Bryan Wilson, Ph.D.
Published by The Institute for the Study
of American Religion
I. HUMAN RIGHTS & RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
21. Diversity within religious traditions. The diversity among religions is complemented by diversity within religions, and this even within an authentically orthodox tradition, that is to say, without regard to the various manifestations of dissent to which we have already had occasion to allude. It has to be recognized that consistency is not a first desideratum for religion, and that even Christianity, which has enjoyed much more systematically structured patterns of both doctrine and organization than any other religion, none the less sustains imprecise formulations of doctrine, ambiguities, inconsistencies, and even outright contradictions. Indeed, traditional religious language even of Christianity does not always set out to eliminate ambiguities, but sometimes even seeks to sustain them. Such language functions not merely, nor necessarily primarily, to denote properties. It has equally important functions in summoning emotional responses and in prescribing values and dispositions. The cognitive, emotive, and evaluative are inextricably intermixed in a way quite alien to scientifically-informed ways of thinking. In consequence of this multi-functionality, the language of religion, when viewed scientifically or forensically, is frequently lacking in clarity, definition and specificity. This may be taken as normal in religion, even when, as in the case of Christianity, sustained intellectual effort has been expended over centuries to articulate religious doctrines coherently.
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