The Perils of Pluralism
By J.R. Ensey
Virtually every society in the world is experiencing a major challenge to its founding principles. We are becoming what some sociologists call “a global village.” Nations are losing their distinctiveness as they interact on a technological level totally unknown to their ancestors. To some, these are exciting signs of progress. To others, it is quite distressing as they see long-held values slip away in deference to philosophies which contrast with everything once considered sacred.
There are three major “isms” which are responsible for many of these changes in our modem world: Humanism, Relativism, and Pluralism. These three philosophies have shaped the minds of the masses, especially in the Western world. We will not deal specifically with the first two, although they will be mentioned in their relationship to the main theme. Our focus will be on the social and religious aspects of pluralism and its offspring, multiculturalism.
A Websteresque, philosophical definition of pluralism is “the acceptance of the legitimacy of more than one ultimate reality, contrasted with monism and dualism.” Walter Lippmann described a pluralistic society as “each man [being] attached to a very complex social situation.” Such definitions have to be put in perspective. In socio/political terms, they mean that in a pluralistic society there is an absence of a single, guiding national philosophy. There are no absolutes. Moral and ethical relativism govern all relationships. There is no right or wrong. Pluralism holds that it is wrong to assume that one set of values is superior to any other, and that nonjudgmental diversity is the strength of a given society. Egalitarianism becomes the watchword. As author Thomas Harris suggested, “I’m OK, You’re OK!” His book by the same title seemed to galvanize American thought until that line became the philosophical catalyst for an entire generation.
The impact of this philosophy upon Christianity is our primary concern. Christians can survive in a world that is morally and ethically bankrupt as long as its gates are shut to its encroachment. When a ship is in the water it is relatively safe. When the water gets into the ship, problems abound: Somebody better man the pumps! Ignorance of our surrounding culture, or apathy toward its dangers, places the church in “Titanic” waters. “Watchman what of the night” (Isaiah 21:11)?
In The Second American Revolution by John Whitehead, the author notes that the acceptance of one’s race and culture is one thing, but the modern view of pluralism “says that a Christian should” not seek to [impose] his or her religious beliefs on another. Unfortunately, this has led to a consensus within society that anything is acceptable. Nothing is right or wrong, it’s just a matter of preference.”
Pluralism fosters a gradual breakdown of constitutional law and order in an effort to accommodate each group or individual’s “rights” and perceived “entitlements.” The ultimate end could be anarchy or civil war. Governance of a nation composed of many cultures, religions, and nationalities is extremely difficult over an extended period of time. The recent “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia is a sad reminder of this fact. The region has been a seething pot of cultural bitterness for hundreds of years. (The first shots of WWI were fired in Sarejevo.) Canada, our neighbor to the north, carries a heavy governmental burden in an effort to appease its French-speaking populace. The more official languages a nation embraces, the less unity they seem to enjoy. The present tide of nationalism rising in many countries bodes ill for their future stability. Eastern Europe, Spain, and several African nations are cases in point.
It was said of the time of the Judges that since there was “no king in Israel, every man did that which was ‘right in his own eyes,” It was a time when God’s people were fragmented and largely. leaderless. A lack of oneness and unity leads to lawlessness, and lawlessness to disintegration.
In a pluralistic society, the declaration of “one nation, under [one] God” becomes quite meaningless-even reprehensible-to the pluralists. One by one, laws opposing traditionally offensive behavior are rescinded because such acts are no longer offensive to the decision makers in power. Wrong is only in the eyes of the uninitiated, the naive, or the unenlightened. Political correctness becomes the order of the day. No word may be spoken or stance taken in opposition to any group or person, particularly those who are considered “minorities,” which might be interpreted as threatening to anyone’s perceived “rights.” The majority cannot be allowed to pass legislation reflecting their views lest they violate the spirit of a pluralistic society. Intimidation reigns from the courthouse to the White House.
It is easy to see that such philosophies have permeated American culture and are herding this nation toward certain fragmentation and possible demise. Professor Nathan Hatch of Notre Dame, writing in the November 22, 1993 issue of Christianity Today, said, “Secular pluralism, long prevalent on university campuses, is nearly as pervasive in everyday life. Furious debates over abortion and homosexual rights, values education, and multiculturalism engage common folk in Peoria and Spokane, not just the intellectuals of Cambridge or New Haven. In his recent book, The Disuniting of America, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., notes that we are losing any common national identity as rival ethnic groups retell the American experience from their own point of view. “Will the melting pot,” he asks, “yield to the Tower of Babel?”
Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, began his recent book entitled, Where Do We Go From Here? with these stirring words:
Remember when Francis Schaeffer told us that some day we would wake up and find out that the America we once knew was gone? That day is here.
We have crossed an invisible line, and there are no signs that we are capable of turning back. Like a boat caught in the mighty torrent of the Niagara River, we are being swept along in a powerful cultural current that just might put us over the brink.
When should we have first noticed that our ship was headed for dangerous waters? Perhaps it was as far back as 1963 when the Supreme court ruled that it was unconstitutional to pray in our public schools. Or maybe it was in 1973 when the infamous Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion for any reason. These were two unmistakable signs that our ship of state was veering off course. Now the precarious stream we have chosen has become a river, and the river has become a flood.
Daily, perhaps hourly, we are losing the war for America’s heart and mind. We must understand the direction and speed of this cultural river that has spilled over and engulfed our land.”
Any observant person would have to agree. But is that same spirit affecting the church of God? Is it invading the Pentecostal movement? Could it pose a threat to our future as a viable Christian entity? How does the Bible treat the ‘question of pluralism? These are the questions that are currently pressed upon us; hence, this book.
Pluralism in the Old Testament
The Old Testament deals primarily with the history of one nation-the Hebrew people who came from the loins of Abraham. It briefly mentions societies and cultures prior to Abraham which flourished under leadership that usually governed by decree. After the age when most men were hunters and gatherers, they shifted from a nomadic lifestyle .in the countryside to a community environment. Community life involved trade, cooperation, and communication. These elements, in turn, required laws-rules by which everyone was obligated to live. Laws required leaders and enforcers, so they elected or appointed chiefs, kings, and potentates.
Hammurabi was one such ruler. The sixth king of the Amoritic Dynasty of Babylonia, he reigned from 2067 to 2025 B.C. He is especially noted for the great law code promulgated for the use of the courts throughout his empire. The most complete text of this Semitic code was found at Susa (Shushan) inscribed on a stele over seven feet high. The engraved diorite stone also shows Hammurabi in bas relief receiving the laws
from Shamash the sun god.
The code, written in cuneiform script, contained 3000 lines describing 282 statutes. On the stele the king represented himself as “a devout, god-fearing prince,” who caused the monument to be inscribed and set up in a public place “that the strong may not oppress the weak.” It contained legislation governing virtually every aspect of life except religion. Many statutes were strikingly similar to those which Yahweh would give to Moses hundreds of years later at Mount Sinai.
Interestingly, the recent archaeological discoveries at Ebla and other ancient city-states in northern Syria revealed many aspects of government firmly in place several centuries before Hammurabi’s time. Men living under community rule subjected themselves to the treaties, edicts, and statutes or suffered severe consequences. Commitment to the common good was the criterion for citizenship. Individual agendas and divisiveness would have weakened them in the eyes of their enemies and made them easy prey.
The Law of Moses
The sons of Abraham, who himself was called out of Ur in Babylonia, multiplied their tribes in Egypt to which they had migrated in search of food during a famine in what is now Israel. Becoming slaves to the Egyptians, they were in bondage there for four hundred and thirty years. Moses was called by God and sent to lead them out, and did so assisted by the miraculous power of God. They crossed the Red Sea into the Sinai Peninsula where God met Moses on the mountain and gave him the “Ten Commandments.” These became the moral standard, and the core of the religious system by which the people would be governed. Supplementary regulations, mostly pertaining to religious life, but many having to do with everyday relationships and activities, were also given to Moses.
Edicts concerning the Israelites’ separation and strict distinction from other peoples were sternly enforced. They were not to fraternize with the heathen nations about them or through which they passed. Their farming methods were to be different. Their attire was to show distinction between the sexes. Their government was different, their worship was different, their objectives were different-and God meant for it to remain that way. Their individual life, their religious life, and civic life revolved around God’s revealed will for their nation. They lived with the aura of destiny upon them.
Integration with other nations or peoples was forbidden since it would neutralize their purpose. Israel did ‘have some proselytes, but these converts adopted the customs and lifestyles of the Jews-they didn’t come in pushing their own culture, trying to reform Judaism. They had to become one with the covenant people. “Broadminded” pluralism would never have fulfilled God’s purpose for the Hebrew nation.
In Deuteronomy 7:1-9, God reminded the people not to make alliances with the Canaanites or intermarry with them. Why? “They will turn your sons away from following me.” The Israelites refused to believe this, but the record reveals that is exactly what happened. Should we pridefully chide them for not having a faith strong enough to withstand the interaction, for not being able to have contact without compromise? Instead of co-mingling, God said, “This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their asherah poles, and burn their idols in the fire.”
In Deuteronomy 23, God gave the people instructions about keeping the camp clean and excluding abominable and impure things. He then explains what He was talking about: the Ammonites, the Moabites, the prostitutes, the homosexuals, and the loan sharks. The message was clear: no mixing! God told them to deal with these elements in this way “because you are a holy people, a treasured people … not because you were more numerous than other peoples (is God a non-progressive?) … but because the Lord loved you.” God wanted their faithfulness to endure to “a thousand generations.” That is why they were required to keep out certain elements which could compromise their covenant of love.
The tribe of Ephraim was rebuked through the prophet Hosea for having “mixed himself among the people.” Had they forgotten the commandments concerning separation? Did they come to feel that they could beat the odds? Monoculturalism seemed to be too cold and indifferent. They longed for the “warmth and inclusiveism” of a more liberal approach, God’s laws notwithstanding.
The Mixed Multitude
One of the sharpest thorns in the side of the Israelites was the “mixed multitude” which they permitted to come out of Egypt with them. These were evidently other slaves (not of Abrahamic origin), Egyptians tired of the status quo, and probably a few stragglers who would have gone with whatever crowd was moving at the time. They were not deeply committed to Israel’s God or to Moses’ leadership. At their first mention you sense there is going to be trouble because of them.
It was this mixed multitude which first began to complain of conditions in the wilderness. Their whining seemed to incite the Israelites to murmur about the culinary fare. They fostered doubt, ingratitude, and complaint among the people. Moses should have sent them on their way, but perhaps he thought that Hebrew pluralism just might work: “We will integrate them into our number and they will help us fight, work, and grub for food. Even though they don’t believe like we do, they have come through the cloud and the sea with us, and perhaps these experiences will cause them to be compatible with us.” How wrong he was!
Hundreds of years later, contrary to God’s wishes, Israel still embraced people of foreign descent (perhaps direct descendents of the original mixed multitude and non-proselytes to the faith) in their midst. A revival was in the making under the inspirational leadership of Nehemiah. The “book of Moses” was called for and read to the people. The reading reminded them that they were not to assimilate just anyone into the “congregation of God.” Upon hearing the reading, “they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude.” Nehemiah went on to cleanse the temple, and firmly rebuked the people for mixed marriages, Sabbath desecration, and mishandling the tithes. “Thus cleansed I them from all strangers,” he said. They were back on track.
Under Rehoboam, the Southern Kingdom permitted sodomites (homosexuals) to live in the land. Such a privilege came through the call for pluralism: “They pay taxes, too. They have rights. We can’t discriminate against them just because of their sexual orientation. Let them stay!” The bleeding-heart liberals won the day. The sodomites may have celebrated with a gay pride march in the streets of Jerusalem. The Bible does say that “they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the children of Israel.”
When Asa took the throne a few years later, however, it is recorded that he “did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord … and he took away the sodomites out of the land.” Those that Asa missed in his dragnet were removed by Jehoshaphat when he became king.
The Bible leaves no doubt concerning the way God feels about the abomination of homosexuality, or about his people “fellowshipping the difference.”18 The more diversity that is accepted, the more people are prone to believe that it includes the diversity of “sexual preference.” Liberal philosophy has a way of clouding the issue and making it appear to be “loving” to accept moral depravity as a “social sickness” that can be healed by inclusion and self-esteem.
Hundreds of years later, when a revival was pending under King Josiah, a similar pattern evolved. The word of the Lord was found in the Temple and read to the king. He immediately began to initiate long overdue reforms. The sodomites had slowly convinced the former administration that they posed no problem, in fact, they developed such a rapport that they were allowed to build their houses right next to the Temple. When the spirit of revival emboldened Josiah, he not only expelled them, but razed their homes.i9 The razing of their houses provokes one to wonder if the gays of that generation were considered to be the primary carriers of a deadly pestilence as they are today. Why are we often slow to learn the lessons of history? Timorous leadership has always impeded revival!
Hellenism: Exodus In Reverse
In 332 B.C., a strange thing happened. Thousands of Jews decided to go back to Egypt. Aggressive military conquest put Greece in control of much of the Mediterranean region. The conqueror was Alexander the Great. He decided to build a new city in the Egyptian delta to be named Alexandria in his honor. In order to populate his new city he appealed to the Jews residing in Jerusalem and Palestine to migrate there.
They did so and it soon developed into a thriving metropolis. The city grew in less than a century to be larger than Carthage, and for some centuries forward it had no superior but Rome. It was a center not only of Hellenism but of Semitism, and the greatest Jewish city in the world.
But what is the “rest of the story”? The Hellenistic (Greek) culture overwhelmed the Jews in time and they began to integrate themselves into Greek society. Their children married outside the faith, largely discarded the Hebrew language in favor of Greek, and generally lost their distinctiveness. This scenario has been repeated many times throughout history. One wise man said, “We must learn from the mistakes of others because we will never live long enough to make them all ourselves.”
During the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (288-247 B.C.), Jewish Egyptian elders decided that since their children were losing the language, they ought to preserve the Scriptures in the vernacular of the people. Seventy translators came from Jerusalem to Alexandria and began the work of translating the Pentateuch into Greek. Other Jewish “Writings” and the Prophets were later translated. It was called the Septuagint (denoting the number of translators), and is the oldest extant manuscript containing the Jewish Scriptures. This work was only necessitated, however, because of the integration of Jews into yet another foreign culture.
Pluralism did not work to the benefit of God’s people in Old Testament times. Let us now observe the New Testament model.
This article “The Perils of Pluralism” by J.R. Ensey is excerpted from his book The Perils of Pluralism, 1998