SteTrut 06-8-115      


Pluralism, Diversity and the Culture Wars


Brad Stetson and Joseph G. Conti

InterVarsity Press, 2005, 207 pp.  ISBN 0-8308-2787-0


Stetson teaches at Azusa Pacific University and Conti writes and lectures at California State University at Fullerton.  The book provides an overview of the intersection of truth and tolerance in the worldview context of evangelical Christianity. I found the first section (background and historical development) a bit heavy going, but the second and third sections were quite clear and readable.


We need to understand tolerance.  “Without tolerance, pluralism and diversity dissolve into nothing more than tyranny and chaos.” (12)  “True toleration [is] a virtue essential to any just and free society.” (13)


“Intolerance has always been and will always be a human problem, not a peculiarly Western or Christian one.” (15)  “Unquestionably, it is non-Western cultures and religious traditions that are in the vanguard of intolerance and the repression of pluralism today.” (20)


“The prophetic criticism of government by religious voices is a necessary hedge against the state’s greedy embrace of over-wide authority and the institutionalization of evil. Needless to say, totalitarian and autocratic governments and robust criticism from people of conscience do not often coincide.” (24)


“The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s criticism of segregation was squarely and even consciously in the biblical tradition of prophetic criticism.” (24)


“Jesus’ teaching as it touches on toleration is subtle but complex.”  “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:39)  “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt25:40)  (39)


“Christianity, importantly, has never represented itself as a faith only for some people.  In its essence it is for and open to all.”  (41)


“Intolerance is the wrongful arrogation of power to force conformity.” (42)


“The proper apprehension and practice of tolerance depends on a clear understanding of truth.  Yet in the United States and Western culture generally today, truth is a foggy idea, regarded at best as a specter of the premodern past.” (61)


“Truth allows us to cooperate with reality….” (63 quoting J. P. Moreland)


“Both academically and popularly truth seems to be regarded as a suspicious idea today….”  “…any claim to know the actual truth about a given matter or proposition…is more likely to be associated with intolerance than tolerance, with narrow-mindedness and bigotry rather than intellectual good faith and genuine concern for human well-being.  This is a phenomenon that no commonwealth can long endure.” (63)


God has given men a natural yearning to know Him and His ways.  “This personal need for transpersonal truth is paralleled by our culture’s need for an awareness, acceptance and acknowledgment of public truths, basic moral propositions that can order our society.” (64)


Seven theories of truth, pp. 67 ff.

1.      Truth is whatever you want it to be.”  This is rejection of objective truth and an inadequate way of understanding life.  No one lives as a relativist.

2.      Truth is what works.”  This reduces truth to what I think works or what works for me.  But what is true (facing death, for example) is often not practical.  

3.      Truth is what we can sense and sensually perceive.”  This omits important aspects of knowledge and reality that we commonly presuppose. 

4.      Truth is what reason declares.”  Rationalism. 

5.      Truth is the coherence of a group of ideas.” Harmony among a set of ideas.

6.      Truth is what corresponds to reality.” 

7.      Truth is whatever I feel.”  Wherever my emotions lead me.


The postmodernism views of truth are primarily “subjectivity and relativism wearing many different linguistic costumes.”  “What passes for deep thought in postmodern academia is often little more than an uncritical and rampant skepticism and  subjectivity….”  “Complete and total subjectivity prevents any interpersonally authoritative conclusions whatsoever, and it insulates us from criticism external to ourselves….”  “Extreme subjectivism is obviously self-refuting….” (72)


[Truth] “is created, not discovered; it is chosen, not revealed.  So truths remain private and only binding on me, with my consent.”  “Those who…seek to dispel my view, are, in my eyes, imposing on me their own private perspective.” (73)


“…unrelenting self-focus of postmodernist ideologies forecloses on debate itself, ceasing to tolerate dissent and dialogue…” (74)


“Physical realities cannot be denied away and neither can nonphysical realities.  Any denial of the authenticity of nonphysical reality is arbitrary and completely presuppositional….” (77)


A belief may be widely held and still be wrong.  “The failure…to see the distinction between truth and belief is at the heart of our disordered view of truth in American culture today, and it is what allows us to treat truth as taste and genuine tolerance as subscription to this mistake.” (78)


People do not respond to truth that is forced on them.  Truth needs a context of tolerance.  “Christianity, with its commitment to timeless and objective truths, provides a solid foundation for tolerance….” (81)


“Without a bedrock commitment to the concept of foundational truth….the secular liberal cannot appeal consistently to any grounds to persuade others of the wrong of transgressions like racism or intolerance, or the right to resist such wrongs.” (82)


“Secular liberalism wants to be skeptical and relativist toward traditional morality but still affirm the unconditional truth of its preferred moral judgments….”  “This is inconsistent and hypocritical.” (82)  “…secular liberalism can offer no firm reason why people ought to be tolerant….” (83)


“But with the onset of remarkable affluence and the concomitant boredom of the 1950s….Americans grew impatient with the religious, moral and legal traditions that circumscribed their lives and their now energized pursuit of self-gratification.” (88)


“The relativism of the secular liberalism that is so prominent today…is only relativist when it is resisting traditional Judeo-Christian morality.” (89)


“… those values and moral judgments favored by secular liberals (e.g. same-sex marriage, abortion on demand, the banning of Christmas crèches in front of city hall) are defended as objectively right…on principle.  “Secular liberalism…has created a group of ‘new absolutes.’” (90)


“Secular liberalism has perverted tolerance for the sake of advancing its own agenda.  Seeing the political utility of playing the tolerance card…it has created a socially dominant but confused understanding of tolerance as agreement with the prevailing liberal social ethos, and in the process it short-circuits real debate and political dialogue.  Secular liberals have changed the cultural definition of tolerance into ‘acceptance’ and ‘respect,’ as though dissenting from their ideology is rude and mean-spirited.  Tolerance has evolved from abiding the objectionable to affirming the rightness of the diverse and nontraditional.” (93)


“This is how liberalism has become intolerant.  It intimidates its critics into silence and casts the weight of cultural suspicion at them…. “ (93)  “The obvious fact that every group and ideology—left to right—is seeking to  advocate and codify the values it believes best for society is ignored, and politics devolves into little more than a power play.” (94)


The worldview of secular liberalism is based on individualism, autonomy, and rights, divorced from convention, tradition, religion, responsibility, or the good of others.  (95-6)  “A one-sided emphasis on individual right obscures the obvious question: Who has the responsibility, the duty, to observe and respect others’ rights?” (97)


“Christianity offers a robust, articulate and systematically coherent worldview, and so it can represent well the objections to secular liberalism.” (99)


Evangelicalism is a worldview shared by a substantial portion of the nations.  Estimates vary from 5% to 46%. (100)  “A great many are timid in articulating their sentiments and some are brash.  (102) 


“The attempt to persuade another person is not being intolerant of that person.  In fact, it shows respect for his or her intellectual agency and dignity of mind.  To urge that someone adopt a new point of view about a matter is in no way to mistreat him or her.” (103)


“There exists no right not to be offended….”  “It is not intolerant to warn people of a danger you believe they face or to tell them that you believe they are flawed and in need of spiritual help.”  “Conversation or proclamation only becomes intolerant when it is accompanied by coercion in some form.” (104)


“It is simply not true that disagreeing with someone…about religious truth amounts to being mean, malicious or somehow intolerant toward that person.”


“Despite all charges to the contrary, Christianity is built on the reality that not only humans but also God can love persons while rejecting their false beliefs and immoral behaviors.”  (104)


“We cannot say we appreciate human diversity without allowing the various worldviews to articulate their own philosophy.” (105)


“Pluralism is not to be loathed or feared but rather embraced as a forum for the free and vigorous examination of ideas and understandings, about matters great and small.” (107-08)


“Secular liberalism is the default position of America media.  It is part of the mental atmosphere of the news industry.” (115)


“Education at all levels increasingly has taken on the character of the indoctrination of certain values and viewpoints and the discrimination against others….” (117)


“The backdrop to this social shift is the view that the American nation and the Judeo-Christian creed that has nursed it are irredeemably corrupt.” (121)


“Speech codes, now ubiquitous on campuses, are a key component of education into the secular worldview.  They are an especially effective if insidious way of sneaking partisan political and moral judgments into the intellectual life of a university and by implication, eventually, the larger society….”  “Tolerance easily becomes a one-way street in such environs.” (122-23)


Fundamentalist is now a common epithet in American life, signaling a contempt and anger as intense as any contemporary slur.  Ditto for the religious right….” (127)


“…the guardians of secular tolerance have transmuted the separation of church and state into the separation of religion and society.” “…it is an effective way to sanitize the public square of religious ideas some may find distasteful.” (136)


“We’re now in a situation where everyone must be equally right, where you cannot say that people are wrong and still claim to love them.”  “Love me, love my opinions—love my views.”  “And this is humanly disastrous.” (139, quoting Dallas Willard)


Ten principles of tolerance: (140 ff.)

1.      Tolerance, rightly understood, is a patience toward a practice or opinion one disapproves of. 

2.      “The practice of tolerance must have limits.”  “Tolerance, of course, should not be extended to every person in every circumstance.” “If we tolerate everything…we have no grounds on which to proscribe even the most reprehensible conduct.”

3.      Tolerance allows for prudent moral criticism and strongly held individual belief. 

4.      There are important distinctions to be made within the concept of intolerance and between the concepts of intolerance and nontolerance.”

5.      Tolerance is a moral tool that allows for the construction and maintenance of civic order.” 

6.      Tolerance is rightly applied only to people’s conduct and expressions of opinion.  To reject an idea is not therefore to reject the person who holds that idea….”  “…citizens do not have a right not to be offended by other people’s ideas; they do not have a right not to be criticized respectfully; and their claims to being offended are not self-justifying or self-validating.”

7.      Tolerance is inconsistent with philosophical indifference.”  “When we stop being sincerely concerned about what is good, just and true, we of necessity stop being concerned about human well-being.”

8.      Tolerance is consistent with a strong confidence in the truthfulness of one’s own beliefs and experience.  It is widely believed today that anyone with intense convictions ought to be regarded with suspicion.”  “If it is true…then surely we ought also to be wary of anyone who insists, ‘Reject strong beliefs!’”

9.      Since tolerance is inevitably connected with disagreement and moral evaluation, it helpfully compels us toward a philosophical confrontation with competing and irreconcilable perspectives about the good.”  “By placing us under the moral duty of forbearance, that is, the obligation to listen and to watch our neighbors express their opinions and tastes, the ethic of tolerance gives us the reasonable expectation to be given a fair hearing also.”   

10.   We should always be conscious of the various contexts in which tolerance is exercised.”  “Tolerance has to be applied differently in different contexts.”


“…intense religious conviction can be fully compatible with a vigorous ethic of tolerance, and in fact such a moral practice is emphatically required and supported by the Judeo-Christian tradition.  This tradition uniquely has the resources to uphold true tolerance and prevent its collapse into an antitraditional, secular intolerance based on an arbitrary selection of untested and ultimately incoherent assertions about human rights and purposes.” (173)


“…American Christians living in the first decade of the twenty-first century have it remarkably easy.”  “Christians are still murdered, all over the globe, for naming the name of Christ.” 


We should embrace a deep sense of gratitude; live with moral excellence; recognize that people use moral relativism to excuse their guilt and that people today live with much anger and pain; remember that deeds speak louder than words; develop genuine concern for those around us; remember that people reject Christianity for subjective vs. rational motives; meet people where they are; emphasize that coming to faith is personal, not political and the decision is because it is true, not because of what it will do for you.



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