“Religious pluralism” here means believing that the teachings of the different religions are just variations of some “universal truth”… like John Hick did, for example.

Surely religious pluralists want to exclude Jim Jones, the Order of the Solar Temple, Aum Shinrikyo, the Branch Davidians, Heaven's Gate, etc., from this?

Maybe it's the violence and destruction which are the marks here… but religions exist, which do not stand out as violent or destructive, yet are extremely “off” compared to the mainstream denominations: Wicca, Setianism, Gnosticism, Sōtō-Zen, etc..

AFAIK Sōtō-Zen doesn't make any metaphysical assertions – how can a teaching that amounts to nothing be a variation of an universal truth?

Or, how can believing in an evil creator god – as in certain variants of Gnosticism – not fundamentally contradict with believing in a benevolent supernatural cause of the Universe (as in the Abrahamic religions and Hinduism)? That is, far more fundamentally contradict than Buddhism does, which is agnostic about the cause of the Universe?

Or, how can striving for self-deification – as in Setianism – not open up an unbridgeable chasm to mainstream theistic religions?

Since it seems that religious pluralists necessarily have to be exclusionary, too, how do they decide on the criteria for exclusion? Certainly it can't be just about popularity…

  • This seems very broad. I wonder who is forcing them to decide one way or the other on such an issue? I can see them getting along fine without bothering to answer such a question. Apr 9, 2018 at 1:27
  • 2
  • But what can we count as religion when we are saying about religious pluralism?
    – rus9384
    Apr 9, 2018 at 10:01
  • 2
    No. There are religious pluralists, usually panpsychists, who don't exclude those people. Evil is an aspect of reality in most religions, and it is a power that one might choose to worship in its own right. If religion is the psychology of God, and our mind is analogous to his, then He has his own mental problems, and they are just as divine as any other aspect of Him.
    – user9166
    Apr 9, 2018 at 10:12

1 Answer 1


There are two possibilities for religious pluralism

1 All religions are variations on some universal truth.

2 Some religions are variations on some universal truth.

Neither of these commits one to specifying what the universal truth is. 1 implies 2 but 2 does not imply one - I guess we can all see that. 1 and 2 can both be true or 2 could be true and 1 false. But all this is mental chess - vacuous unless the claims are given substance by specifying (to some level of detail) what the universal truth is.

So :

3 All religions are variations on some universal truth, namely X.

4 Some religions are variations on some universal truth, namely X.

It is unlikely, given the candidates, that all religions are variations on X. It's possible but (a) the prima facie evidence is against it, as your examples show, and (b) on what grounds is 3 based ? It's a bare, unevidenced claim as it stands. Is it supposed to be known a priori ? But let it stand : The religious pluralist of type-3 must in consistency exclude no religions since they are all variations on X.

If only some religions are variations on some universal truth, namely X, then all other religions, which are not variations on X, can be excluded.

But then, what does 'excluded' mean ? Not recognised as being religions ? Or not tolerated as religions ? They could still be tolerated as something else, as philosophies of life or Weltanschauungen.

There is a conceptual possibility, I think, that all religions might be accepted as variations on some universal truth, X, but not acceptable in the form their variation takes. If 'X' is, for the sake of argument, 'There is a loving God', a religion that interpreted this as meaning that there is a loving God who loves only some of God's creation, hates others (identifiable in a certain way) and requires those whom God loves to destroy the hated, then one might well draw the line at tolerating this form of variation of the the universal truth.

All of which suggests that the universal truth which some or all religions are taken to be variations of, needs to be specified to a greater degree of detail than 'There is a loving God'. My guess would be that as the detail accumulates the supposed consensus of all religions as variations on some universal truth would thin out to implausibility. But this is only a guess; I don't claim to know it.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .