide everyday opportunities for missionary work talking to non-Christians about the Christian faith.

Living in a multi-faith society can also present Christians with challenges=

  • It could be seen to undermine the uniqueness of the Christian message by providing ready alternative to the Christian faith.
  •  Some Christians worry that living ina multi- faith society might lead their children to be attracted by false beliefs.
  • Some Christians are uneasy about the popular insistence on tolerance of beliefs, they think they are wrong and damaging.
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Inter-Faith Dialogue and Christian Responses

  • Inter-faith dialogue is about communication between people who have different beliefs about religion. It is about exchanging ideas with the aim of promoting better understanding.
  • The Chrurch of England's document 'Sharing the Gospel of Salvation' identifies four strands of interfaith dialogue:

1. 'The dialogue of daily life' - informal conversations that strike up naturally where people talk about their beliefs.

2. 'The dialogue of common good' - where different religious groups work together to benefit others.

3. 'The dialogue of mutual understanding' - where people get together for formal discussions.

4. 'The dialogue of spiritual life' - where poeple of different religious faiths get together for prayer and worship.

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Inter-Faith Dialogue 2

  • The theologian David Ford drew attention to two strand in recent history which called attention to inter-faith dialogue:

1. The Holocaust during the Second World War caused many Christians to rethink their relationship with Judaism. They had to come to terms with old ideas if Judaism such as a 'failed religion' that had not recognised Jesus as Messiah, and acknowledge the part of Christianuty had played in anti- Semitism. The Jewish community of rabbis and scholars from around the world invited Christians to engage in inter-faith dialogue initiated by a document called Dabru Emet ('Speak the Truth').

2. Leading Muslim scholars sent a letter in 2007 to Christian Churches. The letter was called 'A Common Word Between Us and You'. It was an invitation for Christians and Muslims to consider what they had in common as well as their differences and to engage in inter-faith dialogue.

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Redemptoris Missio

  • Redemptoris Missio is a papal encyclical issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990. It was intended to revisit some issues that had arisen during the Council gathering of Vatican II and update them.
  • The title translates as 'The Mission of the Redeemer' and the aim of the document was to clarify Catholic teaching on the role of missionary work and a multi-faith world.
  • Pope John Paul II reaffirmed that missionary work is essential for Christians.
  • He said that there is only one saviour, Jesus Christ, and that Christ is the only way in which God is revealed to the world.
  • Christians should be empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring other people to the Christian faith.
  • The Pope recognised that missionary work can be seen in a negative way in a multi-faith world, as arrogant and intolerant. He wanted to give guidance to help Catholic Christians continue to be missionaries for their faith whilst still respecting other people in their diversity.
  • He said that inter-faith dialogue should be seen as part of Christian mission rather than in opposition to it.
  • God wishes to share his revelation with people of all faiths even though other religions could contain 'gaps, insufficiencies and errors'.
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Redemptoris Missio 2

  • John Paul II said that the Catholic Church gladly acknowledges all that is true in Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.
  • However, Christians still have a duty to emphasise that the way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. Christianity is unique in offering means to salvation.
  • He underlined the need for respect in inter-faith dialogue and said that Christians should use it with the aim of uncovering universal truths.
  • He said that Christian mission can take place in many places, such as in interactions with neighbours.
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'Sharing the Gospel of Salvation'

  • 'Sharing the Gospel of Salvation' is a document issued by the Church of England Synod in response to a question raised by one of its members, Paul Eddy, in 2006. He asked where the Church of England stood on the question of whether Christians should claim publicly that salvation could be found only in Christ. Christians should publicly claim that salvation can be found only in Christ. The document was published in 2010.
  • 'Sharing the Gospel of Salvation' reaffirms that God's plan for the salvation of the world is uniquely achieved in Jesus Christ and that the Church has a mission to be a witness to this.
  • The document: confirms that all Christians are called to discipleship, which always involves sharing faith with others. Reminds Christians that their own faith and traditions are a result  of the missionary work of others. Reminds Christians that their history and their mission has not always lived up to the teachings of the Bible. Warns against treating Christian mission as a kind of marketing exercise of salesmanship, people are converted because of the work of God, not because someone has made a successful sale. Reaffirms Christian beliefs about the oneness of God and beliefs about Jesus as the incarnation of God. Calls Christians to go beyond tolerance of other faiths and find ways of actively engaging with people.
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The Scriptural Reasoning Movement

  • Scriptural Reasoning began amongst Jewish scholars in the USA with meetings to discuss Jewish sacred texts.
  • Christians from the UK asked if they could join in as listeners and the Scriptural Reasoning Movement devloped into an inter-faith forum, part of the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme.
  • Participants from Islam, Judaism and Christianity meet together to read passages from their sacred texts on different subjects, and talk about how they understand the texts and how the texts influence their thinking.
  • The goal is not to achieve agreement but to look deeply at beliefs in different contexts, to foster a spirit of openness and respect.
  • They recognise that there are differences of belief and try not to over- emphasise points of similarity in a superficial way.
  • There is an agreement not to use meetings as an opportunity for mission work, although participants can talk about their own commitment to their faith.
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