I’ve been thinking lately about theories about religious diversity lately, because I’m trying to finish up an article on that topic. One family of theories about religious diversity is what philosophers call religious pluralism – the idea that many religions are equally good in some way(s).
This idea gets a lot of lip service in modern Hinduism. A number of modern-era Hindu thinkers, notably Gandhi, have heavily emphasized that the various religious are like so many flowers in a garden – each beautiful and unique, with seemingly only personal preferences as a basis for one to pick between them, and which are in no sense in competition. They’re all paths to God, all true, or maybe all “valid.” (It’s actually hard to get beyond the rhetoric to find just what the theoretical claim is.)
At the same time it is not uncommon for a loudly pluralistic Hindu to assume that Hinduism is far greater than its would-be equals – that it is the best, oldest, most tolerant, purest, or most beneficial religion, and maybe the source of all the others too.
A lot of people assume a close connection between theories of religious diversity and religious tolerance. It is assumed the pluralistic views will be correlated with tolerance, whereas exclusivist (one religion is uniquely best) theories will go hand in hand with intolerance.
But I’m not sure there’s any close connection. There are no logical entailments between the pairs; it is coherent that a person should be a intolerant pluralist, or a tolerant exclusivist. I think it is an empirical matter, to be investigated by social scientists, whether and how much there’s a correlation between pluralistic theories of religious diversity and actual tolerance.
Modern Hindus can be very tolerant of other religions, or very intolerant. I was reminded of this lately when I ran across this video on Hindu nationalism.