Pluralistic Society and the Culture Wars
I detest the culture wars. I really do. My disposition toward cultural and societal difference is typically to cheer the dialogue and cherish the multitude of differing voices as we try to figure out the best ways of moving forward, and yet in my two recent posts I’ve taken sides in what is unmistakably a culture war. I’ve staked a position in support of seemingly out-of-touch, self-described religious authorities and their papal-ringed handful of devoted followers. I’d be lying if I said my raising the banner wasn’t partially due to a desire to be a faithful son of Holy Mother Church, but familial loyalty to my faith isn’t my only reason for drawing the sword. I’m a pluralist at heart. I do not yearn for a world in which my religious faith is the only game in town. I would vociferously oppose any attempt to enshrine my political philosophy and morality as the uncontestable law of the land. I’m a firm believer that my thoughts and beliefs can benefit from encounters with their other. Society as well, I believe, benefits in the long run when it welcomes the foreign, the alien, and the excluded.
Catholic morality has certainly become foreign to our culture and the culture of most Catholics. Its tenets seem everything from silly to barbaric. It’s understandable that contemporary thought would see Catholic morality buried in the sands of time, never to return. As a pluralist, that’s not something I favor. And as a pluralist and a Catholic, I cannot sit idly by when the government proposes to coerce my coreligionists to act contrary to the principles of their faith.
I’d much prefer that we as a society address our conflicts of values without famine, sword, and fire crouching for employment. I dearly hope my hope is not unreasonable. There are, for example, feasible alternatives to attaining universal access to contraceptives that do not compel Catholics to violate their conscience. I can’t imagine the church would like any of these alternatives, as it looks with a disapproving glare on contraceptives as contrary to the natural law, but it would, I suspect, tolerate one of them if it meant the preservation and protection of religious liberty. Or maybe I’m wrong about that. Like the rest of us in the postmodern era, the Catholic Church is still learning how to proclaim and make a case for its worldview within the framework of a pluralistic democracy. With all the trials and difficulties of this framework, the temptation of our time is to enforce similitude modeled on the dominant moral and political worldviews. Silly me, though: I associate justice with hospitality to those we’re tempted to leave out in the cold to starve, wither, and perish.