The Fact of Religious Diversity and the Difficulties it Presents

There are two wonderful textbooks on the fact of religious diversity that I must recommend. Believers must understand the scope of the problem before they can ever hope to offer a solution, otherwise any solution they propose will be based in ignorance. Both books are published by Oxford University Press in the last eight years, with contributions by adherents in the various religious traditions around the world. Both are expensive. Both are enlightening. Both present serious challenges to anyone claiming more than that there exists invisible supernatural forces and/or supernatural beings. However, neither of them present the non-religious alternative, which as I'll argue below, is very interesting for two reasons. And neither of them offer an objective test to settle these religious differences, whereas I have offered the only one that can do so in my new book, The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True.

Mark Juergensmeyer is director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, professor of sociology, and affiliate professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Mark edited the 2006 book The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions. [686 pages, hardcover $150, paperback $55].

Of this book we read on Amazon:
This is a reference for understanding world religious societies in their contemporary global diversity. Comprising 60 essays, the volume focuses on communities rather than beliefs, symbols, or rites. It is organized into six sections corresponding to the major living religious traditions: the Indic cultural region, the Buddhist/Confucian, the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim regions, and the African cultural region. In each section an introductory essay discusses the social development of that religious tradition historically. The other essays cover the basic social factsthe communitys size, location, organizational and pilgrimage centers, authority figures, patterns of governance, major subgroups and schismsas well as issues regarding boundary maintenance, political involvement, role in providing cultural identity, and encounters with modernity. Communities in the diaspora and at the periphery are covered, as well as the central geographic regions of the religious traditions. Thus, for example, Islamic communities in Asia and the United States are included along with Islamic societies in the Middle East. The contributors are leading scholars of world religions, many of whom are also members of the communities they study. The essays are written to be informative and accessible to the educated public, and to be respectful of the viewpoints of the communities analyzed.
Go search inside his book, I dare you.

Chad V. Meister is an evangelical Christian apologist and Professor of Philosophy at Bethel College in Indiana, USA. Chad edited the 2010 book, The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity (Oxford Handbooks) [480 pages, hardback $116].

Of this book we read on Amazon:
There exists today a rich and abounding diversity of religions in the world-a diversity with respect to both belief and practice. But it is a diversity that poses many challenges and raises many questions, most especially in a pluralistic milieu. How do we engage in effective dialogue with religious others? What should public education reflect in a religiously pluralistic context? What role might the diversity of religions play in developing a global ethic? How do the various religious traditions deal with the plurality of religious belief and practice? What role does gender play in such discourse? The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity is a volume of thirty-three original chapters that cover numerous issues in religious diversity and draw readers into the heart of the current dialogue. It is divided into three parts: Contours of Religious Diversity, Key Issues Relevant to Religious Diversity, and Differing Perspectives on Religious Diversity. Chapters in the first part trace the general features of religious diversity discussions from four different fields: history, religious studies, philosophy, and sociology. Part two explores key theological, philosophical, sociological, and public policy issues relevant to religious diversity. The third and final part provides differing analyses of religious diversity from multi-faith, gender, and global points of view. An indispensable guide for scholars and students, the Handbook makes a state-of-the-art contribution to the field with essays crafted by experts representing a wide variety of religious and philosophical perspectives.
Go search inside his book too, I dare you.

I have not read either one of them. I don't need to. But they look like really good books. Juergensmeyer's book seems focused on merely describing global religious diversity. Meister's book seems focused on the problem of diversity itself and how different religious traditions deal with it. If I were to get just one of them I would get Meister's.

My challenge to Meister, since he's a evangelical Christian apologist who probably understands the problem better than any other evangelical, is how does he propose this problem can be settled? I have offered the only objective test to solve this problem in my new book, if it can be settled at all. What's his alternative? What is anyone's alternative?

Which brings me to the fact that neither of these books present the non-religious alternative. It's interesting to me first of all, in that atheism is not considered a religion by these editors. For if it were then why don't they have chapters on it? Stop making such an absurd claim that it is. Or, insist in the next edition of these books it's included.

It's interesting to me secondly, because this omission accurately highlights an important point about the debates between believers and non-believers. Believers are narrow atheists in that they don't believe in other religions but one, their own. However, they are not being consistent. For they reject other religions but their own for the same reason why I reject them all as a wide atheist, the lack of sufficient evidence. That places wide atheists like myself in a different category.

Imagine that during this March Madness month of college basketball there are two brackets leading up the the final championship game between (a) the various narrow atheists, or believers, and (b) the wide atheist, or non-religious option. On the right side we'll place the various representatives of (a) and on the left side we'll place someone who represents (b).

Before there can be a final championship game religionists must first determine among themselves who is their best contender for the championship game. In every part of the globe religionists who circumvent this proper protocol will have their provincial debates with wide atheists as if those are the only two options to consider: Hinduism vs. atheism, Islam vs. atheism, Orthodox Judaism vs. atheism, Christianity vs atheism, and so on. The implied assumption is that the culturally dominant religion gets to act like it has earned its place in the championship game just by virtue of the fact that it is the dominant cultural religion. That is emphatically NOT the case. Even if we had several separate smaller brackets for each of the various sects within a culturally dominant religion they themselves could never declare a winner.

If the proper protocol were followed there wouldn’t even be a final debate between a particular dominant cultural religion and an wide atheist. That’s because no religion can rise to the top by legitimately beating all of the others, thereby winning a rightful place in the finals. They would all just endlessly beat up on themselves with no clear winners. And that’s precisely one of the major reasons why we’re wide atheists in the first place. It’s because no religion can rightfully be shown to have any more epistemic warrant than the many others. They all share the same epistemic grounding. They all stand on the quicksand of faith based reasoning. The problem is faith itself. Faith has no method for solving their own disputes. With faith almost anything can be affirmed and almost anything can be denied too, sometimes in the face of overwhelming objective evidence to the contrary. That's why the Outsider Test for Faith is the only way to settle these disputes, if they can be solved at all. Take the test, will you? See what you get.