The middle way between intolerance and relativism

Some people fear that if they cannot assert that their own spiritual path is the one and only true path, that they will fall into a muddled relativism in which any old way of behaving is as good as any other. But there is a middle way.

Let us turn to an old metaphor that has been used to promote religious tolerance: the spiritual journey as a climb up a mountain. The point about tolerance is made by claiming that there is more than one path up the mountain.

I believe that is true. But in no way does that imply that every path goes up the mountain! Meandering around aimlessly in a swamp is not a path to the mountaintop. Heading straight away from the mountain is not a path to the mountaintop. Getting distracted by shiny rocks down on the plain and spending all one's time collecting them is not a path to the mountaintop. And signing on with one guide, going a little ways up the mountain, quitting, heading back down, signing up with a new guide, going a little ways up, quitting... is also not a way to the top.


  1. Gene,

    Have you seen this?

    "...commentators complained bitterly, for example, when John Paul II publish the declaration entitled Dominus Iesus, which presented the traditional Catholic teaching that Jesus Christ is the sole source of salvation. The best way to respond to such concerns is to show how the many faiths, religions, and philosophies do, in fact, to varying degrees, already participate in the fullness of Christ's gifts and are implicitly related to the Catholic Church. ...Buddhists and Catholics come together in a keen sense of the finally ineffable quality of ultimate reality, and in their commitment to definite forms of mystical contemplation. Catholics and Hindus share a profound sense of the immanence of God to the world. All of these points of contact, all of these "rays of light," are not only semina verbi (seeds of the world word) but also semina catholicitatis (seeds of catholicity).

    -Father Robert Barron, Catholicism: Journey into the Heart of the Faith

    Father Robert Barron has a PhD in Philosophy from Institut Catholique de Paris, and he is the newly appointed Rector of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake. In other words, I take it that he has a handle on the "Catholic thing"; what he is saying is true for Catholicism.

    I just wanted to share some insights from Catholicism that not only denounces intolerance of other religions, but embraces the truths that are found in them - a theme in your post.

  2. Very nice, Alex!

    The Catholic monk Thomas Merton died at a conference devoted to Catholic-Buddhist dialogue, and co-authored a book with a Buddhist monk.

  3. Gene, thanks! I must read this book now!

    1. Zen and the Birds of Appetite.

  4. Along similar lines: