I've lately been reading Chesterton, Bonhoeffer and Ellul, and they all in various ways take the view that Christianity requires an appreciation of opposites, particularly in the issue of religion. In these dark days, I appreciate this sunny view that Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and all other faiths require our appreciation. The vile blogs I visited looking at how this issues is discussed further highlighted the unusual Christian goodness of this argument amongst, *cough*, Christians.
The argument can be further explained by pointing out that without these options, Christianity has no definition. Frankly, it strikes me as a little sad (okay, yes, I am also generally disgusted as well) how many supposed adherents of the Christian sects themselves have lost their identities and merged back into a muddly goop of Oprah-esque affirmations. Without options, nothing has definition, and Christianity enshrines this in the requirement of choice. Yet, as cheerful and good spirited as this appreciation is, I'm not sure how it can be defined.
To consider this problem, let us look at two extremes that I would say are errors. The first extreme labels any alternative from Christianity evil. This was carefully explained to me by an elderly lady who considered her bigotry most proper. Anything that is not Christian, she explained, is wrong. And since everyone has the ability to know right, it is not only wrong, but a lie. Consequently, every effort must be made to limit the speech of, and perhaps even the existence of, Muslims (if I had this conversation to do over, I would have questioned her on why she selected Muslims vs. the more historically popular target of Christian bigotry, instead my jaw just sort of hung open) so that their lies cannot be spread. This conversation occurred several years ago, but a prominent pastor in the news has recently stirred up the topic (good post on the Classical Values blog). This view is easy to identify and abhor in the extreme, and so I've seen a lot of people try to start with the delicate suggestion that people of other faiths are just misguided. However, once you start down that road you have no where else to go. (This is one of those very common situations where those who claim to be moderate are in fact merely setting up the logical basis for the extreme.)
The other extreme labels all faiths part of one big tent. This argument states that the only difference between the faiths is semantics. This extreme discredits every faith equally... all are misguided. Unlike the other extreme which first presents in bigotry, this extreme first presents as if it were acceptance. But eventually the demands that people of faith give up all meaning is made known and this extreme is revealed to be just as bigoted as the first. Searching around the internet for more on this topic, the discussion of it is indeed vile, but the backlash is more than justified.
An argument with which I have more sympathy is that everyone has a role to play, and those roles are not the same. Only God has the ability to judge the righteous commitment to that role. This argument points out that we do not even know what was happening with Judas, who certainly had to play his role, and therefore we have no basis to make an immortal judgment. I like this argument very much as it reflects the message of Christ particularly well. However it also suggest that we live in a purposefully confused and muddled world. This is more difficult for a monotheist to accept, though at the end of the day I still prefer this view because, thought it can be used to justify particular evils, it does not support a systematically evil philosophy.
So what of it? Can a sunny appreciation for religious diversity be justified for Christians? Do you know anyone who makes this argument particularly well? Whether it can or not, it certainly feels more right than being entangled in the evils of the extreme views. Perhaps this is one of the many things where a happy middle exists without a good definition.