Friday, November 20, 2009

Pluralism In Malaysia

Malaysia takes pride in being a culturally diverse and multiethnic nation which has been spared from violent conflicts that have beset neighboring Indonesia and Thailand. Like the local delicacy called ‘rojak’, our religious context is a potent mix of various ingredients that rivals that of Athens during the days of Apostle Paul. However it does not mean that our national psyche is completely free from dark memories of May 13 riots and uneasy tensions about our status as an ‘Islamic state’. On the contrary, these repressed memories have a habit of returning to haunt us whenever ‘sensitive’ religious issues enter public discourse. On such rare occasions, citizens are dutifully reminded, under threat of the Internal Security Act, how easy it is for the religious ‘rojak’ to degenerate into something less tasteful.

What Is Pluralism?

In such a delicate scenario, the Malaysian church needs to carefully consider how to relate with other religious communities and consequently, her task of mission. While we are obviously living in a world with diverse religious perspectives, religious pluralism is a particular view that these religions are equally valid in terms of access to truth and effectiveness in salvation. This view is illustrated beautifully by the ancient story of ten blind men trying to describe an elephant after touching different parts of its body for the first time. As they announced their conflicting discoveries, a heated argument ensued. Awakened by the quarrel, the king corrected all of them by saying, “The elephant is a huge animal and each of you touched a part. In order to know the whole truth about what the elephant looks like, you must put together all the parts!” The moral of the story is that no religion has privileged access to the whole truth. Each religious view is a partial experience of the same Reality from its own culturally-conditioned perspective.

This view is popular because tolerance towards all religions is needed to ward off violent fundamentalism in the wake of post-911 ‘war on terror’. However, pluralism is not as religiously ‘neutral’ as it may appear to be. At face-value, it has been historically the view of particular religions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Bahai faith. In contrast, Islam and Christianity historically held to the finality of divine revelation in Koran and Jesus respectively. More recently, though, John Hick is a prominent Christian theologian who called for a Copernican revolution in which the universe of faiths are seen as centered on God, instead of Christ, whose Light is reflected in all major world religions. He unpacked the pluralistic hypothesis that “the great world faiths embody different perceptions and concepts of, and correspondingly different responses to, the Real from within the major variant ways of being human, and that within each of them the transformation of human existence from self-centeredness to Reality-centredness is taking place. These traditions are accordingly to be regarded as alternative soteriological ‘spaces’ within, or ‘ways’ along which, men and women can find salvation/liberation /ultimate fulfillment.”

Read the shorter article appearing on CCM newsletter or the longer version appearing on the Hedonese

Blind Men & Elephant - Pluralism CCM

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