Religious Pluralism and the Contemporary World

Originally published at Catholic Stand on September 15, 2015.

Several weeks ago, I published an article entitled Contemporary Culture Wars: Is History Repeating? Since the publication of that article, some significant issues and/or events have compelled me to reflect further on the theme of contemporary culture wars. I will continue to explore this subject here as a continuation of my previous article.

In Contemporary Culture Wars, I decried the fracturing of Christian unity that occurred with the Protestant Revolution of the 16th Century. As time goes on and American culture further regresses into the darkness of paganism and the dominion of Satan, I begin to see just how critical the lack of Christian unity plays in that regression. This observation is primarily because I see the antagonism between liberalism and secularism with religion—Christianity in particular.

Contemporary Culture Wars presents the case that the preaching of the Gospel in the contemporary world faces the challenge of evangelizing a world that has already been enlightened by the Gospel. I then raised the sensitive question “just what ‘gospel’ have they heard?” The reason I asked this question is because the fracturing of Western Christianity from the 16th Century onward has had devastating effects upon the witness to the Gospel.

Among the devastating effects was the scandal brought to the West by all the wars and in-fighting following the Protestant Revolution. Solutions were necessary, and Western civilization largely found it in the uneasy peace first established by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and by subsequent actions and/or ideas. I regard religious pluralism as one such idea.

While generally debated among historians, philosophers and theologians, it is becoming the proverbial pink elephant in the room that religious pluralism has had a particularly negative contribution in Western civilization.[i] Containing roots in the Protestant Revolution, religious pluralism was seen as a boon after about two centuries of religious wars. Europe was quite weary of all the bloodshed and desired peace.

The Treaty of Westphalia was condemned by Pope Innocent X in his declaration Zelo Domus Dei.[ii] While this is surprising to most historians and many others, it is not so shocking to those with the eyes of faith. The purpose of the treaty was to bring about peace after so many wars. In order to achieve this peace, the principle from the Peace of Augsburg (1555) was upheld—cuius regio, eius religio (whose region, his religion). While it did not end the religious wars, this principle was arguably a precursor to the birth of religious pluralism in the 18th Century.

Innocent X condemned the Treaty and its tenets because these were not in keeping with the doctrine of Jesus Christ, namely that He established One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church—the Catholic Church. To this Church, and it only, was entrusted the Deposit of Faith, and as such she possesses a living Tradition and succession that goes all the way back to the Apostles and Jesus Christ—the Light of the world—to which it is necessary to partake in order to obtain salvation. Innocent X knew that the salvation of souls was endangered so there was no other recourse than to condemn the Treaty of Westphalia.

Sadly, Zelo Domus Dei was quickly ignored by the European powers and just as quickly forgotten. Nowadays it is arguably viewed with a negative eye by many historians and theologians.[iii] Moreover, the religious wars continued into the 18th Century due to the dominant religion continuing to persecute the minorities. It was only after such efforts were proved futile that the principle of toleration and religious pluralism resulted.

Perhaps at first this error was not so readily apparent to the world. It offered peace to a weary people. True peace, however, can only be found in Jesus Christ who prayed “ut unum sint” (that they may be one, John 17:21). Religious pluralism and its precursor(s) were doomed to fail, and, in fact, opened the door to a whole-scale mess for Western civilization. While many aspects of the mess could be pointed out, I will restrict myself to one aspect in particular.

Religious pluralism led to a gradual weakening of the power and influence of religion in society. Religious unity leads to social unity and where there is a problem within religion, society will be negatively affected.[iv] The squabble over Divine Revelation and the Deposit of Faith that was set ablaze during and after the Protestant Revolution largely led to the “to each his own” mindset. This had a devastating impact upon Truth as it was now largely made subjective. People could hold their own opinions on what is or was not Christian doctrine.

While admittedly a very heated topic at this time, I see the ongoing saga with Kim Davis of Kentucky as a perfect example of just how subjective Truth has become. This observation is because of the glaring inconsistencies between the position Davis has taken on homosexuality with the religious doctrines (and their practice thereof) she believes as part of the Apostolic Christian ecclesial community. These inconsistencies are the joy and boon of liberals and secularists alike who rejoice at the opportunity to heap scorn upon the cause of religion.

I also recall the example of Harold Camping who, four to five years ago claimed the “Rapture” was going to come in the first half of 2011 along with the end of the world. People actually took this man seriously and, of course, when the “Rapture” did not take place, the cause of religion suffered much harm. In the end, however, even Camping finally capitulated to the Lord’s own words, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matthew 24:36).

Such is what results from Martin’s Luther’s fundamental doctrines of Sola Scriptura and private interpretation. These two doctrines attack on a fundamental level the authority Christ gave to His Church.

Christ established His Catholic Church, among many other reasons, in order to teach the truth. Rejecting the authority of His Church was simultaneously to reject Jesus Christ who said, “He who hears you, hears Me” (Luke 10:16). Moreover, truth and law go hand-in-hand. If truth was now largely subjective, what was going to be the effect upon law, public morality and society? Ultimately, people would become “rules” unto themselves.

Herein creeps relativism as “my truth” is different than “your truth” and who are you to say your truth is superior to mine? The Popes saw this and other such monstrous errors and condemned them consistently in their Encyclicals (and elsewhere). Pope Leo XIII took pains to note that their origins were to be found in the Protestant Revolution. They were then expanded upon by the “Enlightenment” and the French Revolution.

The above discussion brings us to the parallel examined in my article Contemporary Culture Wars: the similarities between the ancient (Pagan) Roman world and the contemporary world. We are not simply dealing with a world that had long before given itself over to the dominion of Satan and suddenly the light of Christ appears and we begin evangelizing. We are dealing with a world that has seen—and known—that light (and/or some variation of it) and rejected it.

Why has contemporary Western civilization rejected the light? A number of contributing factors can be specified but I herein specify the lack of Christian unity. This lack has been a scandal unto the world and has directly led to the prevailing secularism and atheism that we see pervading our culture and laws today. In a sense, the world saw cruelty and inhumanity among Christians, all based upon religious disunity for doctrinal (or personal) reasons, and decided it could do better.[v]

The problem is the world cannot survive on its own without the Church. This reality is because God has established His Church in the world to guide and instruct its denizens unto the ways of salvation. This revelation was discredited, however, but to the world’s own peril. A component of that peril was the attempt to “solve” the immediate problem of religious disunity with religious pluralism. Such would, however, lead man down the worse path that is secularism.

In the context of the Roman Empire, the Church had the various sects and heretics that attempted to pervert the Faith. She triumphed over these by preaching and elucidating the Truth of Christ boldly and without compromise. Today, under the title of “religious pluralism,” society suffers from the lack of such courage and boldness. Despite this, perhaps we are in a better position to assess the matter. Knowing that religious pluralism has led to secularism, maybe we can better see it as the cancer within society that it is.

Truth, law, morality and society are intended to be inseparably united. Secularism intends to divide them by removing their unifying principle, namely God. Moreover, since God has established His Church on earth in order to teach the truth of the Gospel and guide man, rejecting the Church also became a principle objective of secularism. So it is that until there is Christian unity, and by this I mean a return to the bosom of the Catholic Church, society will continue to decay and increase hostilities with the Church.

It is based upon this truth that I say whether people like it or not, there will be the aforementioned unity. What matters is to ask how it will materialize. It seems to me that there are two roads: one is wide and the other narrow. The wide road is the path to hell as it seeks unity through some hand-shaking, hobnobbing, feel-good twaddle on love. The narrow road is the path less taken, for it requires people to let go of pride and submit to the Will of Almighty God and His Catholic Church.

[i] To name a few of these writers, I have in mind the sociologist Edward Shils, theologian Brad Gregory, and Fr. Dominic Bourmaud. In respective order, they wrote Tradition; The Unintended Reformation; One Hundred Years of Modernism. Their respective writings indicate that many of the ills plaguing contemporary Western society are rooted in the Renaissance and the Protestant Revolution.

[ii] To the best of my knowledge, this document has never been translated into English. It is available, in Latin, in the Bullarium Romanum series (Taurinensis Edition, 1868), Volume XV, pages 603ff.

[iii] Insofar as I can tell, I believe one such example can be found in the book Charlemagne by Derek Wilson (page 174ff).

[iv] This is the very reason why Emperor Constantine summoned the Bishops to the Council of Nicaea!

[v] It seems to me that the problem has progressed to where it appears that the world does not remember much of the history behind Christian disunity. The world mocks the religious disunity among Christians and rejoices in the inconsistencies. It forgets, however, the cause for that disunity. This is the result of the world’s incessant call for “progress” as such a call leads to hasty judgments, a short-term memory and lack of identity.