The Downside of Pluralism

Written by Drew on September 3rd, 2007

Since my last excursis on Global Warming, I have been looking for an explanation for the your-science-versus-my-science politics that clouds environmental ethics. As I was perusing the “Letters” column of Newsweek I found what I was looking for.

Bernard Dov Cooperman, a professor of History for the University of Maryland, called attention to what he believes is the real problem in the Global Warming debate. I doubt that he and I would agree on the issue of climate change itself, but I believe his position on the underlying cause of our disillusionment towards issues like this one is excellent. He wrote,

…our society is more than happy to accept spin…because we have come to believe that all expertise is bias, that all knowledge is opinion, that every judgment is relative. I see this daily in my university classroom. Many of even my best students seem to have lost the ability to think critically about the world. They do not believe in the transformative power of knowledge because they do not believe in knowledge itself. Begley [the author of a recent Newsweek article on Global Warming, D.K.] decries the tactic of making the scientists appear divided, but the corporations didn’t have to invent this tactic. It is built into our carefully balanced political “debates,” into our news shows with equal time given to pundits from each side and into the “fairness” we try to teach in our schools. We need not be surprised that people have become consumers who demand the right to choose as they wish between the two equally questionable sides of every story. Neither global warming nor any other serious problem can be addressed by a society that equates willful ignorance with freedom of thought.

We live in a pluralistic society that takes pride in allowing its citizens the freedom to believe as they wish. Pluralism does provide freedom, but it can also be overwhelming to the point that critical thought is equated with a migraine headache.

Consequently, Americans are choosing their positions by three faulty criteria:

  1. They go with an emotional knee-jerk reaction.
  2. They arbitrarily choose a position based on positions that look appealing on their surface.
  3. Or they decide that critical thought is too draining and fall back on the position best supported by their background.

These criteria, though they may comfort us in the glut of information from sources like the Internet, cable television, the print media, and radio, do not achieve conviction, which is the drive behind achievement.

Let me offer three suggestions for finding the clarity necessary for doing the hard work of critical thinking.

1. Believe in truth. When first confronted by a problem, we may not know which of the plausible explanations is right, but one of them has to be right. The truth may still lie dormant, waiting for discovery but it’s out there. And finding truth is freedom (Jn. 8:32).

2. Separate the principle from its purveyors. It’s tempting to give up on a cause because of the hypocrisy of those who promote it, but we must not quit a principle based on hypocrisy. Inconsistency in a leader is disappointing but it neither proves nor disproves the principle he supports. A report on Ted Haggart’s sex life or Al Gore’s electric bill sheds no light on the controversies we face.

3. Seek authority, not popularity. It’s tempting to trust a familiar face. But truth clings to those who have paid the price for it (Prov. 23:23).

From a biblical point of view, the Scriptures, above all else, should rank highest in the Christian’s list of respected authorities. Finding out what God says ought to be more important to us than keeping our finger on the pulse of society.

America is doubled over in the throes of moral confusion. Not until we learn to believe in truth and search for it will we find pluralism an asset in our quest for answers.


2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Barton says:

    These thoughts go deeper than the usual reply we give to the world’s current philosophy. We usually just say “it’s relativistic thinking” but then never try to understand it in order to properly address it. These ideas will be helpful as we discuss important issues.

    It is sad to witness the state of our current way of thinking. While I was reading this post I couldn’t help but wonder how much my own thinking is influenced by my surroundings. It is essential but challenging to stay grounded. Thanks.

  2. Ike says:

    I’ll just go along with what they said above.

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