Pluralism For Me but Not For Thee

Pluralism For Me but Not For Thee February 7, 2023

The next bogeyman the leaders of the white fundamentalist-evangelical world are ready to foist upon their flocks and the rest of us is “pluralism.” Such a scary word, right? Like “Critical Race Theory” (CTR), “socialism,” and other things they don’t understand, get ready for “pluralism” to join the long list of things we are supposed to be afraid of, be against, and is a clear sign we are in the Last Days and everything is going to hell in a hand basket.

See here and here. From the NPR link:

Tim Whitaker, creator of a group called The New Evangelicals, says this is how the Christian Right has decided to respond to waning public opinion — instead of embracing changing views.

White evangelicalism rejects pluralism – completely,’ he said. ‘They do not see themselves as coexisting with other religious views or other sexuality ethic views. They see it as a spiritual battle and they are on God’s side.’”

What is pluralism? Here is a good definition:

I define it as a framework of politics and culture marked by competing (and even contradictory) conceptions of the good life. These can be deeply held ideas about religion and morality, yes, but they can also be beliefs about culture, governance, and other organizing principles. In a pluralist society, people are not expected to have identical lifestyles or articulate similar visions of what is right. Instead, pluralism gives space for the marketplace of ideas to thrive, and for people to flourish as a result.”

Before we go any further, I want to note that, yes, even the scholars who support pluralism recognize the idea in practice has its problems. No serious person thinks it’s perfect or without legitimate shortcomings. However, the great majority also believe the alternative would be far worse and I think they are correct.

Christian fundamentalists-evangelicals going back to the early 1900s have a strong tradition of apologetics and the idea that in the free-market place of ideas, the best ideas, the true ideas, will prevail. All they needed was a level playing field. All they needed was the same freedom enjoyed by everyone else.

Did they forget that not only did they enjoy the same freedom, but that their tradition, their Christian faith/religion (if perhaps not their understanding of it) was the majority cultural view until recent times? Their general view of life, their beliefs, their theology/philosophy, and basic views of morality have been the privileged view since the country’s inception.

Of course, fundamentalists/evangelicals have been a minority (if not in numbers, then certainly in the halls of academia) and have often been shut out of serious debate and conversations (and often for good reasons), but that certainly can’t be said of mainstream Protestant religion in general. They’ve always had a place at the table—maybe even the head seat.

As has been noted by others, at least one reason we see this current push against pluralism by white evangelicals is because they know they’ve lost the larger cultural arguments. Large majorities, especially among young people, disagree with white fundamentalism/evangelicalism when it comes to abortion, gay marriage, and a host of other moral/cultural questions.

Thus, now, pluralism isn’t a great idea anymore. Think about how ironic this is. It is this very idea (and by law) that allows Christian fundamentalists/evangelicals to have their voice, their influence, and their platform in our society, the same as it does for other religious groups. It is this very idea that helps protect their ability to practice their faith personally—it simply doesn’t allow them to impose, by law, their views upon others, whether another minority or the majority.

Does this mean liberal democracy, or the secular is philosophically/metaphysically neutral? No, of course not. The curtain revealing such was pulled aside some time ago. The Great Wizard of a neutral public square turned out to be a false projection. However, that shouldn’t mean the value of pluralism is diminished in principle. In fact, I believe it has a basis in Christian theology.

Here’s another irony: Christian missionaries who travel to other countries to live and gain converts would love to be doing it in a place that values pluralism, rather than an authoritarian or dictatorship type government, where either Christians are viewed with suspicion or there is outright hostility.

These Christians who want pluralism in other countries, just think it’s a bad idea in their own country when that same concept allows those they disagree with the same benefits.

What many of these Christian leaders don’t seem to understand is that pluralism doesn’t mean everyone is right. It isn’t an ideology of moral relativism. It doesn’t relativize truth; it recognizes the reality that people disagree as to what the truth is or what is true—so let’s create a way we can live peacefully with those differences.

Pluralism arose in our modern western world for many reasons. But one of those reasons is that Christians kept killing each other over differing views of what was true or not. “Truth” seems to get a lot of people killed.

After the Religious Wars of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, people began to realize that a way had to be made for people with differing religious and philosophical views to live in peace with each other.

It’s beginning to look more and more as if many white fundamentalist/evangelicals want to go back to the days when “truth” (and their monopoly on it) was so important one could kill their opponents over it and God would smile at their efforts.

I say…let’s not. Pluralism is messy but it’s a lot better than the alternative.

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