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Exploring Cultural Pluralism from a Judeo-Christian Standpoint

Mar 6, 2008
The term cultural pluralism was invented by Horace Kallen, a 20th century Jewish-American philosopher who was looking for a solution to a dilemma. Mr. Kallen was a proud American, but he did not want to be forced to lose the diversity of American culture. He found what he believed was a middle ground: a belief that cultural diversity and national pride could be compatible ideas that would strengthen America. The idea behind cultural pluralism is that minority groups can uphold their cultural beliefs and customs, and different cultures coexist in a state of tolerance and respect.

But is cultural pluralism compatible with the Bible? Like any question worth asking, there is not a simple "Yes" or "No." Pluralism can be pursued by Christians in some cases with no difficulties at all. There are many commonalities amongst religions, and there are many things that are not mentioned at all by the Bible. For example, the concept of honoring one's parents is common to many religions, though the Bible has nothing at all to say about string theory.

There are limits to all belief systems. The Bible does not allow pre-meditated murder, and so Christians could not accept pre-meditated murder by anyone, even if it were part of their cultural beliefs. Likewise, if a society teaches that two groups are equal-men and women, Caucasians and African-Americans, then tolerance draws the line at discrimination and slavery. What may be most difficult for a Christian is that being a cultural pluralist means accepting that some people will reject cultural pluralism. In other words, some people may espouse absolute dictates. What, then, do you do? Reject cultural pluralism and tolerate these dictates, or reject these dictates and in this way contradict cultural pluralism?

The Bible does provide us with insight here. The Bible warns us against judging others. Romans 2: 3-4 says "So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?"

Pluralism is a goal to be pursued thoughtfully and with care. Being tolerant for the sake of being tolerant, without thought or consideration, is not what the Bible calls for. But tolerance is a goal to pursue when it is a road to love and spiritual enlightenment.
About the Author
Ian Spellfield explores the most frequently used African American names through the lens of history in his blog, Black Ghetto Baby Names.
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