It is very easy to say that you are pro-multicultural. Politicians, religious leaders, journalists, all declare that they are in favour of diversity. And yet, they all, each and every one, have their own personal faith, that is almost always at odds with everyone else’s. How can we respect and tolerate someone, if our own beliefs are contradictory to theirs? If this question is not answered, then all talk of cultural diversity is meaningless.
Imagine three guys sitting around a table during freshers’ week (that shouldn’t be too hard). During their opening chit-chats, it becomes apparent that they have different faiths. One is Christian, another is a Jew… the third declares he is an atheist. During their discussions, the following beliefs emerge:
The Christian believes that Jesus Christ was the Son of God; The Jew believes that God exists, but Jesus was not His son; and the atheist believes that there are no gods.
These are three mutually exclusive viewpoints. They cannot be held simultaneously. No one knows who of the three is right, but we can be certain that at least two of them are wrong. Two of the eager students are embarking on a university career, their entire belief system based on falsehood. Is it not doublethink to respect all faiths and religions, when we know that the great majority of them (including, probably, our own) must be completely wrong?
The problem with this stance, trivially correct though it may be, is that it focuses on the central tenets of a particular belief. This does not advance our understanding, nor does it help us when we realise we have to live next door to these people. We must recognise that everyone has to put blind, illogical faith in something. Even the atheist has to bridge a gap of logic if he is to assert that no gods exist. These beliefs have the same status in logical argument as the parents who shout, “Because I said so!” at their children.
What is open to discussion, however, is how those tenets effect the way people lead their lives. For example, to Christians, the most important thing about Jesus Christ is that he died and was resurrected for the sins of humanity. For non-Christians (i.e. most people), the most relevant thing about that particular faith is the love and forgiveness Jesus is said to have preached… and that their Christian neighbours try to follow his example.
There is a challenge therefore, which extends to any group of people and not just the religions used in the example above. The challenge is to show the rest of the world how they approach life, how they treat fellow humans, based upon whatever traditions and tenets they subscribe to. (This is a particular challenge for atheists, who have to explain how they live without recourse to an ancient text). Explaining your moral system to others is interesting, rational, and most importantly it allows us to form a consensus with other cultures, on what exactly those morals shall be. Mutual respect all around the table.
Simon Schama suggests how we should conduct our political discourse:
‘Put another way, the fight is between power based on revelation (and thus not open to argument), and power based on persuasion, and thus conditional on argument; militant theocracy against the tolerant Enlightenment.’ [Guardian, 11/9/ 02]
Competing groups may follow their own traditions and code as they interact with others, but at no point must they use their own articles of faith as a reason for political action. “We have the right to do this, because it is God’s will” is an irrational argument and will not wash in polite debate. Sadly, many politicians on the international scene use this sort of rhetoric, over and over again. We know who they are and we should ask them to stop, because then we might be able to have a proper conversation.