World Peace was center stage during Madonna’s halftime performance at this year’s Super Bowl. For our Wondering Fair readers uninterested in American culture or sports, I will spare you the details of the well-choreographed and highly entertaining spectacle. This essay focuses less on the glitz and glamour of the Super Bowl than on the possibility of world peace in an age of religious pluralism. 2011 as we know was a year rife with protests, so is world peace in the way Madonna envisions possible? Can we all learn to “coexist,” as the trendy bumper stickers encourage us to do? Madonna’s halftime performance seems to suggest that we can achieve global shalom, but it’s hard to imagine such a world when our current economic, political, and religious differences are so severe.
On the religious front, one proposal to help establish world peace is to adopt a position called religious pluralism. Promulgated by academic theologians like Wilfred Cantwell Smith and John Hick, religious pluralism is the idea that all religions are essentially equal paths up the same divine mountain. Each simply recognizes Truth in a different way, though all roads lead to God. In Hick’s own words, “pluralism is the view that the great world faiths embody different perceptions and conceptions of, and correspondingly different responses to, the Real or the Ultimate from within the major variant cultural ways of being human….” Here, in his desire to remain religiously neutral, Hick substitutes the word “Real” for God, a term which has a clear Abrahamic bias. The benefits of religious pluralism, it is thought, are that people may stop trying to convert or coerce others into their way of thinking and thereby live together in harmony.
Despite good intentions, there are several problems with religious pluralism. First, it is methodologically flawed. In an attempt to find what is common to all faiths, the pluralist is forced to ignore seriously important elements of each religion. The things that make religions unique—such as the Trinity for Christians or the prophecy of Muhammad for Muslims—are routinely trivialized and viewed as unnecessary additions. To suggest that Christians or Muslims willingly give up their core doctrines in favor of a far more ambiguous pluralist picture of the divine seems ill-conceived.
Second, pluralism is morally problematic. If the Real does not reveal Itself to people in history, then the religious practices of faithful Hindus, Jews, Christians, and Muslims are based on misunderstandings. Since the Real hides Itself from everyone (except for Hick and other pluralists!) and remains fundamentally mysterious to us, we are in the dark morally and cannot live in a way that pleases the Real. This deep agnosticism which runs through religious pluralism makes it especially difficult to discern right from wrong.
Third, pluralism is logically impossible. As many scholars have pointed out, the idea that all religions are true in their own way flies in the face of common sense. All religions make exclusive truth-claims and prioritize their understanding of reality over against others. Religious pluralism, with its nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the Real, is no different. Ironically, the desire to create a universal religion for everyone only leads to the denial of all other truth-claims made by religious believers. How can Hinduism, with its claim to 330 million gods, be just as true as Theravada Buddhism, which has zero gods, or Judaism, which has only one?
Finally, from a Christian perspective, religious pluralism fails to acknowledge Jesus as Lord. To be sure, this is unproblematic for persons of other faiths, but for Christians who want to be true to their historic beliefs, Jesus must be seen not merely as one manifestation of an unknown higher deity we call the Real. Rather, Jesus made known his identity in history by walking among people and saying things like, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” and “I and the Father are one.” His exclusive truth-claims, as we know, not only caused consternation and led to his crucifixion, but they were and continue to be fundamental to the Christian story. Despite its lack of Super Bowl glitz and glamour, it is this story, I would argue, that promises to end all protests and ultimately usher in real world peace.
 John Hick, “Religious Pluralism.” Reprinted in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. Ed by Michael Peterson, William Hasker, et al. (New York: Oxford UP, 2001), 565.
 For more resources, see Harold Netland’s Encountering Religious Pluralism, Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One, Vinoth Ramachandra’s Faiths in Conflict, John Stackhouse’s No Other Gods Before Me, and Ravi Zacharias’ Jesus Among Other Gods.
 Italics added. John 14:6, 10:30 (NIV)
*Thanks also to Professor Ivan Satyavrata for his helpful lecture on religious pluralism.