Chapter 1
World Religions and
Religious Pluralism
Religious Pluralism in Canada
• The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees “freedom of
conscience and religion.”
• At Confederation in 1867, Canada had a population of around 3 million
people, mostly Aboriginal, French, and English.
• Today, the population is about 34 million people of tremendous diversity.
• Canadians speak many languages, practice many religions, and come
from many cultures and ethnic groups.
• All ethnicities, cultures, languages, and religions contribute to the fabric
of Canada and its identity.
• By law, all Canadians should participate equally in every aspect of
Canadian life while preserving their cultural heritage.
• Key factors that led to Canada’s diversity are:
– Immigration
– Canada’s policy of multiculturalism
Canada’s Policy of Multiculturalism:
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The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees
– freedom of conscience
– freedom of religion
The Multicultural Act of 1988 broadens these rights for all Canadians regardless of
their religion, culture, language or ethnic group.
History of Religious Pluralism
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Canada has mostly been a Christian country.
When the first explorers brought their Christian faith to Canada, it became the
faith for most Aboriginal peoples.
As immigration increased, so did religious pluralism.
Canadians today practise many faiths including Sikhism, Islam, Judaism,
Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Jainism, Baha’i, and Confucianism.
Canada’s diversity of faith and culture will continue to grow in years to come.
Some Ground Rules for Living Together
1. Respect the faith and religion of others
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To respect a person means to respect who they are.
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Our faith is a large part of our identity and needs to be respected.
2. There is no neutral stance
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Each person has a set of beliefs by which he or she lives his or her life, and
that influences encounters with other belief systems.
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To enter into dialogue with people of other faiths, Catholics need to be firmly
grounded in their own faith.
3. The truth of other religions
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Those who follow a particular religion believe the teachings of their faith to
be true.
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Despite the differences in our beliefs, it is important to appreciate and
respect what others hold to be true.
4. Accept the importance of religion
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Religion, even with its different forms, is important for human beings and
their happiness.
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Religious difference is a sign of human diversity.
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Christianity celebrates this diversity while recognizing our oneness as children
of God.
The Goals of Dialogue
Tolerance
– To be tolerant means to respect the rights and differences of others, but not
to be afraid to speak out when the beliefs of another bring about injustice.
Interaction
– Religions must dialogue with each other, not just live peacefully alongside
each other.
Christianity and Evangelization
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Why evangelize?
– because through Jesus we come to know God as healer, lover of the poor, and
redeemer
– because of Jesus’ resurrection, we see Jesus as the Word of God incarnate
– through the stories of Jesus, we talk to others about God
Early Evangelization: The Great Commission
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Before his death, Jesus commissioned the disciples to go out and continue to spread
the message of God’s love to all people.
The disciples first went to fellow Jews but soon began to spread the message to
anyone who would listen.
The message of Jesus was not always accepted, but even at risk of their own lives, the
disciples continued their mission, attracting followers
– by their example
– by the image of God they presented
– by the love they had for one another and the experience of how love broke
down barriers between people
Unfortunately, the relationship between Christians and Jews could not be maintained
and they eventually parted ways. Christianity grew from a movement within Judaism
to a religion.
Christianity and the Roman Empire
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In the 2nd century, Christianity made inroads into the Roman Empire, healing the sick
and forming powerful communities of faith.
– but they were still a minority—outsiders
By the 3rd century, great philosophical scholars began to also teach the Christian
message, and Christians became the “cultured people” and a driving force in Roman
society.
In the 4th century, Christianity became the sole legal religion of the Roman Empire.
A Mission to the World
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With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Church took on a new, important role in
society.
– In the West, Bishops became civic leaders, judges and rulers.
– In the East, the Roman Empire was replaced by the Byzantine Empire, and the
Church was allied to the power of the courts.
The focus shifted to a concern for the internal structure and dynamics of the Church,
and gave rise to a new belief:
– Only those who gathered together to share God’s love within the sacred space
of the Church could share in God’s love and salvation.
The Middle Ages
• Between 600 and 1500, Christianity became the dominant religion of Europe.
• It spread north and east into the Scandinavian countries, and far into Russia.
• Most evangelization was the work of monks who set up monasteries across
Europe.
• The Church opened universities, monasteries, and cathedrals, and became a
strong political force in society.
• The belief that to be saved, one had to recognize Jesus as God’s Messiah led
Church leaders to pressure—and sometimes force—non-believers to convert.
Relations with Other Religions: Catholics, Jews, and Muslims
• After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire, Jews became a minority
living throughout Europe and were often forced to live in ghettos and wear
distinctive clothing.
• During the Middle ages, relationships between Christians and Jews and between
Christians and Muslims were strained by conflict as Christians began a political
movement called the Crusades to regain the Holy Land.
• Jewish towns along the Danube and Rhine rivers were attacked by Christian
soldiers.
• In the 8th century, Muslims conquered Christian strongholds in Africa and Spain.
• Then they began attacks on Christian Europe from Spain and Turkey, but were
stopped.
• In 1095, the pope began a series of successful crusades to regain the Holy Land and
protect Byzantine Christians in Constantinople.
• In 1291, Muslims recaptured the Holy Land and went on to conquer Constantinople
in 1453.
• Muslim advances were finally stopped in 1683.
• Christian writers including Raymond Lull, St. Francis of Assisi, and William Tripoli
attempted to engage Muslims in dialogue.
• In Spain, Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella recaptured their territory
from the Muslim armies and expelled all Muslims and Jews from Spain.
Modern Times: 1500–1950
The Protestant Reformation
• Around 1500, some groups within Christianity called for major changes or
reforms to the Christian Church.
• They broke away from the Church to create Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and
Anabaptist communities.
• Princes and kings felt forced to choose sides.
• Wars erupted between Catholics and Protestants.
Colonization and the Spread of Christianity
• In 1492, Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, and Europeans became
aware of people who had never heard of Christ.
• At that time, Christians believed that other religions were “false” and people
belonging to them needed to be converted in order to share in God’s saving
love.
• Missionaries felt duty-bound to follow the explorers to America to spread the
gospel and baptize the inhabitants into Christianity.
The Age of Dialogue: 1950–Present
The Protestant Reformation
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By the middle of the 20th century, missionary approaches started to change.
The Church no longer wanted to be identified with the colonial practices of
Europe.
Dialogue replaced condemnation.
The Catholic Church changed the approach to other religions:
1) realization that there were good, worthy elements in other religions
2) renewed emphasis on bringing the message by focusing on the well-being
of other peoples and providing socio-economic development in areas of
education, medicine, and social aid
3) salvation was understood as being for this world as well as the next world
4) the focus was not only on the individual, but also on the community and
society
Between 1962 and 1965, the Second Vatican Council became more publicly and
officially involved, with documents emerging from the council dramatically
changing the Church’s relationship with other religions
Catholics and Other Religions in the Twentieth
and Early Twenty-First Centuries
• In the 20th century, technological advances contributed to the development of
globalization and an awareness of all human beings as members of one human
race.
• Religions had more and more contact with each other.
• They realized they needed to understand their differences so they might work
together to make the world more livable.
• This began the long and difficult process of removing prejudices, distrust, and
historical memories that contributed to conflicts in the past.
• During the gatherings of the Second Vatican Council, bishops, especially those
from Asia, demanded the topic of interreligious dialogue be discussed at the
Council.
• The following are the guidelines that the Second Vatican Council decided should
be considered in interreligious dialogue.
1. God’s Salvation Is Offered to All People
• Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has taught that all human beings can be
saved, even if they are not baptized or do not believe in Christ.
• Catholics believe God—Father, Son, and Spirit—is the creator of all humanity.
• All humans are images of the same God.
• All humans are one in spite of all their differences.
• There is only one way of salvation and it comes as a gift from God, offered to
all.
Implication
• Other religions are ways of life that are filled “with a profound religious
sense.”
• They can lead to salvation because all humans can achieve salvation by
following their conscience.
• All human beings find their origin and ultimate happiness in God, whatever
their religion.
• All religions are an expression of the quest to look for God.
• Catholics see goodness in the minds and hearts of men, and in their diverse
religious practices and cultures.
2. Jesus Christ Is Present in Other Religions
• Catholics believe
– God is the creator of all human beings
– Because all human beings are created in the image of God, they are the
image of the Trinity, and also reflect Jesus Christ
– Jesus is the only way to God
• During Vatican II, the Church professed the beliefs that
– God wants all people to be saved, even non-members of the Church
– there is one universal plan of salvation in which all humans take part, even
if they don’t realize it
– Christ is present in other religions in some manner
– the fullness of Christ can only be found where Jesus is fully worshipped and
followed
– the love in other religions is not separate from the love God has for all
humanity in Christ
Implication
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Catholics see “rays” of Christ or “seeds” of the Word in other religions, even
though other religions do not see Christ in their religion.
Catholics speak openly about Christ to other religions to identify similarities and
unity with another religion.
Christ is the great mystery of God’s love at the centre of Catholic faith, and this
is the message Catholics bring to others.
3. The Holy Spirit Is at Work in Other Religions
• The mission of the Spirit is to complete the work of Jesus and lead people to
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Christ and to the full truth.
The Holy Spirit completes and realizes what Jesus Christ set in motion
during his life.
Jesus’ story needs to be told everywhere.
Catholics believe the Holy Spirit works within each person.
The Holy Spirit offers all people the possibility of being associated with the
paschal mystery, and therefore the Church recognizes there is much that is
good, true, and holy in other religions.
Implication
• Catholics believe they may also come to a fuller truth about Jesus by
listening to the workings of God in all religions.
• The same Holy Spirit that lives in the Church lives in other religions.
• What the Spirit does in other religions will not contradict what it flourishes
in the Church.
• While many differences may exist among people, the differences are less
important than the unity.
4. Dialogue Is Part of the Church’s Mission
• Interreligious dialogue is an act of the Holy Spirit leading people to the truth.
• Catholics believe the Holy Spirit flourishes in the Church.
Implication
• If the Spirit is at work in other religions, it must be found and appreciated and
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received by the Church.
It is the Church’s mission to listen to what other religions have to say and
discern what is of God and what is not of God.
Dialogue is essential.
The Church accepts that God is found in prayers, practices, insights, and
traditions of other religions.
If the Church fails to be receptive of other religions, it may be failing in its
mission to proclaim Christ.
Proclamation and Mission
• The history of the Catholic Church is full of good and courageous works, and
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of holy and faithful people.
At times, it has also lost sight of the dignity of all people of other religions.
Catholics still believe what God did through Jesus Christ is essential for human
life to flourish.
The Church must and always will proclaim the Good News of the Gospel.
The mission of evangelization, of bringing the Gospel to others, must
continue.
New efforts are being made to bring the Gospel to countries in the West,
where people are doubtful and skeptical.
Pope John Paul II called for a “new evangelization”—new in its enthusiasm,
method, and expression.
It should be done with respect to the different paths of different people, and
with sensitivity to the diversity of cultures so that particular values are not
rejected.
Part of new evangelization is dialogue with other religions.
The first aim is not conversation, but mutual understanding.
Four Types of Interreligious Dialogue
• All Catholics are called to participate in interreligious dialogue.
• In dialogue, Catholics give witness to what they believe, deepen their
religious commitment, and seek to understand the other’s way of life.
• in 1991, the Church’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue outlined
four ways of achieving dialogue
1. The Dialogue of Everyday Life
• It is a dialogue of courtesy, openness, and becoming good neighbours.
• It means sharing what we have in common: our joys and sorrows, helping the
needy, understanding the challenges others face living in Canada as part of a
minority religion or culture.
2. The Dialogue of Action
• The Gospel of Jesus aimed to create a new humanity, to take care of the poor
and the sick, to bring back those who are excluded, to liberate the unfree and
addicted.
• This concern for others, for their full development as persons and their need
for freedom, is shared with other religions.
• Catholics can work with other religions for the well-being of humanity, to
safeguard the rights of individuals, promote people’s aspirations for
happiness, protect nature, show solidarity with the victims of injustice, and
struggle for peace and justice.
3. The Dialogue of Theological Exchange
• Church leaders and theologians must take part in intellectual dialogues to
understand each other’s religious traditions, ways of life, and spiritual values.
• Once mutual trust has been gained, bitterness from past actions,
inconsistencies in each other’s positions, prejudices, and human rights can be
discussed.
• Catholics will find reincarnation, worshipping of deities, polygamy, and the
caste system unacceptable, but they must become part of the dialogue of
truth.
• We must remember that the differences between people are less important
than the unity.
4. The Dialogue of Religious Experience
• In several parts of Canada, people from different religious traditions come
together to speak with each other about their spirituality.
• Catholics may explain to others about prayer life and meditation.
• They may talk about their beliefs and how they search for God.
• This type of spiritual dialogue can lead to a deep appreciation of what moves
members of other religions, and a deeper appreciation of our own faith.
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