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4.6: Attitudes of Inclusion and Exclusion

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    As should now be clear, the ways are not necessarily opposed to each other at all. It is possible to find more or less pure examples of each within many of the major religious traditions. Among these examples, one can find occasional instances of a sectarian insistence upon a single way or specific few ways of being religious that eclipses or at least prejudges the authenticity and legitimacy of other ways within the same religious tradition. The insistence is usually less an exclusion of other ways than an assertion of the superiority and self-sufficiency of a certain way or ways. But mostly one finds subtraditions that tolerate (if they do not actually endorse) other ways for other persons in other subtraditions. In other words, a sectarian insistence (upon a single way or set of ways as the only authentic expression of a tradition) is not inevitable. Where there is no such insistence, one may find a given individual involved in a single way for her whole life, while her neighbor in the same religion, with whom she is on good terms, will be involved in other ways (possibly two or more at once) and, over the course of his life, in still other ways.

    Examples of a sectarian insistence upon a single way of being religious may be found from time to time in the history of American Evangelical Protestantism. Among Evangelicals, the focus tends to be concentrated upon the salvation of souls and the cultivation of a simple devotional faith-with other ways (to the extent that they tend toward autonomy from, or compromise in any way to, that primary focus) coming under suspicion as failing to "keep Christ first in one's heart."26 Some twentieth-century Christians, who identify with the Liberation Theology Movement, focus efforts solely on the cause of social justice and castigate persons involved in other ways of being Christian as betrayers of genuine Christianity insofar as their lives either support the (unjust) social status quo or ignore it. 27 We have already alluded to the priority placed upon the way of right action in mainstream Sunni Islam. At times within certain Islamic reform movements this priority is so stressed that all other ways of being religious in Islam are condemned as non-Islamic or heretical movements. 28 In Japanese Buddhism, a recent subtradition called Sokka Gakkai, whose roots go back to a thir-teenth-century Buddhist prophet by the name of Nichiren, pursues a Buddhist form of the way of right action and condemns other forms of Buddhism for failing to rectify the social ills of the age. 29 Some expressions of Pure Land Buddhism, a family of East Asian Buddhist subtraditions that pursue the way of devotion, have at times regarded the state of the world with respect to Buddhist ideals and teaching to be so degenerate that no other Buddhist path can hope to move one toward the goal of nirvatJa; reliance in pure faith upon the grace of the Buddha Amitabha alone can hope to bring about salvation. 30 similar examples can be found in Hinduism and in other religions. There are, of course, examples of subtraditions that place an exclusive stress upon, say, two ways of being religious and condemn others.

    At the opposite extreme, subtraditions can be found that not only tolerate but give welcome recognition to several or all of the ways of being religious within the same religion. (It should be clear that we are not talking here about welcome recognition of other religions, but only welcome recognition of other ways within the same religion.) However, it is rare when you can find all six ways of being religious exemplified in a given locale or subtradition. What one more often finds are subtraditions that emphasize one, two, or three of the ways, while they acknowledge and show respect to other expressions of the same religion that exemplify other ways. Even though exclusivistic attitudes are not present, tensions can still arise between persons identifying with different ways. Such tensions may or may not be accommodated. One of the complications that can arise is when the predominant quality of practice of one of the ways becomes degenerate or fails to be true to its own sources of authority. Negative attitudes toward the quality of practice easily become indistinguishable from negative attitudes toward the practice itself. When accommodation cannot be realized, such tensions can lead to condemnations, schisms, and even persecutions. Although there were many other things involved besides tensions between ways of being religious, the Protestant Reformation in important respects was a shift from central (but not exclusive) emphasis upon the way of sacred rite to a central (but not exclusive) emphasis upon the way of devotion with its insistence upon "faith alone, apart from works." In the so-called "left-wing" of the Reformation (also called "Radical Reformation Protestants," encompassing the Anabaptist traditions and the Quakers) the shift was to a central emphasis on the way of right action, accompanied by a subordinate emphasis upon devotion, with its insistence that Christians live differently from the habitual life patterns of "the world."31

    One would expect that spokespersons for an inclusive or catholic religious tradition that happens to embrace all of the six ways of being religious would explicitly acknowledge the legitimacy of each as well as provide justification for them from within the system of symbols characterizing the tradition (i.e., provide a theologicaf explanation and justification for them). Interestingly, that is exactly what we find in the Hinduism of the Bhagavad Gtta (and elsewhere) which acknowledges the different yogas as different approaches to "God" designed for different types of personality.32 We also find something similar in certain Chinese Mahayana (e.g., T'ien-T'at) and Tibetan Vajrayana attempts to acknowledge, incorporate, and assign a place to each of the many Buddhist schools of thought and practice. In these two Buddhist cases, the different schools are assigned a kind of hierarchical ranking from introductory to more advanced and from exoteric (understandable and implementable to almost anyone) to esoteric (understandable and implementable only to a highly developed initiate). In this regard, some ways of being Buddhist are interpreted to be "better" or "higher" than others. Nevertheless, any one way will be identified as most right or appropriate for particular persons, depending on their stage of spiritual development.33 A final example is the Roman Catholic Christian tradition, wherein no major theological justification has ever been developed that would accommodate and justify the six ways of being religious, whatever they might be named. Yet there has for the most part been an inclusive tolerance of and respect for Roman Catholics being involved in this or that way of carrying on their Christian lives, so long as they did not in any major way challenge central docttjnes or displace the central emphasis placed on the way of sacred rite (and the institution of the clerical hierarchy that implements that emphasis).34

    What would it take for such an inclusive, catholic attitude to become more widespread? Is it possible that the framework of ways of being religious--once understood and used to orient an empathetic exploration of the different ways-will encourage religious leaders and laypersons to show more understanding and acceptance of other ways of being religious within their own religion? It would seem that it could, especially when combined with an understanding of how different persons have different religious needs, not all of which are met by any one way of being religious.

    This page titled 4.6: Attitudes of Inclusion and Exclusion is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Dale Cannon (Independent) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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