Saturday, October 24, 2009

Culture: Secular or Pluralistic?

I just returned home from a science and faith conference held in Fort Worth, TX.
At the end of the first day, my friends and I were able to spend some time with one of the speakers, Stephen Meyer.

I respect Dr. Meyer. He is a man who is passionate about his particular field (intelligent design, namely biological information), but who invests time in the work of others. He delights in answering questions, and refrains from blustering or bullying those who disagree with him.

He seems like he has nothing to hide.

One of the statements he made in our conversation really stood out to me. I wasn’t sure if I agreed with it or not, but I thought that it was very important to understand.

Here’s what he said:

“We are not living in a pluralistic society, we are living in a secular society.”
A pluralistic society is one in which a variety of traditions and ideologies are able to coexist. This word can also mean that varieties of ideologies are all equally valid.

A secular society is one which pushes a naturalistic worldview. This is often seen not only in what said society propagates but in what it attempts to disallow to propagate.

Why does Meyer’s statement matter?

Is it accurate?

I think that Meyer’s remark is pertinent to the discussion of religion and state today. Even if found to be not entirely accurate, the words of this seasoned cultural observer reflect at least a shift in American worldview.

As a religious studies major, I encounter a lot of thought directed against my position of the exclusivity of Christ. Professors teach the values of other religions from the standpoint that all religions are equally valuable. Students who disagree are misinformed at best.

One would suppose that this is a product of extreme pluralism in the classroom, which is probably very true. But I think that Meyer’s words carry gravity even in my comparative religions class. We are taught to evaluate religion through a post-modern lens of relative truth (meaning and truth are separate from facts).

This sounds very much like pluralism, but there may be a naturalistic heart keeping this teaching alive. We are taught not to esteem one religious tradition above another because we are all just people reaching above to Ultimate Reality, but this supposition, even though it acknowledges the supernatural, is effectively established upon secular principles.

This is so because some pluralistic camps of thought encourage us to assent to the idea that the supernatural has its hands tied behind its back (so to speak). It does not reach out to us in such a way that we can definitively know it, which means that our religions are symbols, compasses pointing toward magnetic north at best.
Pluralism is certainly not dead in America, but I think it owes much of its success to naturalistic thought.

Thus, when Meyer’s says that we are living in a secular society as opposed to a pluralistic one, I think he is right insofar as secular ideologies are permeating culture even to the religious sphere. (This phenomenon may be much more noticeable in spheres outside of religious studies, like the sciences.)

The strange relationship between secular and pluralistic ideologies hinted at by Meyer’s comment is sure to change in the future.

I do not know if religious pluralism will replace naturalistic secularism or vice versa. Perhaps these will coexist in a merged form or be divided into a Schaefferian two story dichotomy.

Granted, these are not the only worldviews in the fray. My own Christian faith is still to be counted.

And if both religious pluralism and secular thought are mistaken, the Christian God is still to be counted as well.

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