Secularism and diversity are very different things

When I was at Wartburg Seminary, I always found the emphasis on diversity and "inclusiveness" amusing. You see, the people who were so big on diversity and inclusiveness seemed to think that everybody should think exactly the way they did. There wasn't much diversity at all, and if you didn't fit into the mold you were not apt to feel very included.

Sociologist Peter Berger observes that we have a tendency in our culture to confuse secularism with diversity. It's a point that's occurred to me many times. Secularism is the absence of specifically religious influence on culture. Diversity, on the other hand, is the presence of all sorts of influences.

Western Europe and increasingly the United States are secular. Or rather, Western Europe on one hand and America's cultural elites on the other are secular. As the late Richard John Neuhaus once observed, Sweden is the most secular country in the world, whereas India is the most religious. The problem in America is that we are a nation of Indians whose culture and government are dominated be Swedes- and, as he put it, "the Indians are getting restless."

Not so much, I fear, anymore. The cultural elites are wearing us down. The Indians, too, seem to be buying into same-sex pseudo-marriage, physician- assisted suicide, outright euthanasia, and other manifestations of secularism. The cultural elites are now trying to sell us all on the phoney notion that this isn't really secularism at all, of course; that it's perfectly possible to be a good Catholic and be pro-choice, or a good Christian and see nothing morally objectionable in at least "partnered" sodomy. That, of course, is absurd; the essence of religion is found in its precepts, and not simply in the names its adherents call themselves. It's not certain Christians who are opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage and premarital sex and homosexuality, though there are plenty of people who call themselves Christians and have no problem with any of them. It's Christianity itself that is opposed to them, and to the degree that those who call themselves Christians disagree, it's Christianity itself they are disagreeing with.

But in a strange sort of way very reminiscent of Wartburg Seminary, when so-called "diversity" comes to characterize any group of people, it tends to become more monolithic. When the distinctions which define any group become watered down, the group doesn't so much become varied as monolithically vague, vanilla, and undefined. When diversity becomes an ideology, it destroys itself. Its goal becomes making everybody similar- similarly insipid. The group becomes monolithically ill-defined and insubstantial. True diversity can only function where there is a dynamic interplay of conflicting ideas and ideologies. That was certainly not the case at WTS, and neither is it the case- ever- on the cultural Left.

And secularism is an ideology even more explicitly that Wartburgian pseudo-inclusiveness. It rejects religion and any influence by religion on politics or culture. Like all ideologies, it argues that it is right and that those who disagree with it are wrong. The irony, of course, is that when inclusiveness and diversity become ideologies (as at Wartburg), they, too, exclude the opposite point of view and make those embracing them vanilla and monolithic.

The modern world, Berger cogently argues, is   ​increasingly diverse, but not increasingly secular. Outside of Western Europe and- to some degree- the United States, religion is a going concern. Islam is becoming neither less aggressive or more diverse. In fact, as one examines the condition the human race finds itself in, it seems to by and large becoming more religious rather than less so.

And not only more religious, but precisely for that reason more diverse. As Martin Luther was fond of observing, a god is not necessarily a supernatural being, real or imagined. One's god- and literally everyone has one, including atheists- is whoever or whatever one fears, loves and trusts the most. It's hardly an original thought, but a convinced Marxist- atheist in principle though he may be- is not only just as religious in the essential sense of the word as a militant fundamentalist Christian but as likely to be a religious fanatic!

And as at Wartburg, where inclusiveness and diversity trumped the creeds and Confessions of Lutheran Christianity, they, too, can become a religion. And where they do, everything becomes more exclusive and less diverse. Inclusiveness and diversity, when they become ideologies, act like them and oppose and exclude all conflicting ideologies.

The so-called Restorationist Movement in Christianity, exemplified by the Disciples of Christ and the conservative wing of the movement, the "churches" of Christ (lower-case "c" being insisted upon) sought to remedy the divisions in the Christian church by forming yet another denomination- in fact, two of them! By claiming to offer an answer to the problem of denominational division, they not only made the problem even worse but have as their own distinctive emphasis the frankly absurd insistence that they are not themselves denominations!

The ideology of inclusiveness and diversity does essentially the same thing. It cannot help but do so the moment it becomes an ideology.

The problem, Berger observes, is not that we are increasingly having fewer gods, but rather that we are constantly growing new ones. We have too many gods, not too few; even in the allegedly secularized West, we are becoming more religious, and not less so.

And in so doing, we are becoming more diverse. The more different we become one from another- the more we disagree- the more diverse we become. On the other hand, the more similar to one another we become, the less diverse we are. Perhaps what we should be striving for is not diversity and inclusiveness, but tolerance- tolerance that not only gives lip service to valuing our differences but actually cherishes and celebrates them. Seeking to exclude religion from the public square (not, to be sure, distinguishing and separating church and state, but bearing in mind that religious convictions enrich rather than diminish our political and social dialog while posing no danger to pluralism precisely because only a minority are apt to hold any one belief) only does what the Restorationist Movement in Christianity inadvertently did: create yet another ideology, this one which actually does end up violating the conscience and making our mutual discourse less diverse rather than more so.

If, say, a Methodist carries her religious convictions into the pubic square, that threatens nobody- as long as only a minority of us are Methodists. There is no danger of sectarian doctrine becoming law unless that majority of us who will always disagree with it consent. And that, by definition, they will never do.

Not so the ideology of secularism. Where secularism becomes the governing ideology, embraced by society as a whole, it suppresses all others and ends up destroying both diversity and freedom.


Popular Posts