Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Secularists vs. Pluralists

Murray’s insight is that of the four contending religious ‘pluralisms’ in the US, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Secularist, the secularist is the only one that rejects pluralism even in theory. In America, by the latter half of the twentieth century, only the secularists were triumphalists.

This seems quite true to me, but I missed it until very recently. And it was very specifically realizing that secularists reject pluralism that caused me to stop thinking of myself as a political conservative and begin thinking of myself as a political Christian.

For a very long time, I assumed that when secular liberals used the word ‘tolerance’, they meant something like what most people mean by pluralism. And therefore it seemed to me that if we could show liberals how certain conservative initiatives to decentralize political decisions, or even move them out of the realm of politics altogether, were advances for pluralism we could win their support. (School vouchers are the paradigm, but many, even most, conservative initiatives fit the pattern.)

In brief, I thought that if we could show liberals that in America subsidiarity was almost a synonym for pluralism, they would endorse it. When they refused I tended to attribute their refusal to a hidden motive such as the Democratic Party’s fealty to the teachers unions or a deep anti-Catholic bigotry they could not admit to. This was unfair. For their motives were not hidden at all.

Because, as Murray knew, their word ‘tolerance’ did not mean pluralism at all. For the secularist, ‘tolerance’ specifically means not only denying religion a place in public life but denying religious belief or morality a place in the public conversation.

Murray died almost forty years ago (in 1967). ‘We Hold These Truths’ was first published in 1960. In his day Murray could still describe the secularists as at most a dissenting voice. Back then the Protestant faction still appeared to be the country’s most powerful, and the acrimony between Catholics and Protestants still the most important tension within the American pluralism.

Today the secularists, while still not the largest faction, are unquestionably the most powerful, largely because the terms of the debate have been skewed in their favor. The secularist war on pluralism comes closer to victory every day.

So I stopped being a conservative and became a Christian Democrat because there is no pluralism--or peace--to be had with secularists. They want to win it all. They are unhesitant about imposing their values on us by the power of the state. Their ambition is naked and unembarrassed. Our only choice is to go for the gold, not as Catholics and Protestants of course, but as Christians, with as many Jews along for the party as we can convince to come.

Of course this is already happening. I am late to the party. But if a newcomer is entitled to an opinion, I’d say the one thing this party may need is, well, a Party, or something very like it. If what we want is a Christian country—and our only other choice now is a secularist country—then we should fight under a Christian flag.

As between Christian and secularists, the civil language of pluralism, (which in the past required us to call by other names the Christian principles upon which America was founded) is now a lie. By continuing to adhere to the lie we confuse and demoralize ourselves and, in our lack of frankness open ourselves to the slanders of the secularists. And we cede to the secularists their greatest weapon, control of the terms of debate.

As among ourselves, let an ever more amicable pluralism, and as much genuine ecumenism as we can manage, with God’s help, be our commitment. But as between the secularists and ourselves let us not be deceived, we fight to win, as they have been doing all along.


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