How to Reconcile Difference: In History and More

Earlier comments made by Mogget that the BoM tends to deal with the “other” in terms of conversion, military conquest, or basically “ignoring” them has got me thinking. How do we as a people deal reconcile difference? I’m less inclined to make a textual observation here (as I believe Mogs was doing); and instead am speaking socio-culturally.

I think there are a variety of (sometimes competing) alternatives we already employ in dealing with difference (both internal and external differences). In some regards this is directly related to recent posts dealing with the problem of history and theology, or scholarship and faith. What I would like to do here is creating a listing of sorts–a taxonomy that identifies the ways in which we reconcile these kind of challenges. Below are four methods that I would suggest we already use. The questions I would like to ask are, what other modes of reconciliation do we or should we employ? What are the strengths and weakness with each of these approaches? Should some of these be “dismissed” as ineffective or non-viable means of dealing with difference?

Eclecticism: The selective adoption or rejection of specific concepts to the de-emphasis and overemphasis of others. E.g., We have become the “Book of Mormon generation” where the BoM is employed much more frequently than the Bible. In the Bible we emphasis certain portions and downplay others. The Gospels compared with the epistles, for instance.

Ecumenicism: An exercise of faith where God’s omniscience is trusted to somehow tie the differences together into “one great whole”. E.g., Different Mormons can have differing opinions as to God’s relationship with the world he has created. How much does he intervene? How do we explain evil? The scripture mastery verse in Isaiah is usually implied with Ecumenicism: “His ways are greater than our ways.” (pardon my paraphrasing)

Compartmentalism: Different circumstances call for different responses. E.g., In Polynesia, many males wear the traditional lavalava to church rather than slacks. Comparmentalism is also used to explain how early members of the church (or even individuals in the scriptures) did things differently because they were of a different time (drinking of wine for instance). We often employ Compartmentalism with the phrase, “It’s the Spirit that matters.”

Inclusivism: The reworking of the concepts of the “other” in a shared terminology (or often purely in our own terminology). E.g., Most people believe in a supreme being, but we call him by different names.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com HP

    I think that the tension here is best demonstrated by the comments in 1st Nephi 10:17-19. There the “one eternal roundness” of the Gospel is emphasized. At the same time, the church and its policies have obviously changed in our lifetime. So how do we balance the needs of a changing church with the concept that the course of the Lord is one eternal round?

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    Aye yi yi, Small Axe. It is a scary thing to come face-to-face with one’s rationalizations, you know!

    I have no answers, just two thoughts. First, I think that another category is indicated to support those instances where we acknowledge both the difference and its ultimate irreconcilability. The folks who operate under this paradigm tend to look forward to an apocalyptic showdown in which God himself tutors those who didn’t get the memo the first time it went around.

    My other thought is a question. Can we genuinely attempt a reconciliation if we do not take seriously the possibility of error on our part?

  • smallaxe

    I think that another category is indicated to support those instances where we acknowledge both the difference and its ultimate irreconcilability. The folks who operate under this paradigm tend to look forward to an apocalyptic showdown in which God himself tutors those who didn’t get the memo the first time it went around.

    If you don’t mind, I’m going to extract two positions out of this comment: The first is where difference is ultimately irreconciliable (from the first sentence). And the second is where difference is reconciled at an apocalyptic moment (from the second sentence). Correct me if I’m misunderstanding you.

    I’m thinking the first type could be conceived of as a type of compartmentalism–both parties are correct according to their own particularity. However this in itself is a form of reconciliation. Perhaps a category of “pluralism” would be more fitting for the “irreconciliable” option–our differences would be preserved along with the irreconciliable paradox they create because of our awareness of the contradiction. I’m not sure how many members would take up this position; but personally I think it is a viable one, especially given the fact that I think we assign too much value to “coherency” in our world view.

    The second position is perhaps a form of ecumenicism, where God ties up all the loose ends.

    Can we genuinely attempt a reconciliation if we do not take seriously the possibility of error on our part?

    I don’t necessarily think so. In other words, all the methods suggested in my original post are used by members many of which do not assert there position with the possibility of error. That being said however, some of them are more prone to admitting the possibility of error. Part of ecumenicism may be for instance, claiming that we don’t know who is actually right in a particular dialogue. I think many LDSs appeal to this in debates about “deep doctrine”.

    On a general note however, I think we, as LDSs, should be more sensitive to how incomplete our own knowledge is about the vastness of God’s creations.

  • smallaxe

    At the same time, the church and its policies have obviously changed in our lifetime. So how do we balance the needs of a changing church with the concept that the course of the Lord is one eternal round?

    This is of course one of the “bedrock” questions–how do we make sense out of what is unchanging in the midst of change? Or in a similar vein–what is the relationship between the universal and the particular?

    No easy answer, and this is certainly something I am working through myself (and probably will always be, given the nature of these types of questions). I think some options are available (although how satisfactory they are is perhaps another question). I have heard some in the church talk about “principles” which are timeless, and are interpreted variously according to place and time. The Word of Wisdom, for instance, is a “principle” of health which may lead to different particular manifestations depending on the context.

    The tension between the changing and the unchanging is exacerbated by the difficultly of distinguishing between the two. Which parts of the Gospel are simply “cultural constructs” and which are eternal commandments?

    I have some more to say on the issue, but my time is short tonight.

  • http://feastupontheword.org/User:RobertC Robert C.

    I’m most interested in how we should deal with our differences. Most of the approaches you describe above seem to point to less-than-ideal ways to deal with difference, with “inclusivism” being perhaps the most ideal response. But how should inclusivism work? Should it reduce the Other to the Same? I think these are fascinating and very important questions.

    I haven’t read much myself yet, but I think John Caputo is a great scholar to start with in studying these issues (esp. his work on Derrida and differance). Adam Miller, who was a student of Caputo’s, presented a very interesting paper at the SMPT Conference last weekend on how difference might be viewed in terms of eternal marriage, how Mormons seem to have a unique view of how a certain kind of difference is eternal (“compound in one” but not “one body” in terms of 2 Ne 2:11; cf. this essay by Jim Faulconer). Although I think some differences cannot be tolerated in a Zion community, I think it is equally important (and more interesting) to think about the kind of differences that can be sustained in eternity.

  • smallaxe

    I’m most interested in how we should deal with our differences. Most of the approaches you describe above seem to point to less-than-ideal ways to deal with difference, with “inclusivism” being perhaps the most ideal response. But how should inclusivism work? Should it reduce the Other to the Same?

    I understand your first point, but I’m not sure that I was trying to describe less than ideals ways of dealing with difference. In other words, I think each of them are valuable in their own right. Compartmentalism for instance acknowledges the possibility of different cultural instantiations of an ontological norm. The problem with it is in stopping it from becoming a form of relativism. I’m not sure I would do away with any of them, but instead pose the question of which is best used in which circumstance. Each has its inherent strengths, challenges, and weaknesses. Could you come up with an argument for inclusivism as the most ideal?

    As far as how inclusivism should work, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I think most members take an inclusive position when dealing with other religions–all religions are manifestations of the light of Christ. Rahner’s “Anonymous Christian” is another manifestation of this. The problem, as you point out is reducing the “other” to our categories. I actually have less of a problem with this if we acknowledge the possibility that the “other” has truths that we do not have. In other words they can do more than provide a new hermeneutic for seeing the truth we already have. In essence they contribute to our ontology. There are of course other alternatives. Mark Heim (in his book “Salvations”) put forth the possibility that each religion may be an ends unto itself. I think this line of thinking is interesting, but perhaps not so easily worked out in the case of Mormonism.

    I haven’t read much myself yet, but I think John Caputo is a great scholar to start with in studying these issues (esp. his work on Derrida and differance).

    I’ve heard of Caputo, but have not read anything of his. If you could recommend something I’d be happy to take a look at it. The taxonomy as mentioned above is actually an adaptation of Gavin D’Costa’s (“Theology and Religious Pluralism”). His main dialogue partners are John Hick and Dupris. Frank Clooney is also interesting.

  • http://feastupontheword.org/User:RobertC Robert C.

    I think I was simply misreading, seeing the negative connotations of each (eclecticism as burying your head in the sand, ecumensicism as blind faith or avoidance, compartmentalism as incoherency). Looking again, I think I see the merits of each that you are pointing to. The virture I saw in inclusivism is that it emphatically does not ignore differences, but responds to them. It is this acknowledgement of and responding to that I think is a good thing when it comes to difference, although I think your categories nicely point out different types of reponses that might be called for in different circumstances.

    I’m not sure where to point you in terms of Caputo. I’m just starting The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida which seems quite relevant to this topic of difference. Here is a book review in the JAAR (link is to JSTOR, subscription likely required) which at least gives an overview. Here’s a quote from the review that I think gives an idea of how all this relates to your post:

    As regards religion, however, Caputo is far less reticient. To quote Derrida: “Religion is response” (156); and the response that constitutes (Derridean) deconstruction is religious. But religious in what sense? This is where the issue of preordination really kicks in. On the one hand, there are “the ‘determinable’ faiths,” in effect, the positive religions, which have historically displayed an inveterate penchant toward triumphalism and oppression, toward seeing reality as preordained and completing the matter with the sword. On the other hand, there is what Caputo ventures to call “faith ‘itself,’ the indeterminate faith and open-ended hope in what is coming, in the coming of the tout autre, the passion for which is what deconstruction is all about. . .” (47-48).

    The idea I take from this (actually, more directly from Adam Miller’s SMPT presentation on marriage) is that only as long as an other remains different from me can I actually learn from that other. I think this is an attractive way of thinking about relationships (and hermeneutics, as you suggested), but it seems it only works if both parties are “true” in a very important sense (I’m being vague here b/c my thoughts on this aren’t very clear, but I mean true to each other and true in some larger sense that makes lasting peace possible…).

  • http://feastupontheword.org/User:RobertC Robert C.

    That was more cryptic than I intended, let me make one more try at saying something intelligible:

    I think the tendency is to think about faith and unity (in the conformity/same sense) as close synonyms. But faith presupposes difference. With faith there is simultaneously a lack of knowledge (of that which is other) and a commitment to seek and respond to that other (God or my spouse). In this sense, knowledge (i.e. sameness) can be attained, and yet complete knowledge is never fully attained (i.e. difference will always remain).

    Hmmmm, still not too coherent, sorry. It’s helpful trying to arcticulate these ideas though, so thanks for indulging me.

  • smallaxe

    The virture I saw in inclusivism is that it emphatically does not ignore differences, but responds to them.

    The religious pluralism discourse has been going on for some time now and has been gaining momentum. One of the main players is John Hick who employs a three-part division between exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. Exclusivists see their system as the only means of accessing the “Real”. Inclusivists admit to the possibility of other systems having access to the Real, but they reduce these others to their own terms. Pluralists see others as providing viable alternatives to the Real without the reduction.

    The problem with this general set up is that pluralism thus defined is based on an “exclusive” claim (it excludes all the exclusivists), and an “inclusive” claim (it reduces all religions to the terms created by the pluralists).

    Anyhow, I give all of this as background to further puruse our conversation on inclusivism. In other words, I think we need to rework Hick’s taxonomy to achieve something similar to what Hick attempts but by recognizing a “pluralist” view as a kind of inclusivism rather than a category all of its own.

    I really think that other systems of thought could contribute in a very meaningful way to the discussion of dealing with difference. Confucianism, for instance, provides useful resources in navigating tensions between “harmony” and “uniformity” (Analects 13.23 makes a distinction between the two). A great article by Yao Xinzhong in the last issue of Philosophy East and West on “Harmony” (also available electronically, but maybe not on JSTOR) really explicates this point. The work of Tu Weiming (some of which is available in the “articles” section of http://www.ConfucianStudies.com) takes this into a contemporary context.