The title of this post probably offended some of you. If not, then I'm sure the image did the trick. The combination of the two is a sure bet.
Before I get started let me just say that offense is honestly not my intent. But sometimes shock value can be the best way to get people to open up enough in their beliefs to consider another point of view or at least to critically examine their own.
Recently I had a conversation with someone who was a convinced religious pluralist. 1 "There is one truth," he told me, "and all religions have their own way of getting to it."
Bigot is a really harsh word. It's also a good one, in that it expresses a very specific characteristic of a given person. But like many good words (e.g. 'tolerance'), it has been abused to the point that its original meaning has been largely lost in favor of a watered-down, more popular definition. Bigot used to mean someone who is so convinced of her own opinions that she refuses to even consider contrary views. However, the popular usage now denotes something closer to someone who holds an exclusive position at all, regardless of her views of other opinions.
Of course, this new definition effectively neuters the word since everyone maintains an exclusive position about something. But we don't want to say that everyone is a bigot.
So if mere exclusivity is not enough to amount to bigotry, then what makes the difference? Well, according to the old definition it's a person's attitude toward differing opinions. Does the person take them seriously? Does he accept them on their own terms, consider their merits honestly, and evaluate them based on their strongest representation? Or does he simply reject them outright, or else reduce them to some weaker, more palatable form that allows him to keep his own view intact?
My point is this: in order to be a thorough religious pluralist, one must largely ignore most of the essential claims of most religions, or else re-interpret them into some vague, watered-down version that would be nearly unrecognizable to genuine adherents of the religion. And this requires bigotry.
So how does my friend fare here? Can all, or even most, religions really be different paths to the same truth? Only if one is willing to maintain a contradiction. 2 This is because each religion has its own claims about what the truth actually is, or if there even is one. And usually, these claims contradict each other.
For example, Islam claims that one God exists, and that He is in every way one. Christianity claims that one God exists, but that He is a Trinity. Buddhism, so far as it can be adequately understood, requires no deity of any kind and would in fact be strongly opposed to the idea that the divine and the 'natural' are intrinsically separate. The only way that these three views of God can be integrated is to make them mean something other than what they were intended to mean. It amounts to saying that the billions of religious believers in the world are simply wrong about what they believe, and that the lone, objective observer (as though such a thing were even possible) is capable of interpreting the various religions correctly.
Christianity, on the other hand, has never shied away from other claims to truth. It has confronted them head on and has encouraged honest dialogue. It is not coincidence that many of the world's top universities were founded by Christians, and that a lot of them remain committed to a Christian worldview. We trust that the truth we have received is strong enough to withstand criticism and to prevail over competing views for any honest seeker.
It is not bigotry to think you are right. It is bigotry to think that everybody can be right. Let's get it straight.
1 I will be using the term 'religious pluralist/ism' in this post in the somewhat popular sense of someone who believes that all religions are either equally valid or somehow compatible or paths to the same truth or some other variation of this idea. I do not intend it in any other sense.
2 As it turned out, my friend seemed perfectly willing to do just this. This is utterly incomprehensible to me.