"no harm, no foul"
Sunday, August 10, 2003
RELIGIOUS PLURALISM: What kind of normative weight does the fact that most people usually adopt the religion they were brought up in have? People may change denomination here and there, but for the most part, if you’ve grown up in the west, and end up adopting the tenets of some religion, it’ll be Christianity. Same thing with Islam and the Middle East, and so on with other religions and other parts of the world.

What does this show? The one interesting problem it raises is “religious luck.” If it turns out that one of the religions is the true religion, then it does seem to be a matter of luck whether one is raised in a country or region that has the true religion or not. Of course, one might say that, e.g., it is possible that one learn the tenets of Christianity wherever one is. But to do this in the climate where the dominant religion is other than Christianity is difficult – not to say impossible, but still difficult. And so again, luck rears its head, because it’s a matter of luck whether one will be born into the right religion or will have to work to learn it (whatever it is).

Does religious pluralism count against the rationality of religious belief? I’m not sure. One wants to say that it does, because it seems that what religion you believe in is more a product of where and how you were raised, rather than what you’ve been rationally led to believe. It doesn’t seem to be primarily, or only, the fact that most religious Americans are Christian because they have rationally argued themselves into that faith. Instead, it seems more a product of socialization.

But I worry about going down this road, because a lot of what we believe is the product of socialization, and I don’t want to say that merely the fact of socialization makes a belief illegitimate. We’ve been socialized into a lot of moral norms (maybe all of them), and not rationally persuaded of them. Still, this doesn’t by itself make those moral norms ones we should give up.

And also, there remains the fact (trumpeted by Alvin Plantinga) that if your religion is the true one, how could it be irrational to believe in the truth? That there are many religions doesn’t make it unreasonable or irrational to believe in a particular one, if you believe that your religion is true. It just commits you to believing that the other religions are in error.

So I admit to being stumped. I want to say that religious pluralism in the sense I’m talking about here, does undermine the rationality of religious belief, but my epistemology says it doesn’t.

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