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  • Capitalism as Religion and Religious Pluralism:An Approach from Liberation Theology
  • Jung Mo Sung

religious pluralism and the struggle of the gods

Religious pluralism as a social fact, namely, the coexistence of different religions within a social system, be it a country or an empire, is not anything new. The mere contact with other people and their various religions, for example, through commerce, still does not indicate religious pluralism. In this case, each group of people has its religion and its gods, and recognizes that other groups of people exist with other religions and other gods. Religious pluralism occurs when, because of immigration or the conquest of one people over another, groups of people with different religions live together in the same social space.

Whether by immigration or by conquest, the resulting religious pluralism does not occur in an egalitarian or harmonious manner. Immigrants are forced to live out their religion within their group as a marginal religion in society, or even in hiding when it is not accepted in the society where they went to seek a livelihood. In the case of conquest or expansion of empires, the conquering power imposes its cultural values and religion on the conquered peoples. The empire can try to extinguish the religions of conquered peoples and impose their own as if it is the only one acceptable, or tolerate them as long as these religions do not question the imperial order. This means that the coexistence of different religions within the empire takes place in a hierarchical relationship: The religion of the empire is the ultimate and the others are tolerated provided they accept their place as subordinate. The Roman Empire was an example of an empire that tolerated the religions of subject peoples as long as they didn’t question the absolute power of the empire, with its own empire religion and emperor worship.

In this historical context, it is empirically impossible to live out a third way: recognizing the otherness of the other and respecting their religion as we respect our [End Page 155] own. That’s because the “encounter” between religions takes place in a situation of colonial conquest and domination. Expecting that there could be a relationship of respect and dialogue among equals would ignore the role of religion in premodern societies, especially in the processes of domination.

In these societies, religion has the function of being the foundation of the world-view that legitimized the existing social order, as well as the process of external conquest. Religion fulfills the function of legitimizing and justifying the conquest and consequent exploitation and oppression of the conquered people. Therefore, religion performs a key task for systems of oppression, the reversal of evil into good: conquest as peace; exploitation as the path to salvation or integration into civilization. Furthermore, religion transcendentalizes the imperial system of oppression and presents it as eternal or as an expression of divine will. Therefore, how to classify religions and manage their coexistence is not just a problem for religious leaders, but also a matter of the state, a matter of interest for the king or emperor. The limits of religious tolerance are determined by the interests of the dominant social system, even when they are often discussed in religious or theological language.

Of course, no religion, even those that perform the function of legitimizing an empire, is totally homogeneous. Within a religion, there is or can be a certain “theological pluralism.” The figure of Las Casas in the Spanish conquest of America is an example of the contradictions that are in all religions. But the defense of the Indians and their religion that was made by Las Casas had to be made in the court of the king of Spain. The means of evangelization and the ways of seeing the culture and religion of the Indians (i.e., the other) is a problem of the state, and not just the Church.

Before thinking about the ideal of a religious pluralism that makes possible “a fraternal living together of religions as also a covenant of all those in favor of Peace and the Common Good of Humanity and the Planet,”1 we must also remember that the Bible...