pluralism – Charlie Hebdo (Weekly Charlie) stirs another daily reflection

In the story of Babel, people the world o’er, all speaking the same language and yearning to make a home for themselves, build a city with a tower stretching skyward. God, initially intrigued, yet soon alarmed at what the effort’s success might portend concerning challenges to the divine will, creates multiple tongues of speech. The people, no longer able to communicate one with another, abandon the work, scattering over the face of the earth.

This story is often termed an etiological (concerned with the cause or origin of things) legend, meant to explain the derivation of languages. I see it as a metaphorical depiction of a fundamental and incontrovertible aspect of our modern and post-modern world: pluralism.

Honoring the necessity of defining my terms (for, I believe, no two people – each, no matter how similar, possessing an individual history, orientation, and worldview – ever mean precisely the same thing by the same words), pluralism describes a state of coexistence of multiple and distinct frames of reference and rationality (ethical, political, theological) for the discernment of life’s meaning. Of course, looking at the world as a whole, with its myriad continental and regional societies, this can be held to have been true in every era of human history. However, now, for generations humankind has moved over that historical horizon when “those people” (pick a color, creed, or culture) lived “over there” in some faraway land. Countless are the Americans and Europeans who, tracing their ancestral lineage to Africa, Asia, or the Middle East, were born and raised in the West. Therefore, we are far past the point when nationalistic desires (often, I imagine, those of a Westerner on the political far right) “to send those people back home” could be entertained legitimately. Indeed, pluralism is but another way to talk about the global village in which we all live.

This said, there is a difference between a pluralistic world and a world of pluralism. The first describes an environment in which, as a simple matter of demonstrable fact (and whether one likes it or not), many world views are present. A world of pluralism refers to an environment in which the presence of many world views is recognized as the real state of things and welcomed.

My heart longs, my soul aches for the coming of a world – and, as recent events and their multifaceted implications indicate, we are not yet there – at peace. The peace of a world at-one with itself. An at-one-ness wrought not in a cauldron of some heated, forced (and impossible to attain) amalgamation of all colors, creeds, and cultures, all ideologies, philosophies, and theologies. But rather a unity in diversity beheld through the lens of clarity that perceives our human differences as always up close and personal, true and viable, and not (and impossible ever again to be) distant and discountable.

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