The Dilemma of Pluralism

This morning’s BBC report discloses that the French government has refused to grant citizenship to man because he is forcing his wife to wear the ‘full veil’.  Because she is not free to ‘come and go with her face uncovered’, this man’s values place him a category of person to whom the French government denies citizenship.  It is recommended by the French government that anyone showing signs of “radical religious practice” be refused citizenship.

I’m interested in your thoughts on this subject so I’ll just toss some questions out:

1. The phrase ‘radical religious practice’ seems ambiguous.  Isn’t ‘eating the flesh and drinking the blood’ (see John 6, or your weekly communion table) also radical?  Or living in community?  What are the risks that this ruling becomes precedent setting for all manner of religious persecution?  On the other hand, isn’t the state obligated to protect the powerless (Romans 13), and isn’t this woman being rendered powerless?  But what if she wants the full covering?

2. This man’s patriarchy no doubt offends the sensibilities of most of us reading this.  But would France also refuse to grant citizenship to a person who believed that a woman shouldn’t work outside the home while raising children?  The bigger question than the particular ruling is, in this case, how wide this ruling opens the door.

3. We live in a pluralist world, where different belief systems bump up against each other.  France is trying to understand how to be pluralist without sacrificing it’s own cultural distinctives, and this is where the rub comes.  How can we be embracing of other cultures, while maintaining our own cultural identity?  This issue is a raging river in Europe, even more so than the United States, but it’s an issue everywhere, and an important one.

Pluralism and tolerance are terribly politically correct, but we all have our limits.  You can’t be a pedophile, you can’t steal other people’s stuff; on these we all agree.  Keep talking about ethics though, and you soon come to multiple forks in the road.  If we aren’t careful, we’re going to end up using these forks to stab each other.

What are your thoughts?

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • http://www.queenannechiro.com Dr. Graeme Gibson, D.C.

    I will admit, I am not very up to date with French politics, but know they are a “democracy.”

    I put democracy in quotations, because it seems that many “free” countries, including our own, have a much different definition to what I consider free.

    After a brief google search, I came up with this, courtesy of wiki:

    “Freedom of religion in France is guaranteed by the constitutional rights set forth in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.”

    It goes onto explain that due to recent events, i.e. terrorism, this may or may not apply.

    In my opinion, religious pluralism is essential if attempting to define a truly free country, or population. I have my religious belief system that works for me, I do my best to live it. That being said, it is relatively easy to be a Christian in the United States, or North America.

    I attempt to imagine having a belief system that has been tainted by extremists, living in a “free” country, but being constantly judged. It is almost impossible to imagine at this point in my life.

    Without a true attempt of religious pluralism by countries that are considered “free,” they just might need to have an asterisk put next to their name on Wiki.

    Welcome to France – Free for some, a little less free for others.

  • Becca

    I think we run into a problem when we place American sensibilities on the French. In the US we are a religious pluralistic country, we were built that way, that is the expectation and the standard. Culturally people are not required to be tolerant but EVERYONE expects it from our government (yes even or especially conservatives). France is not the US. In 1793 thousands of Catholic priests were killed, churches were destroyed, and anyone not pledging allegiance to the Republic first was one step away from the guillotine. This is France’s history. France is not religiously tolerant, they never meant to be. They may have claimed to be briefly in 1789 but that was shortly lived. I’m not saying this ruling is right, in fact as an American I am appalled at the idea of refusing citizenship on the grounds of religion. We tend to think that because France is a Western country it is basically American, it’s not. America has a truly unique stance on religion. It is the foundation of my patriotism. But we cannot expect others, whether France or Turkey or Israel or Saudi Arabia, to uphold our ideals. It is a tough line between fighting intolerance and oppression and pushing a neo-colonialist agenda of ideals. It’s a line that’s walked by conversation. Thanks for starting one Richard.

  • Linda

    I would say it is not so much about keeping their culture per se, but it is about preventing the Muslims from taking over their country and being persecuted in the future. Here is a link to a website that covers some of the terrorism against Christians all over the world, most of it is done by Muslims, atheistic communist countries, and Hindu’s:

    http://www.compassdirect.org/?aspxerrorpath=/en/display.php

    Who are we to tell others how to run their country?

  • Linda

    I would say it is not so much about keeping their culture per se, but it is about preventing the Muslims from taking over their country and being persecuted in the future. Here is a link to a website that covers some of the terrorism against Christians all over the world, most of it is done by Muslims, atheistic communist countries, and Hindu’s:

    http://www.compassdirect.org/?aspxerrorpath=/en/display.php

    Who are we to tell others how to run their country?

  • Lamont

    TImothy McVeigh was a christian?
    Is this a joke?

    http://www.jaynadavis.com/highlights.html

    • Dan

      Look out Lamont. Them’s fightin’ words! You’ll probably have to apologize for your insensitivity toward “balance”.

  • Lamont

    TImothy McVeigh was a christian?
    Is this a joke?

    http://www.jaynadavis.com/highlights.html

    • Dan

      Look out Lamont. Them’s fightin’ words! You’ll probably have to apologize for your insensitivity toward “balance”.

  • Shane

    I thnk it’s getting a little off topic. Every group or religion has had horrible things happen in it’s name. Another topic for another day. I do understand the dilema or line we tend to walk when it comes to religious freedom. What happens when one religion (or more) taken out of context can overwhelm anothers beliefs or practices. If I give a bully the right to speak his mind and yet because of him and his bullying ways others are not allowed to speak is this fair? Some are very outspoken in their beliefs, convictions, or traditions and can drown out others who are just as convicted just a little quieter in their outward appearance of faith and traditioothO believe the fear of being so fair that you are un-fair is real. Sorry no answer just more questions.

  • stephen papineau

    I lived in france for a year. I think they have a very developed sense of ‘individual liberty’. Sometimes more than here. I know they are coping with race and religion issues that echo some of our past… There has been a significant influx of immigration in the last 40 years from the south. Marseille could remind you of San Diego or El Paso in its bicultural feel. (french and maghreb vs caucasian american and mexican american) Some of the issues are of culture, some of race, and some of religion. Some of the French feel threatened by the culture, some are racist, and some are fearful that they are terrorists. Either way, it is fear of the unknown. Eventually, Europe will learn deal with the differences and changes… I honestly don’t see why France would refuse citizenship to this man rather than simply make it illegal for him to force his wife to wear it. It should be her choice. (I know that in patriarchal families, she may not really have a choice, but that is something that will have to be worked out over generations).
    Isn’t an accurate comparison more properly shown in the US government outlawing polygamy (and somewhat enforcing it) instead of refusing citizenship rights to the more extreme elements of Mormonism?

  • Riley McCormick

    Richard, I’ll be moving to Roubaix, France in the Fall. I’m spending a year there working with a small church in a predominantly Muslim, North African immigrant community. I will most definitely have a blog throughout my experience… I’ll be sure to send along the link!

    The racial/cultural/religious tension in France is remarkable. I’ll look forward to diving in, and hopefully coming up with some rich insight.

    • raincitypastor

      keep me in the loop… I’ll read with interest.

  • Riley McCormick

    Richard, I’ll be moving to Roubaix, France in the Fall. I’m spending a year there working with a small church in a predominantly Muslim, North African immigrant community. I will most definitely have a blog throughout my experience… I’ll be sure to send along the link!

    The racial/cultural/religious tension in France is remarkable. I’ll look forward to diving in, and hopefully coming up with some rich insight.


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