God positively wills the plurality and diversity of Religion

During the Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Pope Francis to the United Arab Emirates (3-5 FEBRUARY 2019), the Pontiff signed the following: “A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” which is often called simply “Human Fraternity”. It has been suggested by a Bishop in Italy that the next Encyclical of Pope Francis will be on this topic.

Below are my comments on a few excerpts from Human Fraternity.

“We affirm also the importance of awakening religious awareness and the need to revive this awareness in the hearts of new generations through sound education and an adherence to moral values and upright religious teachings. In this way we can confront tendencies that are individualistic, selfish, conflicting, and also address radicalism and blind extremism in all its forms and expressions.”

~ Religious extremism is to be condemned, even within Catholicism. The far right and the far left have both arrived at positions where are individualistic, as they both reject the Magisterium, or attempt to bend the Magisterium to their own individual interpretations and faulty opinions. This extremism is blind, as it refuses to be led by the Church, but instead tries to remake the Church in its own image. On the left, the attempt is to remake the Church in the image of secular culture. On the right, the attempt is to remake the Church in the image of conservatism, which is exalted over the Faith, and in the image of the faulty reasonings of fallen sinners in place of teachings of Christ through His Church.

“The first and most important aim of religions is to believe in God, to honour Him and to invite all men and women to believe that this universe depends on a God who governs it. He is the Creator who has formed us with His divine wisdom and has granted us the gift of life to protect it. It is a gift that no one has the right to take away, threaten or manipulate to suit oneself. Indeed, everyone must safeguard this gift of life from its beginning up to its natural end. We therefore condemn all those practices that are a threat to life such as genocide, acts of terrorism, forced displacement, human organ trafficking, abortion and euthanasia. We likewise condemn the policies that promote these practices.”

~ This definition of “religions” excludes many things sometimes called religion, such as the occult and Satanism, which rejects the creator God and the divine wisdom and the moral values described above, and the pagan religions, which do not believe in God the Creator, but in many gods. So when the document latter speaks of a plurality of religions, it is in this narrower sense, as defined above, and further defined below.

“Moreover, we resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood. These tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings. They result from a political manipulation of religions and from interpretations made by religious groups who, in the course of history, have taken advantage of the power of religious sentiment in the hearts of men and women in order to make them act in a way that has nothing to do with the truth of religion. This is done for the purpose of achieving objectives that are political, economic, worldly and short-sighted. We thus call upon all concerned to stop using religions to incite hatred, violence, extremism and blind fanaticism, and to refrain from using the name of God to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression. We ask this on the basis of our common belief in God who did not create men and women to be killed or to fight one another, nor to be tortured or humiliated in their lives and circumstances. God, the Almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want His name to be used to terrorize people.”

~ The above rejection of the misuse of religion applies to past and present misuses of Christianity. It applies to Catholics who seek power within the Church, and thereby incite hatred of the Roman Pontiff and of the Magisterium. It applies to Catholics who preach a blind fanaticism, such that religious conservatism becomes an idol, a false god to be worshipped, in opposition to whatever the Church might teach to the contrary. When you have a group of Catholics saying that they will not believe anything taught by a Roman Pontiff or an Ecumenical Council contrary to their own understanding, this is extremism and fanaticism. And they often use vicious language, figuratively violent language toward those who disagree.

“This Document, in accordance with previous International Documents that have emphasized the importance of the role of religions in the construction of world peace, upholds the following:

“- The firm conviction that authentic teachings of religions invite us to remain rooted in the values of peace; to defend the values of mutual understanding, human fraternity and harmonious coexistence; to re-establish wisdom, justice and love; and to reawaken religious awareness among young people so that future generations may be protected from the realm of materialistic thinking and from dangerous policies of unbridled greed and indifference that are based on the law of force and not on the force of law;”

~ This is not an attempt at a one world religion, but rather different religions working together to do good, just as different individuals work together, despite their differences.

“- Freedom is a right of every person: each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives. Therefore, the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept;

~ Every human person has freedom of religion, to follow the religion he or she believes expresses the truth about God and humanity. The fact that some persons choose badly, when given freedom of religion, of speech, and other freedoms does not prove that there is no such freedom, or that such freedoms are not of God. The freedom of religion does not imply that God wills bad decisions made with that freedom, rather it implies that God wishes us to come to Him and to the Catholic Christian faith willingly. God does not want the Catholic Christian faith, during this era in the history of salvation, to be the only religion. Rather, he wishes us to find the truth amid the choices which have developed over time due to free will and, unfortunately, sinfulness.

~ The Magisterium has never taught that the plurality and diversity of religions is only permissively willed by God. So it cannot be a heresy for the Pope or anyone else to say that this plurality and diversity is positively willed by God. The correct theological answer, in my opinion, is somewhat complex.

The plurality and diversity of religions refers to the fact that there are a number of religions and that they are different, even very different from one another. This plurality and diversity is willed by God, permissively and positively, in so far as the religion contains error, permissively, and in so far as the religion contains truth and goodness, positively. Before the fact of our sinfulness, God wishes everyone to be a believing and practicing Catholic Christian. After the fact of our sinfulness, God positively wills us to have other religions which contain substantial goods to help us on the path of salvation, if it should happen, because of our sinfulness or the sinfulness of those around us, that we have difficulty finding the Catholic Christian faith.

The plurality and diversity of color and of race is positively willed by God, so that we would not all be the same, but so that our bodies along with the way that we dress and groom ourselves would express our uniqueness. The fact that humanity is divided into men and women (sex) is positively willed by God. The plurality and diversity of language is permissively willed, in so far as such differences resulted, as the story of the tower of Babel relates, from God’s intervention due to our pride; and yet this plurality and diversity of language can also be a positive expression of our uniqueness, as language and the way it is used becomes a part of each person’s unique beauty.

When a human person dies in a state of unrepentant actual mortal sin, does God permissively or positively will that person to go to Hell? It is certain that such a person does go to Hell, so which is it, permissively or positively? Since God “wants all men to be saved and to arrive at an acknowledgment of the truth (1 Tim 2:4),” when someone dies in a state of actual mortal sin, God only permissively wills that person to go to Hell, because the final destination for that person is chosen by that person, not by God. But when a person dies in the state of grace, God positively wills that person to go to Heaven, as the final destination is that willed by God for all persons, if only they would choose good over evil.


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