Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Willard on Pluralism

Everyone is talking about pluralism these days…
What is it? Well to start with pluralism is actually a term that can be applied to a number of different aspects of philosophical understanding. It can apply to social, moral, political, metaphysical, ideas – to name a few.
Lots of people (especially people who label themselves as Christians) are actually really concerned about pluralism. They figure that it is a bad thing that our culture is pluralistic. That is to say that our culture can tolerate competing religious and ethical views. They suggest that when people advocate differing moral, theological, religious and philosophical perspectives they are harming the strength of the Christian position. The problem is that for years and years Canada and the United States have lived under the concept that Christianity formed the foundation of our society. Christian ethical positions have held the most authority. Along with that the two countries have slumbered along with a quasi Christianized culture. There are a lot of things in our culture that reflect a Christian perspective: think holidays, swearing on a Bible, public institutional prayers. So when in the last few years we see people suggesting that other perspectives and cultural ideas should be embraced in our culture many people start to get uncomfortable. But all too quickly we forget some of the founding principles of our countries. Fairness, equality and justice are hallmark virtues of our nations.
Enter Dallas Willard:
First, pluralism is not a bad arrangement. It is a good thing. It is, in fact, a social expression of the kind of respect and care for the individual that is dictated by trust in God and love of neighbor. Therefore the Christian does not oppose pluralism as a social principle. Pluralism simply means that social or political force is not to be used to suppress the freedom of thought and expression of any citizen, or even the practice that flows from it, insofar as that practice is not morally wrong.
Pluralism does not mean that everyone is equally right in what they think and do. It does not mean that we must agree with the views or adopt the practices of those of other persuasions. It does not mean that we must like those views or practices. It does not mean that we will not appropriately express our disagreement or dislike for other viewpoints. (emphasis mine)
I realize that philosophical or theological pluralism is different than pluralism as a social concept but…
I get really worried when I hear people complaining about pluralism as a threat to Christianity.
Basically, I think it amounts to laziness. Why should we worry about Christianity losing strength to other religious perspective in our culture and society? Really the way I see it this just gives us another great chance to show the beauty of life lived in honor of Jesus’ principles.
Sure it means our kids will face increased opposition to their perspectives. Sure it will mean that we will actually not only have to be able to know what we stand for but be willing to live it out in the face of opposition.
Willard again:
Second, the Christian gospel does not require cultural privilege or even social recognition in order to flourish. God's work is not disadvantaged by persecution, even to death, and much less then by mere pluralism. As Christians we stand now in the Kingdom of the Heavens, and it is always true that they who are for us are more than they that be against us. (I Kings 6:16) It is always true that the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world. (I John 4:4)
On the other hand, there can be little doubt that if the teachings and example of Jesus were generally followed in a given society, that society would be remarkably better off than any which followed another way. The constant drumbeat of moral failure and incompetence now heard from American institutions--from the universities and scientific or artistic communities to business corporations, the Church and sports--simply would not exist if Jesus were trusted and obeyed. There would be no sexual harassment, no gutted savings and loans, no homelessness or gang violence in a society that substantially accepted Christian principles of life. It is not the Christian who loses when social prejudice goes against Christ, but the society itself.


Gil said...

I like Willard's idea of pluralism as a demonstration of care for the individual. I agree with you, this is not something to be feared as if the point of Christianity was simply to create Christian societies. The emerging problem is that pluralism has become a bit of an ideology in and of itself where diversity is exalted because we have become too lazy to deal with the hard task of talking about differing convictions.

jenivere said...

I wonder if more people would give Christ a fair chance, if Christians weren't trying to hard to suppress their thought process. Do some folks need to ride the merry-go-round a few times before they could consider other things? I wonder how many people get stuck opposing Christianity b/c they've been put on the defensive by Christians.

Hmmm...that's a tough one Dale!

Lounge MD said...

nice post Dale. I echo Gil regarding Willard's idea of pluralism. What I find most interesting about your post is the challenge to laziness. At college, it seems that we're in constant dialogue or debate about postmodernism. It seems to me that pluralism challenges us in the very same way. It is no longer good enough to just point to the Truth, we must live it. I, for one, welcome that change.


Incoming... said...

We have lived in a church culture that has entrenched the idea that conforming to a set of dogmas is ultra important. Conformity has become a strong functional objective. Look at most of our discipleship strategies and it is seems like the objective is to make people believe the same thing. We don't have room for competing ideas within the church. We have place a really high value on certainity as well. So if a person suggests a differing perspective the implications are that they are labelled as weak in their faith or worse.
I for one have not done as good a job as I could have at presenting my convictions with humble grace. humble grace that respects how my own perspective might be off putting to some one else and recognizes that my convictions may be wrong.
In my (weak) mind it sorta comes down to diversity versus conformity and I would probably lean more toward diversity.