by James Riemermann
I would like to ask just who it is that sees universalism as the idea that all religions are equally valid. There may be universalists here and there who actually subscribe to this, but overwhelmingly I hear this view of universalism trotted out not by universalists describing themselves, but by those who want to discredit universalism, or at least its most broadly tolerant forms, by making a caricature of it.
Obviously there are religious beliefs and practices in the world (I’m not talking about entire religions here) that are false and harmful, others that are true and beneficial, and a great many that are matters of tradition without obvious connections to a deeper morality or truth. Anyone who believes otherwise is just not paying attention.
One response to that obvious reality is to assert that one and only one of those religious traditions is perfectly and universally true and right for everyone, and it’s just a matter of finding and choosing that one true religion. Those who respond that way, unsurprisingly, tend to come to the conclusion that the one universally true religion is in fact their own. Since we’re talking about what’s right for the entire human race, I suppose that is a sort of universalism, but it’s not my sort.
Another response to the reality that religious beliefs and practices are not all true and good, is to assume that all religions have been created by human beings over time and as such have human flaws as well as human virtues. Some may be better, some may be worse, but none are perfectly true or perfectly righteous. From that perspective, respecting and listening to others of different religious perspectives is not just a matter of being politely respectful, but of being humbly and gratefully open to new light. We can learn from one another, and we don’t need to give up our hearts or minds to do so.
There are a great many believers in the world who think they have found the one true religion, and who furthermore see it as their task to bring the rest of humanity around to their view. Universalism–at least the sort of universalism I can support–offers a different, humbler way.
For more by this author/Friend, see http://www.nontheistfriends.org/article/author/james-riemermann/