Religions making exclusive claims to owning truth such as Christianity have had to contend with a number of ideological challenges over the millennia, especially those threatening this ownership. In western zones (such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and even in South Africa) there are several areas of primacy where ideological challenges to the religious particularism and a Christian worldview are present:  religious particularism,  religious pluralism,  post-Enlightenment secularism, and  post-modern philosophy.
Particularism is a feature of many world religions, particularly those of the Abrahamic kind (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), which claim exclusive ownership of symbols such as Truth and God. In the West, Christian particularism has met robust opposition from advocates of a post-modernist philosophical mindset and of pluralistic religious worldviews. Such critics of Christian particularism charge that the Christian religion is intolerant in its outlook. It is intolerant because it refuses to tolerate the notion that other worldviews have equal ownership to symbols such as God and Truth. Through the Christian worldview’s claim of ownership of symbols it must by definition reject that anyone else outside of its own worldview can also have legitimate ownership. Proponents of religiously pluralistic worldviews typically do not wish for any one group or worldview to monopolize religious truth, and therefore are bound to be critical of religions that attempt to do so. Secularists and atheists are also critical of religious particularism simply because they are already skeptical of religious worldviews themselves, including Christianity. If religious worldviews constitute little more than myths, fantasies, and falsehoods then they cannot be true in their particularists beliefs and claims.
Although Christianity is still the largest religion in terms of followers within the United Kingdom (59.5%) and the United States (70.6%) the ideological climate, as evidenced by the smorgasbord of religious beliefs accessible to and accepted by members of society, is far more pluralistic today than ever before. The United States is home to Bahá’ís, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native American religionists, New Agers (including Pagan and Wiccan proponents), Rastafarians, Sikhs, and Taoists. Certainly the social setting is diverse. Religion historian Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1916-2000) once penned that a single religious perspective within a pluralistic society is akin to the Earth being a minor planet in a vast galaxy, and that it would therefore not be uncommon for a theologian’s readers to be “Buddhists, or to have Muslim husbands, or Hindu colleagues” (1). For Smith, it was beyond doubt that people living with pluralistic societies in which disparate theologies, faiths, beliefs, and religions were believed in and practiced. This is why a number of scholars of religion are focusing on a comparative study of religions (2). It is also why Christian apologists have found it necessary to debate intellectual thinkers and proponents of other religious (and non-religious) worldviews.
Some notable apologists contend that Western culture is “post-Christian,” and that this is largely a by-product of the Enlightenment Age. The Age of Enlightenment refers to a movement within European history (beginning in the 17th century and ending in the 19 century) that gained traction in several influential countries, notably England, France, and Germany, and shaped philosophical, scientific, and political ideology and discourse. One of the major shifts was “away from the authority of religion to the authority of science in the production of knowledge” (3). Although a number of the Enlightenment theorists were in fact theists, it was ultimately shifts away form religious authority that came to influence later Western intellectuals up until the 21st century. It is not uncommon to find Western academics who do not consider theological and religious knowledge to be possible, valuable, or even worthwhile, and some have even questioned the legitimacy of theology as an academic discipline. Many Western intellectuals have since elevated the hard sciences to the superior position over theology (and the humanities in general) in the pursuit for accumulating knowledge. They also hold that reason and religion are necessarily in conflict with one another, and cannot be rendered compatible. Reason will orientate one towards atheistic or agnostic conclusions and beliefs as opposed to religious or theistic ones. Christian apologists attempt to offset these challenges by both defensive and offensive approach. On the defensive front, they will defend the Christian worldviews historically and philosophically. They argue that charges against the supernatural and miracles do not succeed, and that there is adequate historical evidence to believe in the deity and resurrection of Christ. On the offensive, the apologist will attempt to show the shortcomings, inconsistencies, and logical problems with secular ideologies such as naturalism and materialism, and why Christian theism provides a better account and explanation of reality.
Post-modern philosophy is a further challenge to Christian particularism. Post-modernists, through way of methodology, typically seek to enter into the subjective perspectives of individuals being studied as opposed to approaching them as one would an object in the science laboratory, or as an expert over what is being investigated. This approach is often underpinned by a philosophical stance which objects to the possibility of objective knowledge, rationality, and truth. This rejection, if followed to its conclusions, would undermine religious knowledge and religious truth. Put side by side, Enlightenment and post-modern philosophy occupy two very different and dichotomous perspectives. On the one hand, post-Enlightenment secularists prioritize objective, rational, and scientific thought processes and methodologies, many of which are assumed to undermine traditional religion, while post-modernists typically reject such ratio-centric approaches, and hope to distance themselves from a “doctor knows best” approach to understanding phenomena. Both these forms of skepticism are incompatible with one another, but they share the similarity of their skepticism of religious and Christian particularism. Christian apologists will attempt to defend philosophical views informed by the Christian worldview, including that truth is an objective feature which is both knowable and discoverable. On the offensive, apologists have typically charged that post-modern philosophy undercuts itself by denying the possibility of objective truth, which would denounce any claims that the post-modernists make about the nature of reality itself.
1. Smith, W. Quoted by Walter Capps in Religious Studies: The Making of a Discipline (1995). p. 268.
2. Capps, W. 1995. Religious Studies: The Making of a Discipline. p. 267-331.
3. Beattie, T. 2008. The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on Religion.