Problems of Religious Luck, Ch. 5: "Scaling the ‘Brick Wall’: Measuring and Censuring Strongly Fideistic Religious Orientation"

In Problems of Religious Luck: Assessing the Limits of Reasonable Religious Disagreement. Lanham, MD, USA & London, UK: Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield (2019)
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This chapter sharpens the book’s criticism of exclusivist responsible to religious multiplicity, firstly through close critical attention to arguments which religious exclusivists provide, and secondly through the introduction of several new, formal arguments / dilemmas. Self-described ‘post-liberals’ like Paul Griffiths bid philosophers to accept exclusivist attitudes and beliefs as just one among other aspects of religious identity. They bid us to normalize the discourse Griffiths refers to as “polemical apologetics,” and to view its acceptance as the only viable form of pluralism. This reasoning may seem initially plausible, but on closer examination his and other’s defence of the reasonableness of exclusivist responses to religious multiplicity fall apart. Informed by our study of luck-leaning theological explanations of religious difference and the counter-inductive thinking they exemplify, I argue that exclusivist responses to religious multiplicity are best explained by personal and group bias, and that a discourse between exclusivist authors or sects is beyond the pale of reasonable disagreement. Our study of descriptive (psychological) and prescriptive (religious) fideism in the first sections of Chapter Five suggests that we turn back to formal features of doxastic methods (i.e., of how people process), features that may be straightforwardly tested for in studies utilizing scales of religious orientation. These formal features allow us to better recognize not only the multiplicity of models of faith that religious adherents adhere to, but also that the relationship between forms of fideism is scalar: there is a spectrum of views running from rationalism to fideism, and at the fideistic end from moderate to strong forms of religious fideism. I further explain why developing tests and markers for a high degree of fideistic orientation is important to all those who study religion. The second half of the chapter turns to criticism or censure of exclusivist attitudes to religious multiplicity, in contrast to apologetic defenses of exclusivism. While we have examined the close connections between fideism and fundamentalism, and again between fundamentalism and exclusivism in earlier chapters, a sharper focus reveals an important but little-recognized distinction reflected in the literature: the distinction between religion-specific (or particularist) and mutualist exclusivism. The mutualist doesn’t talk just about the right of adherents of one specific religion to assert exclusivism, but the adherents of any and all “home” religions. I argue that some previously unrecognized problems for the reasonableness of exclusivist responses to religious multiplicity are brought to light when we make the distinction between the two basic ways to understand the claim that exclusivists are making. I put particularist (Barth, Lindbeck, Plantinga) and mutualist (Griffiths, Gellman, Margalit, D’Costa) defenses of exclusivism on the horns of a dilemma, and argue that despite the popularity it presently enjoys among post-liberal theologians, a close examination reveals that the very conceptual coherence of mutualist exclusivism is in serious doubt.

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Guy Axtell
Radford University


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