Pluralism: The New Enemy
A Chalcedon reader who attends a state university in southern California recently wrote to me about his experiences. My prof opened up a lecture with this statement: I am a Jew from Brooklyn and I am agnostic. My favorite topic of discussion is religio and I hate Christians.' The Christian student had known that he would have to jump through some fiery hoops in academia, and understood that the higher he went the worse it [would] get. But the Jewish teacher from Brooklyn took him by surprise as this class that I am taking is called, of all things, cultural pluralism.
There is increasing hostility to Biblical Christianity in America , and it comes from the erstwhile promoters of pluralism and toleration. Some evangelicals have puzzled over this creeping intolerance, assuming that Christianity would be welcomed as one of the viable alternatives in the marketplace of ideas. They fail to understand, however, that man is not morally and epistemologically neutral. Sinful man is in fundamental rebellion against God (Rom. 1:18; 2 Tim. 2:25f.), and cannot tolerate the teachings of Christianity. There are, I believe, four reasons why Biblical Christianity is anathematized by modern secularists.
Anathematizing the Christian Faith
First, Biblical Christianity asserts God's absolute sovereignty over His creation and His creatures. Humanistic man, striving to be autonomous, resents any element of divine authority and control. Those who see human freedom as the highest good will despise God's sovereignty and providence. Likewise, they will hate the societal institutions God has ordained to govern society. I once knew a feminist religion professor at a mainline but relatively traditional Presbyterian college in Georgia. She always spoke of Christianity as Christo-fascism and contended that the Bible had imposed patriarchy on Western culture. Hating the doctrines of divine sovereignty and providence, her scholarly goal was to offer a feminist and Marxist critique of the New Testament.
Second, Biblical Christianity asserts the infallibility of God's Word. Humanistic man hates the inerrant and infallible nature of the divine law-word. The basic premise of law and society today is relativism, Rushdoony presciently noted in 1973. For Christians, he continued, An absolute law set forth by the absolute God separates good and evil and protects good.1
Third, Biblical Christianity asserts the doctrine of salvation through Christ alone. Jesus is the only way of salvation: No one comes to the Father but by me, Jesus said (Jn. 14:6). The exclusivity of salvation through Christ alone is a fundamental Christian teaching, but one that the world despises.2
In an earlier age, Christians universally embraced this doctrine. The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church, for instance, includes a powerful statement on obtaining eternal salvation only by the Name of Christ. Article XVIII reads: They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.3
Finally, Biblical Christianity asserts an absolute standard of morality. No contemporary Christian leader raises the ire of liberals and secularists like Jerry Falwell, who is vilified because of his affirmation of Biblical morality and his crusade against abortion and gay marriage. Last year, two homosexual activists moved to Lynchburg, rented a house across from Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church, and began organizing homosexual rallies.4 Those in rebellion against God hate the restraints of His law, and hate those who are faithful to His Word.
Academics sometimes have bizarre ways of manifesting hostility to Biblical principles. I was at a meeting once with a feminist English professor who absolutely loathed Pat Robertson. Robertson, she argued, was responsible for the oppression and degradation of women (he opposed abortion and preferred that moms stay at home with their children). Eventually, the group discussion moved to the topic of clitorectomy, a barbaric practice of female circumcision still found in Muslim regions and in pagan Africa. The feminist professor, who was rarely silent, especially on topics related to women, had nothing to say. So I invited her opinion about this bizarre practice of mutilating young women. She responded that one must respect the cultural norms of other societies. For liberals, apparently, it is only appropriate to sit in judgment of Christians and Christian cultural norms.
At the same meeting, a Political Science professor discussed his work as a youth with the Peace Corps in Africa. He was initially shocked when natives stole his spare clothing from the clothesline and boldly wore them in his presence. Yet he said that he admired their different concept of property and their unique social ethic. He called it compulsory sharing. (Where I'm from, we call it stealing! No wonder that this African country, with its apparent contempt for private property and capital development, was one of the poorest countries on earth.) The professor saved his strongest criticism for American capitalism and materialism. (But at least the capitalists don't steal his underwear.)
The Pluralist Creed
The new mantra of today's pluralists is tolerance. Everyone's faith is legitimate as long as it isn't exclusive. Everyone's moral convictions are good as long as they aren't restrictive. Any worldview is acceptable as long as it is authentic. The only requirement: you must not judge any one else. The emphasis on toleration appears to reflect a live-and-let-live neutrality among modern pluralists and seems relatively benign.
Modern pluralism, however, is rooted in a comprehensive worldview, which has its own creed and agenda. Christians are vilified as intolerant precisely because they violate the maxims of this new orthodoxy. Rushdoony was excellent at identifying the religious presuppositions of competing worldview systems. He notes, there can be no tolerance in a law-system for another religion. Tolerance is a device used to introduce a new law system as a prelude to a new intolerance.5
What are the central tenets of the pluralist creed? The first principle concerns human autonomy. Man must be free. He must be free of God and any restraints of the God-ordained social order.
The second axiom of pluralistic orthodoxy is that all truth is relative, and all traditions are equally valid. As Rushdoony has argued, our generation's infallible word must be a changing word, the word of flux.6
Ten years ago I was a fellow at the National Humanities Center for a program on multiculturalism. Faculty members from around the southeastern United States met for three weeks to discuss emerging scholarship on multiculturalism, which was a hot topic. We had special guest presenters from prestigious universities: a (lapsed) Muslim feminist from Pakistan who taught English at Yale; a (lapsed) Christian-turned-agnostic from Ghana who taught African and African-American Studies at Harvard; and a (lapsed) Buddhist anthropologist from Sri Lanka who taught at Princeton. The seminar leader was a (lapsed) Jewish psychiatrist-turned-anthropologist from the University of California who was an expert on Hinduism in Nepal. The seminar was valuable and I learned much, but its underlying themes were cultural relativism, the inferiority of western civilization, and the evils of Christian culture.
Most astonishing was a statement made by the seminar leader, who forthrightly presented his worldview assumptions and pointed to his cohort's shared convictions. He argued that Hinduism was a better religion than monotheism for the modern era, since one God means one truth, and many gods allows for many truths. The need for relativistic truth, it seems, propels pluralists back to polytheism. Rushdoony makes a telling observation about the implications of the first commandment: [I]t means one God, one law . The premise of polytheism is that we live in a multiverse, not a universe, that a variety of law-orders and hence lords exist..7
The final tenet of pluralism is that the state is sovereign. A little over two hundred years ago in The Social Contract Jean-Jacques Rousseau hinted at the direction of modern pluralism in a discussion of Civil Religion. He was happy to encourage religion, so long as it recognized the sovereignty of the state, taught good morals, and advocated toleration for all other religions. But he couldn't tolerate a religion that taught absolute principles. Wherever theological intolerance is admitted, it must inevitably have some civil effect; and as soon as it has such an effect, the Sovereign is no longer Sovereign even in the temporal sphere: thenceforth priests are the real masters, and kings only their ministers. [T]olerance should be given to all religions that tolerate others, so long as their dogmas contain nothing contrary to the duties of citizenship. But whoever dares to say Outside the Church is no salvation,' ought to be driven from the State.8 Those advocating a transcendent view of God and the importance of salvation, then, are a challenge to the state, are guilty of heresy, and cannot be tolerated. In a pluralistic society, Rushdoony notes, man cannot be under one law except by virtue of imperialism.9 The new pluralism inevitably leads to statism.
We are surrounded by new modern pluralists who claim to be interested in toleration. In reality, they adhere to a radically anti-Christian and anti-Biblical worldview, and, as at least one candid professor admitted, they hate Christians. Christians are already feeling
the heat from this new orthodoxy, and it will no doubt grow worse. The challenge for Christians is to remain loyal to King Jesus and to His unfailing Word.
1. Rousas Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (n.p.:Craig Press, 1973), 119. A surprising number of Christians dislike the doctrine of infallibility. Recently some evangelicals, influenced by evidentialist apologetics, asked me for some non-Biblical proofs for a theological case I had made. Of all people, I chided them, Baptists should be satisfied with a good thus saith the Lord. A Presbyterian shouldn't have to tell them that!
2. Jerry Falwell frequently goes to the mat on this issue. On the Donahue Show last year, Phil Donahue whined about the justice of God sending a Jew to hell for not believing in Jesus. Falwell's response, as I remember it, was superb: God would even send a Baptist or a talk show host to hell for not trusting in Jesus!
3. Originally drafted in 1571 for the Anglican Church, the American edition of the Thirty-Nine Articles date to 1801. The Thirty-Nine Articles have ambiguous authority in the Episcopal Church today.
4. Those interested can check what Lynchburg 's new gay-activists are doing at www.soulforce.org. One can measure Falwell's influence by the hostility he generates with such activists. Dick Knodel, the pastor of the local OPC church, and Christ College students were visible in leading counter-protests and doing street evangelism during the Soulforce rallies.
5. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 5.
6. Rousas Rushdoony, Infallibility: An Inescapable Concept (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1978), 51.
7. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 17.
8. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (N.Y.: Dutton, 1950), 139-140.
9. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 17.
Topics: Church, The, Culture , Education