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9 Religious Diversity and the Futility of Neutrality R. Douglas Geivett Introduction: What Is Religion? Any attempt to define religion is certainly hazardous and probably misguided. But acknowledging this does not satisfy our ambition to understand what is broadly characteristic of religion. Many students of religion seeking a family resemblance among religions employ two devices, both of which are conceptual. These two concepts are particularly useful if we suppose that the human species is Homo religiosis—that religiosity is nearly universal, perhaps even inescapable. Neither concept requires this assumption, so they are useful in any case. TRANSCENDENCE The first concept is that of “the Transcendent.” Whereas it used to be common for philosophers of religion to distinguish alternative religions in terms of their differing conceptions of “deity,” and many even used the word God as a surrogate for whatever enjoys the status of the “sacred,” it is now closer to standard practice to substitute the term the Transcendent for making the right sort of reference. To speak of the Transcendent appears less parochial than to speak of “God,” since there are manifestly religious traditions which make no explicit reference to God and even deny the reality of God (for example, some forms of Buddhism). To speak of such traditions as religious, we must dispense with the term God. What is needed is a suitably general term for picking out whatever is deemed supremely important, i.e., ontologically ultimate, within any religious 181 tradition. For this purpose, some favor the phrase the sacred. Others prefer the Transcendent. Despite its virtues, “the sacred” seems to exclude any religious outlook that is fundamentally secular. What if, for example, we think of Marxism as a “religio-political” system, as some have? Is there anything the Marxist deems sacred? It would seem not. Yet Marxists envision a future condition that transcends the alienated individual.1 “The Transcendent” will serve if (among other things) it is in the nature of religious consciousness to regard something as “supremely important.”2 What is transcendent is, of course, variously construed by the different religions. Though particularized differently across traditions, the Transcendent captures what is, in very general terms, common to all traditions properly called religious. The Transcendent is denoted by whatever is conceived as most important within this or that tradition. It is the aspect of supreme importance that accounts for the “family resemblance” among religious traditions.3 The Transcendent as what is supremely important is best regarded as such in relation to the next conceptual earmark for any religious outlook—soteriology. SOTERIOLOGY The second concept is that of “the soteriological.” John Hick writes that “a clear soteriological pattern is visible both in the Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, and in the Semitic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as in their modern secular offspring, Marxism.”4 Others have noticed this feature of the religious outlook.5 Keith Yandell’s expression of this idea is especially helpful and clear in its conciseness: “A religion offers a diagnosis of what it tells us is our deep and paralyzing problem. It also offers a solution.”6 SUMMARY We have, then, an operational definition of religion captured in terms of salvific transcendence of one sort or another. This coincides with John Kekes’s description of five key characteristics of a worldview: (1) a metaphysics, or an account of the nature of reality, specifying what sorts of things (objects or persons) exist and how they are related to each other; (2) an anthropology, or a theory of human nature that delineates what it is to be a human person, individually and in community with other persons; (3) a value system or ideal culture, with an inventory and orderly arrangement of all that constitutes or 182 | Can Only One Religion Be True? contributes to the good of human existence; (4) a diagnosis of the human condition, or detailed description of fundamental obstacles to human flourishing and an analysis of the causes of these obstacles; and, (5) a remedy—some policy or protocol according to which the obstacles to human flourishing are or may be overcome.7 A worldview is multidimensional, its components integrally related to each other logically, conceptually, and pragmatically. The religious notion of the Transcendent maps onto elements (1) and (2) of this account of a worldview. Elements (4) and (5) parallel the broadly soteriological emphasis of religion. It is plausible to suppose that the concepts of religion and worldview are coterminous or overlapping, and therefore that religiosity...


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