For the last couple of weeks, I have been listening to a wonderful Great Course called Cultural Literacy for Religion: Everything the Well-Educated Person Should Know. The tutor is Professor Mark Berkson of Hamline University, and it has been fascinating listening.
In the last lecture of the course, Religion Today - Trends, Challenges and Hope, there is a very interesting section entitled Thinking about Others - Exclusivism, Inclusivism and Pluralism, which is very relevant to Unitarians. Obviously we are not exclusive - we don't believe that our religion is the only truth, and that folk who don't agree with us are destined for eternal hell-fire.
But "inclusive" is a word bandied around quite a lot by Unitarian communities. We pride ourselves on being inclusive and welcoming. So I found his definition of inclusivism quite interesting. He writes: "Inclusivism states that while one's own tradition is the only one that contains complete truth, salvation is still available to those who are outside of the tradition. The grace of God is extended to all human beings, and the saving work of grace can be accomplished even if the individual is not a member of their faith."
And I don't think that's what Unitarianism is about. If we take that definition of inclusivism to be correct, then we are not inclusive; we are pluralist.
Berkson states that pluralism has two forms:
1. "One form of pluralism holds that, despite the outward appearance of difference, at the deepest level, all religions are the same." (emphasis mine) In the lecture, he mentions the much-used metaphor of us all being on the same mountain, but using different paths.
2. "Other pluralists deny the sameness of all religions and argue that if we truly want to respect and appreciate other traditions, we must maintain their distinctiveness and not try to blur the differences. The latter pluralist approach begins with the notion that ultimate reality - God, the divine - is beyond our ability to completely grasp. We must acknowledge that, as limited human beings, we can never understand divine reality in its entirety ... no religion possesses truth in its entirety. Each tradition possesses its powerful truths, but also its blind spots. The more religious traditions we welcome into the conversation, the more illumination there will be." (emphasis mine)
This is why it is so important for Unitarians to be involved in inter-faith stuff in their communities. If we are truly the second kind of pluralist, (and I think that at our best, we are) then we should welcome the opportunity to engage with other faith traditions and learn more about how they perceive religious truths, both to enrich our own knowledge, and to move into a place of understanding and compassion about people who believe differently to us.