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Cultural Pluralism

QUESTION: What is cultural pluralism?


Cultural pluralism is the dynamic by which minority groups participate fully in the dominant society, yet maintain their cultural differences. A pluralistic society is one where different groups can interact while showing a certain degree of tolerance for one another, where different cultures can coexist without major conflicts, and where minority cultures are encouraged to uphold their customs.

A Jewish philosophy professor, Horace Kallen, coined the term pluralism in the early 1900s. He was proud of his country, and concerned for his beliefs and the beliefs of immigrants. He did not want to be assimilated by the majority. He felt that various distinguished cultures could offer a greater contribution to progress than a single culture could.

Cultural pluralism is compatible with biblical teaching to some extent. The Bible does teach absolute truth and claims exclusivity. This isn't to say that anything outside the Bible is false. Take, for example, Confucius' rule: "Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you." Obviously this is compatible with the Bible -- it is a Biblical teaching! Another example: the law of gravity is not mentioned in the Bible but is true.

These two rules are mentioned in places apart from the Bible and yet can coexist with Christian philosophy. The Bible does teach, however, that any doctrine that contradicts the Bible is false. The Bible tells us that murder is wrong, so Christians must be intolerant of murder.

Cultural pluralism itself can break down at the practical level. Equality among men and women is one of the great accomplishments of Western society, while it is incompatible with a strict adherence to the Qur'an. Western adherence to cultural pluralism, and our tolerance, will break down in the light of the mistreatment of women. Cultural pluralism will involuntarily abolish some of the belief systems that it tries to protect.

Cultural pluralism can breakdown at the philosophical level as well. In order for cultural pluralism to have any application, it must itself be a belief held by all, or one that is enforced within the society. If cultural pluralism is to be understood as a correct philosophy, then it must exist in an authoritarian manner. It is a self-defeating philosophy.

Furthermore, the notion that cultural pluralism is a false concept must also be tolerated within a pluralistic society. This results in those who adhere to absolutes opposing those who disagree, and this notion again defeats the principles of cultural pluralism.

The Bible tells us to love our enemies, even those who persecute us. Christianity can certainly coexist with other cultures. Matthew 5:43-47 says, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?"

Christianity exists by faith. Cultural pluralism is not something on which you can place your faith. Christian love is something to strive toward. Pluralistic tolerance, without a basis in reason and love, is self-defeating. Tolerance itself is only a reasonable goal when measured with the yardstick of love and spiritual well-being.

Learn About Religious Pluralism!

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