Is it Arrogant to Make Exclusive Claims to Truth?
In my search for truth about God and religion it has become clear to me that there is some confusion with respect to exclusive claims to truth. There is a widespread view today that it is arrogant and intolerant to make exclusive religious claims to truth because the implication is that anyone who disagrees with one’s own religion is then wrong. Religious inclusivists who think that all religions lead to God, will often accuse Christians of arrogance without realizing that given their own criteria, they too are ‘guilty’ of this same ‘arrogance’.
You see, everyone is exclusivistic. Everyone thinks their religious view is true, otherwise why would they hold it? Honestly now, don’t you think that what you believe about religion is true? You might say, “No, I hold a much more tolerant and inclusive view – I think all religions are true or lead to God.”
But notice what follows from that. It follows that anyone who disagrees with that view is wrong. But that is exactly why the inclusivist accuses the exclusivist of arrogance, the implication that those who disagree with them are wrong. So on his own criteria the inclusivist is arrogant to hold to his view.
Religious inclusivism is just as exclusive as Christianity. Religious inclusivists think their claims are true and exclusivists’ claims are false and anyone who disagrees is mistaken. Moreover, inclusivism hides its exclusivity behind a deceptive façade of alleged openness and tolerance. But religious inclusivism is just another absolute position in sheep’s clothing, and is therefore no more open or tolerant than any other exclusive claim to truth. Only inclusivists can see the ‘real truth’ about religion.
Religious inclusivism is not only deceptive and arrogant; it is also incoherent because it espouses religious relativism. Relativists claim that “all religious claims are relative” but notice that statement itself is a religious claim that is not relative. It fails its own test and is thus self-contradictory, and self-contradictory statements are necessarily false.
Religious pluralists often impose their relativistic framework on religions and do not let them speak for themselves about what they believe. This is a clear example of arrogance. Ironically, they require the conclusion that all other religious views are not equally true, but equally flawed and that relativism is the larger, grander truth!
The philosopher W.L. Craig captures the key point here well when he writes, “the pluralist also believes that his view is right and that all those adherents to particularistic religious traditions are wrong. Therefore, if holding to a view which many others disagree with means you’re arrogant and immoral, then the pluralist himself would be convicted of arrogance and immorality.”
But what about the atheist or agnostic? I find it humorous and a little sad when those whom I debate from this camp try to portray themselves as more open and tolerant than the “arrogant Christian.” But again notice that atheists think that their view about religion, that there is no God, is true and that anyone who disagrees is wrong. Atheists think all religions are wrong! Clearly they think their view is exclusively true just like the “arrogant Christian.”
But surely the agnostic is not exclusivistic, is he? I have found that most people who use this label do so in what many call “a hard agnostic” way. That is, they think that no one knows the truth about God and religion and no one can know the truth because it is impossible to do so. Well, this may be the most exclusive claim of all! The hard agnostic is claiming to know that no one can know the truth about God and religion. This is an incredibly strong claim. Moreover, they think that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. So clearly this is another arrogant, exclusivist view.
The only way out of this dilemma would be to hold “a soft agnostic” position where one says “I don’t know the truth about God and religion but I am open to finding out what it might be.”
The point I am ultimately trying to make here is that no one is actually arrogant for holding to a particular religious view or an inclusivist view or an atheist or hard agnostic view.
- Christians are not being narrow minded, but acting rationally with what they think they know.
- Religious inclusivists are just acting on what they think they know – that all views are right.
- Atheists are merely acting on what they think they know, that there is no God and all religions are false.
- Hard Agnostics are just acting on what they think they know – that no one can know.
Everyone is exclusivistic, but it doesn’t mean you are arrogant! How one communicates what they believe could make one arrogant. That is why the apostle Peter told fellow Christians that when they told others about the reasons they had for what they believed, they were to do it with gentleness and respect and with a clear conscience. Good advice for everyone it seems to me.
Question: What have you noticed about the way people state their religious views? Do you think tolerance requires that we avoid making exclusive claims to truth?
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