Religious inclusivism necessary

I am writing in response to the opinions piece “Inclusivism versus Intolerance” written by Aleksandra Biskupska ’03. In this article, sparked by remarks made by Grace Rubenstein ’01 on the speech given by Chaplain Rick Spalding at convocation, Ms. Biskupska offers a critique of the chaplaincy and the idea she refers to as “religious subjectivism” – ‘my religion is right for me’ rather than ‘my religion is right.’” In response to efforts of the chaplaincy, she says that “The ‘multi-faith’, ‘pluralistic’ nature of many of its current efforts is abandoning the ‘I believe’ of faith for the insubstantial ‘I think’ or ‘I feel.’”

Like many Christians at Williams, I too have often felt frustrated by the pressure to apologize for my faith, which I often feel is put upon me by those who allegedly uphold tolerance and open-mindedness. It was not until I came to Williams that I really understood the feeling of having my religious community attacked by those who, ironically, criticized Christianity for being too judgmental.

At the same time, however, I would argue that the efforts made by Christians like Rick Spalding to embrace a more inclusive vision of religious life at Williams do not imply a lack of commitment to Christian beliefs, as Ms. Biskupska suggests. Theologians such as Keith Ward have argued that if one is to take seriously the notion of universal human salvation, the suggestion that God does not work through other traditions seems almost absurd. Furthermore, to suggest that God’s efforts within these traditions is somehow inferior to his working through Christian faith would imply lack of commitment to humanity which Christians should feel uncomfortable with. One could therefore argue that “multi-faith” initiatives represent not a lack of commitment to the foundations of Christian faith or, in the words of Ms. Biskupska, an understanding of Jesus Christ as “just a sort of a nice guy,” but a theologically sound interpretation of the consequences of the Incarnation, passion, and resurrection for all of humanity.

The problem that many religious believers I have spoken to – including Christians, Muslims and Jews – have with statements such as “my religion is right” is not that such statements are too “offensive” or “politically incorrect,” but that such statements border on a lack of respect for the mystery of the divine. I would argue that this respect for the incomprehensibility of God and the consequent uncertainty which must therefore accompany religious belief is congruous to beliefs held within the Catholic Church since the days of the Patristic fathers.

The Spirit behind ideas like “my religion is right for me” does not represent an “insubstantial” lack of belief, but a pious respect for a deity who is beyond comprehension yet who reaches out in absolute commitment to all of humanity. I would invite Ms. Biskupska to reconsider the efforts to develop a more inclusive understanding of religious belief made by some of her fellow Christians such as Chaplain Spalding; they may not be evidence of a wish-washy, mediocre sentiment, but instead representative of the deepest personal commitment to the foundational ideas of Christian faith.

Respectfully,

Kate Gibbons ’03