“Pluralism” Is The Alibi Of The Indifferent, The Cowardly, The Empty-Headed
(The following excerpts are from the book “The Timeless Christian” (Franciscan Herald Press, 1969) by the late Dr. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. Anything by him is worth reading. – J.L.)
Not until the democratic revival of the French Revolution did the idea occur to anyone of putting an end to the pluralism of the ancien régime. Then to “cut down the height by a head” became all the fashion. During the last weeks of the reign of terror a law was passed declaring that church spires were to be demolished because they offended against the principle of equality. When Robespierre fell, the town council of Strasbourg were just setting about demolishing the spire of the cathedral. The pick-axe was added to the guillotine. In Alsace anti-pluralism raged particularly loudly: the women were forbidden to dress in French fashion, and the Jacobins reported angrily that the inhabitants did not use the “republican language,” i.e. French.
In the Middle Ages there was admittedly one great common factor: faith. Diversity in dress, currency, weights and measures, customs, dialects and privilege did not shatter the unity of faith. The scheme attributed to St. Augustine, “In essentials, unity, in doubtful things, freedom, in all things, charity,” if not always upheld, was al ways the accepted ideal. Today, the reverse is true. Imagine a great dinner-party in an imperial city in the fifteenth century: the men — and of course the women — would all be dressed in garments of the most varied cut and color; they would have upheld the most diverse political opinions and expressed a great variety of views; but in faith all would have been united. What of today? In New York they would all come to dinner in a tuxedo, would speak the language of democracy, but who would dare to demand their unity in faith? To do so would be the height of intolerance. Each may choose his own religion, no one dare instruct him here (since this would be “proselytizing”); everyone can find happiness in his own fashion. Here alone in this domain, pluralism is allowed to have absolute sway.
Let us compare the two situations. The late medieval basic unity, characterized by a pluralism in purely non-essential matters, could be symbolized by a tree whose branches, twigs and leaves are swaying naturally in the wind while its strong trunk is rooted deep down into the earth. The state of affairs in the modern world is precisely the opposite: the roots (“the essentials”) are floating around in the air while the incidentials, the branches and even the leaves, are screwed on to long metal poles. They cannot move a truly perverse situation! And so this celebrated pluralism of today stays within the realm of religion. Modern man swoons in reverence before all the experts — biologists, technologists, chemists, physicists and sometimes even philosophers and historians — but he will never bow his head to a theologian. Hence chemists and physicists are interviewed on religious topics, but no reporter or pollster would ever dream of asking a moral casuist about the treatment of leukemia. In matters of religion anyone may talk any kind of nonsense whenever he pleases; for here there is only wildly proliferating sentiment, but no truth. “What is truth?” Pilate asked our Lord, and, without waiting for an answer, consulted the raging mob which preferred Barabbas to Christ. This was a victory for the vox populi, which re minds us of the German elections of 1932 in which 60 per cent voted for tyranny.
What is the use of this slogan “pluralism,” which is not fully real even in the denominational sphere, for in the ecumenical movement there also lurks a perfectly legitimate longing to create unity out of diversity? Behind this jargon is a negative aim: subjectivist, relativist nihilism. This label serves to excuse all forms of spinelessness, to mollify the straight thinkers and prevent them from intervening. It is the alibi of the indifferent and cowardly: “What do you want, we live in a pluralistic society!” What a downright lie! Precisely because we are at sea and utterly divided and aimless concerning the meaning of life and of the universe, we seek everywhere despairingly for a sure foothold where none ought to be. With empty heads and sore hearts we let ourselves be dragooned, bound hand and foot and even embedded in concrete. This is the miserable slavery that hides beneath the smooth mask of the “pluralistic age.”