No matter who is right about religion, the secularist or the religionist, the fact remains that the vast majority of the people in the world subscribe to the latter view. That is to say, most people believe that their own religion is the one and only one correct religion. They hope and wish for all humankind to become converts, by confession or by conviction, to the spiritual framework of their own particular religion. Ironically, this very attitude is what makes religious pluralism extremely important for the modern world.
Two possibilities are open for the religionist. One may enforce one's own religion on others by whatever means. For example, the laws of a nation might prohibit any religion other than the one proclaimed by the (religionist) state. In today's world this is the case in some Islamic and Communist countries. Alternatively, one might grant to others the right to have the same conviction about their religions as one entertains about one's own. The laws of nations that subscribe to this approach permit the practice of all religions to their citizens. This is the case in the so-called secular democracies of the world.
In the view of many, such religious tolerance sanctioned by the laws of a land marks a major step forward in the history of civilization. In a sense this fundamental difference in perspectives is at the root of some political confrontations in today's world. Whatever it is, in countries where there are people of more than one faith, it is difficult in the modern world to openly ban other religions. Such a move is only one small step away from religious persecution. It is not surprising that religious pluralism has become the hallmark of enlightened democracies.
However, it must be realized in this context that there is a difference between the laws of the land and the attitudes of its citizens. As noted earlier, the question of religious pluralism becomes relevant to individuals who have deep faith in their own religious worldviews. It is difficult for them to reconcile this with the notion that other faiths must be given equal validity. This leads us to the recognition that there are two levels from which one might subscribe to religious pluralism. One is at the philosophical level. Here we accept that one group has as much right to believing in the absoluteness of its religious framework as another group, and that therefore we must give all religions equal weight. No one religious group has greater claims to religious truths than another. This view is adopted by religious secularists.
The second is at the pragmatic level. Here one recognizes that in this day and age in an enlightened heterogeneous society or even in the global context, it is impossible for the members of one religious community to openly reject or disparage another religion. At this level, therefore, one is more or less obliged to accept religious pluralism because one does not have another choice.
At the philosophical level, one considers loyalty to one's own faith as very similar to the love one feels for one's own parents. Such love need not deter others from experiencing a very similar love to their various families. Indeed, it would be unrealistic to ask everybody to love our own parents with the same intensity as we do. Nor does respect for the love that others feel diminish in any way respect for one's family. These considerations must be valid at the pragmatic level of religious pluralism also.
SOCIETAL AND PERSONAL IMPACT OF RELIGIOUS PLURALISM
Whether from philosophical or pragmatic considerations, the practice of religious pluralism can have two significant consequences. The first is societal. If every group in a society adopts religious pluralism as a way of life, it will lessen the conflicts and mutual arrogance that come from a parochial religiosity that denies others the feelings of commitment and loyalty one feels for one's own religious tradition. Those who refuse to adopt the perspective of religious pluralism in a heterogeneous nation and in a multicultural world, add much to the pain and hate that are already dividing human beings into so many fragmented groups. At the personal level, religious pluralism enables one to recognize that there is beauty, truth, and wisdom in every religious tradition of the human family and tends to enhance and enrich one's own vision and commitment to one's religion. The following poem expresses a view that reflects what religious pluralism is all about.
Grand Religion Some say it was Krishna Who came to save and please us. Some think it was Buddha, Yet others that it was Jesus. To some, the Laws of Conduct, To Moses God did speak But to Prophet Mohammed. Like the frog which was so certain That its pond was all the sea, Every one is slightly right As far as one does see. Our sun is surely brilliant: None can this deny. But does it make much sense to say There's naught else in the sky? If religious frogs just jump out Into the big, big sea, They'll know there's much more To religious ecstasy! Religions are volcanoes: Powerful sure they are. But they come from a deeper Source That's grander, oh by far.