II. Contemporary Religious Diversity

In the past five decades, the diversity of religions in western societies has significantly increased. There has been a dramatic growth in the number of new religious bodies, some of them newly imported to the West, principally from the Orient. The earlier religious pluralism, which was almost entirely confined to variations within Christianity, has been extended to embrace new conceptions of spirituality and new movements derivative from other religious traditions. The orientations, teachings, practices and patterns of organization of these various bodies—whether indigenous or imported—are widely diverse, and often entirely different from the corresponding characteristics of traditional churches or sects. It should be made clear, however, that the coincidence of the call by international bodies for religious freedom, and the proliferation of new religious movements, was fortuitous. The resolutions of international agencies were not specifically directed to the issues of toleration of these new religions. Rather, they were primarily concerned with freedom of religion in the communist world, and for amity between the different major faiths in religiously pluralist societies. The emergence in the West of so many new spiritual minorities was incidental, and the spirit of toleration endorsed by international agencies—toleration for which they are certainly eligible—has not always been so readily extended to them.

III. Toleration in the Christian Tradition