Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Whatever

Christian Smith, a sociology prof at Notre Dame and co-author of Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood is concerned about the increasing prevalence of an unreflective relativism respecting religion:
There was a time in American culture, only a few generations ago, when religious differences were major. Baptists were not Methodists, and both were definitely not Presbyterians. Catholics were absolutely not Protestant, and Protestants doubted that Catholics were even Christians. Jews and Mormons were whole other species. Non-religious Americans were beyond the pale. And Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus were heathen living in faraway places. The problem with that world, we now see, was the destructive bigotry, misunderstanding, conflict and sometimes hatred that went with it. Let us call that world one of sectarian conflict.

We have come in America today to a very different world, which we might call liberal whateverism. This outlook reacts against sectarian conflict by dramatically discounting the claims of religion. The more aggressive side of this view asserts that religion per se is pernicious and should be eliminated or radically privatized. The more accommodating side says religion is fine as a personal lifestyle commodity, but that religious inclinations are ultimately arbitrary and should not be taken too seriously.

.... Many emerging adults have few considered moral bearings, are devoted to mass consumerism, routinely become intoxicated and engage in casual sexual hook-ups, are civically and politically uninformed and alienated. ....

Liberal whateverism was obvious among most of the emerging adults we studied. About 10 percent were militantly atheistic. But the vast majority opted for the more accommodating "whatever" default. Anyone could take religion or leave it. It was an individual "opinion" that didn't matter much. ....

Is there not a better way for all of us to take religion more seriously without descending into sectarian conflict? That is one of the most important questions of our day.

I think we need to reject both sectarian conflict and liberal whateverism and commit ourselves instead to an authentic pluralism. Genuine pluralism fosters a culture that honors rather than isolates and disparages religious difference. It affirms the right of others to believe and practice their faith, not only in their private lives but also in the public square -- while expecting them to allow still others to do the same. Authentic pluralism does not minimize religious differences by saying that "all religions are ultimately the same." That is false and insipid. Pluralism encourages good conversations and arguments across differences, taking them seriously precisely because they are understood to be about important truths, not merely private "opinions." It is possible, authentic pluralism insists, to profoundly disagree with others while at the same time respecting, honoring, and perhaps even loving them. Genuine pluralism suspects the multi-cultural regime's too-easy blanket affirmations of "tolerance" of being patronizing and dismissive. .... [more]
Christian Smith: Religious Tolerance: Karma, Christ, Whatever?