Extreme positions are attractive in one way. Consistency is easier for extremists since they reject wholesale whatever doesn’t fit their assumptions. Those who seek compromise and balance risk being labeled as “flip-floppers.” Despite this I think inclusivism offers the best place to stand for those who want to participate in a real meaningful dialogue among a wide variety of sincere seekers after the truth.
It’s hard to dialogue with an exclusivist. Constructive dialogue is possible between people who disagree about important issues so long as each is willing to concede that the other is at least partially right. These points of agreement are necessary to provide the shared premises with which they can reason together about their remaining points of disagreement. Exclusivists concede nothing. When it comes to religion they are right and their opponents are simply wrong. Exclusivism is most common among evangelical Christians and radical atheists. I am not hopeful about being able to include exclusivists of either sort in meaningful dialogue.
Pluralism offers a much better starting point. Still I have certain reservations about it. By granting too much too soon pluralism tends to dissolve into a murky relativism. In their eagerness to embrace the other, pluralists give insufficient emphasis to what they personally are bringing to the table. Just as there can be no productive dialogue unless there are points of agreement upon which to build, there can be no productive dialogue unless there are clear points of disagreement upon which to labor together. It is hard to talk to someone who clings too stubbornly to their opinion, but it is equally hard to talk to someone who gives up too easily and doesn’t have any firm opinions at all. Another problem I have with pluralism is epistemological. How could anyone possibly know that all religions were equally true? It has taken me a lifetime to begin to understand my own faith tradition. To compare these traditions to my own in full seriousness I would have to understand those other traditions just as well and one life isn’t long enough to accomplish that.
To me, inclusivism offers the best hope. Each individual should come firmly grounded in their own faith tradition. They should be prepared to explain and affirm those spiritual truths they have grasped during the course of their walk. But they should also be eager to listen to new insights and new truths that others coming from a different tradition and different experiences will have to offer. Inclusivists will most naturally assume that they both have something to teach and something to learn. It is the best place to stand for people who love the truth but admit that their own grasp of the mystery is limited.
(This is the fourth in a related series of posts.)