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Religious Relativity

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 1000
  • Category: Christian

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Relativism is the theory that truths, values, and norms are different for different people, depending on their cultural, economic, political and religious backgrounds. The theory of religious relativism requires students to tolerate other people’s religious beliefs and practices, at the same time recognizing their own beliefs and practices as just one system in a world of diverse, yet equally legitimate, religious systems. In todays society we see an array of people practicing, preaching, and learning religion. We find people everyday that recognize their own beliefs to be beliefs and nothing more but we also see people who consider their beliefs to be the truth and hold that truth to be the highest. I believe it is entirely possible for us to step outside of our own belief system and to tolerate and understand other people’s religious beliefs. I believe religion teachers exemplify the theory of religious relativism the best. Religion teachers can very well believe in Christianity, Buddhism, or Hinduism but they recognize other religions as well. Religion teachers don’t preach to their students, they merely explain each religion and the background behind it no matter what they themselves believe in. The teachers’ purpose is not to preach to the students. The teacher simply provides an overview of each type of religion in a non-biased way.

The academic study of religion requires us to adopt relativism as part of our methodology so that we can appreciate every religion we learn about. Methodology is the process and a way of searching and receiving knowledge. Relativism is needed. I think my beliefs have affected the way I study religion this semester. I don’t call myself a Christian or Catholic but I do believe in God. That’s about as far as my religious beliefs go. I don’t hold my religion or beliefs to be the highest and I don’t think they are superior to all other beliefs or religions. I am very open and find it very interesting to learn about other religions and see what different people believe in. Religious relativism is very easy for me to comprehend and is very easy for me to practice. Being that I don’t consider my points and views to be the “absolute truth” then it is very easy for me to appreciate other religions, beliefs and practices. Each religion has it’s own beliefs and practices and it is vital for us to understand that.

“Ethnocentrism is the view that one particular ethnic group is somehow superior to all others. The word ethnocentrism derives from the Greek word ethnos, meaning nations or people, and the English word center. A common idiom for ethnocentrism is; tunnel vision. In this context, ethnocentrism is the view that a particular ethnic group’s system of beliefs and values is morally superior to all others” (All About Philosophy. Bagish. Page 3). Therefore, ethnocentrism is a bad concept when we are dealing with cross-cultural learning. If one doesn’t adopt relativism into their life then cross-cultural learning will be impaired. Adopting relativism will help us to see things that others believe and things that we are not familiar with from someone else’s perspective before we jump to conclusions or make harsh judgements. By adopting relativism we will understand that all views have no absolute truth, that there is no single religious belief that can be universally true and that everyone has differences in perceptions.

I don’t believe there are circumstances where relativism shouldn’t be applied. However, I can understand why people in the old days would refute the theory of relativism. For example, some religions such as Hinduism are considered to be orthoprax and therefore, would require anyone who believed in their religion to emphasize practice, or adherence to the law, as the pre-requisite for salvation. Also, pre-contact native hawaiian religion was very much an orthoprax religion and required for their believers to do all sorts of different things to show that they were true followers. For example, in pre-contact native hawaiian religion, believers would perform rituals such as sacrifice and offerings to the god, Ku.

When looking at religion in this sense, I can understand why people who whole-heartedly give everything they have into a certain religion wouldn’t be open to any other religion or belief. Though, when looking at most orthoprax religions, I can tell why the followers of those certain religions would dislike the issue of relativism. On the other hand, in today’s society we don’t really find people who practice pre-contact native hawaiian religion and in America we barely see people practicing Raja yoga. So, we can also say that relativism should be adopted by most people in today’s society. Especially in religion classes. The purpose of a religion class is not to preach and sway the student into believing or following a certain religion, the gist of the class is to provide the students with information and the theory that relativism can help them appreciate the study of different religions.

I believe that a student who is learning about religion definitely has a responsibility to respect all the beliefs and practices of others. Religion class is based upon learning and appreciating others’ beliefs, practices, and values. It wouldn’t make sense for a student who holds their religion to be the highest and the most noble to study religion because everything the teacher tries to explain to this student would be insignificant. This student would not be able to learn about new religions in a non-biased way. There is a lot of intolerance present when it comes to religion. I don’t think anyone should tolerate intolerance, especially in religion. Everyone who studies religion should know that there are differences in perception no matter what and no single religious belief can be true for anyone. The theory of religious relativism requires students to tolerate other people’s religious beliefs and practices, at the same time recognizing their own beliefs and practices as just one system in a world of diverse, yet equally legitimate, religious systems.

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