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LIFE IN A PLURALISTIC SOCIETY

By Dr. Andrew Davies. BD MA PhD
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Britain is no longer the avowedly Christian country it once was. While there are still more people in Church on Sunday than in the football grounds on Saturday, most of our major cities are now genuinely multiethnic and mutilcultural, and, as that implies, multi-religious.

Yet Christianity is virtually unique among the world religions in the force of its assertion that it is the only one true religion; Buddhism and all but the most fundamentalist forms of Hinduism and Islam are generally happy to accept the validity of other religions.

It can sometimes be difficult to witness to a person of another faith, then, since even if they are willing to accept that Jesus was a good teacher, a prophet, and even that Christianity is true, they may be unable to understand why they should convert if they already have their own faith. Furthermore, an increasing proportion of those who claim to be Christians are prepared to accept the truth claims of other faiths.

A recent study found that 80% of Americans consider the Bible to be the most influential book in history, and 91% of households own at least one copy. But only 58% believe the Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches, and a surprisingly high 39% say it doesn't matter what faith you embrace because they all teach the same lessons.

One of the major tenets of postmodern thinking, which has influenced much of the younger generation, is that there is no absolute or universal truth, so no religion has the right to claim its universal superiority. This kind of thinking has led to pluralism, the assumption that all religions have a degree of truth, which poses a number of significant and difficult ethical questions.

1. Should other religions be accorded the privileges in society and in law given to Christianity? Should people be free to observe them, (surely we must say yes to this)? More controversially, should they be protected by blasphemy laws? Should they have state-funded schools and parliamentary representation as the Church of England does (the same question might be asked of the smaller Christian denominations too)?

2. In some cases, (e.g., Pakistani Moslems, Orthodox Jews). the relationship between religion and culture is particularly close, and any comments on such a person's religion may well be taken as racist. That is not to say that we must not argue for the unique truth of Christianity - we need to be wise in our approach and careful with our wording. New converts from such backgrounds often have to deal with staunch opposition from their families, who perceive any change of religion as a rejection of their culture and heritage.

3. We might want to concede that there is an element of truth in some of the teaching of other faiths, (generally in the areas of morality and personal conduct). Buddhism, for instance, which is theologically just about as far from Christianity as it is possible to be, arguably has some valuable ethical insights to offer, and the links between Judaism and Christianity are obvious.

4. How should we respond to those of other faiths and cultures living in our communities? With warmth, friendship and genuine interest. Most experienced cross-cultural evangelists have found their greatest successes have come from building relationships and helping in practical ways rather than entering into religious debate.

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