PLURALISM: The New Reality
I was reviewing a book in the library stacks of a well-known divinity school a few years ago when I overheard an exchange between two young seminarians in the next aisle. It was a beautiful summer day, but their conversation sent a chill through my body. One student had asked the other student a question about the symbolism being used in one of their classes. In a rather matter-of-fact tone, the second student said, â€œMany of us are disregarding the crucifix and the cross, because they no longer have any meaning for us. We realize it is irrational to think that a father would kill his own son.â€
It is a sobering thought to consider what is left of Christianity if one removes the crucifix and the cross. If there is no crucifix, then there can be no empty cross. If there is no empty cross, there can be no risen Lord. If there is no risen Lord, then the â€œgood newsâ€ of the gospel is an illusion.
The present reality is that the world has undergone extraordinary social and scientific changes in recent years. Change results from many variables; there are new ideas and different times and places, as well as unique circumstances and personalities. One is always prone to ask, â€œWhich came first?â€ Did new ideas produce social changes, or did the demands of the social situation create an ideological justification for something that was already happening?
I would suggest that it is naive and unrealistic to suggest that Christianity has been immune to the rising tide of change. To hold to a nostalgic perspective that romanticizes Christianity creates a scenario in which oneâ€™s beliefs and the beliefs of oneâ€™s children become vulnerable to modern secularism and/or the neo-paganisms of the postmodern world.
However, to adopt an eviscerated version of the gospel story is, as the apostle Paul told young Timothy, â€œHaving a form of godliness, but denying the power thereofâ€¦(2 Tim. 3:5).â€ I remember reading about a visitor to a third-world country who happened upon a village in which washing machines were being used as flowerpots. He had a rather surprised look on his face, but his host explained that the villagers had the money to buy the machines, but they didnâ€™t have the electric power to operate them. In a similar fashion, a Christian witness without the â€œpowerâ€ of the risen Christ is a mere shadow of the testimony that has energized the faith for two thousand years.
Christians should acknowledge that social dynamics have once again made Christianity a minority player in a pluralistic world. Indeed, I would argue that Christianity must abandon the claim of dominance that is inherent in the socio-political idea of â€œChristendom.â€ Having acknowledged this new reality, Christianity must now find a way to re-energize the traditional power of the faith. The prophet Joel said old men would â€œdream dreamsâ€ and young men would â€œsee visions.â€ Perhaps now, four thousand years after Abrahamâ€™s covenant and two thousand years after the birth of Christ, Christianity is ready to challenge the information age on its own terms.
Unfortunately, a society sometimes discovers that the elimination of one set of problems produces a whole new set of problems. Such has been the case with the current paradigm shift in which the traditional absolutes have been abandoned in favor of the pluralistic reality of the late-modern/postmodern era.
The story of David and Goliath demonstrates the religious pluralism that existed in the ancient world. The Israelites and the Philistines had different cultures and worshiped different gods, and their armies were preparing to come out of their mountain strongholds and engage each other in the valley. For forty days, Goliath, the Philistine champion, had taunted King Saul to send out a representative to meet him on the field of combat, after which the losing side would surrender to the victors and their gods. Like most modern church people, Saul and his men tried to avoid the challenge. They preferred the familiarity of a sheltered position rather than risk the uncertainty that is inherent in confrontation. They probably prayed, studied sacred texts, and practiced their traditional rituals, but they were unable or unwilling to face the unknown. David, on the other hand, was not so timid. David worshiped the God of Abraham who had said, â€œThou shalt have no other Gods before meâ€ — as did Saul and the other Israelites, but David was willing to put himself and his faith at risk. Affirming his faith in the â€œLiving God,â€ he ventured out onto the plain and challenged what appeared to be overwhelming odds.
The pluralistic clash of opposing cultures and beliefs was routine in the ancient world, but the rise of Western civilization produced a commonality that gradually eliminated the idea of pluralism for most people in the West. Indeed, Christianityâ€™s eventual integration with political power and economic resources produced a partnership of unparalleled proportions. Christianityâ€™s preeminence was so complete that the whole system came to be known as â€œChristendom.â€ The result has been that most Christians have not had to deal with religious pluralism for a very long time.
However, over the last hundred years or so, Christianityâ€™s long-term pervasiveness in the West has faded away, and Christians must accept the fact that pluralism has reappeared in a modern form. Christians must now decide whether they will follow King Saulâ€™s example by trying to avoid the challenge of pluralism or face the challenge head-on as David did.
The Reappearance of Pluralism: Pluralism has been around for a long, but it is a new experience for many Westerners. New ideas and unique technologies of travel and communications have destroyed the old isolation and brought people and places closer together. It is as if the earth were a huge balloon that has been steadily losing air for many years. When the balloon was fully inflated, the places mapped out on the surface of the globe were remote from each other, and minimal contact meant fewer opportunities for friction. However, the â€œescapingâ€ air has reduced the size of the balloon-globe and increased the interaction between people and cultures. The new proximity has broken down old barriers and created a multicultural world of competing value systems. Ideas and customs have been shared, and new relationships have come into existence between individuals and groups. The revolution in technology helped produce the cultural phenomenon that Canadian sociologist Marshall McLuhan called the â€œglobal village.â€
The disappearance of Christendomâ€™s long-standing hegemony means that Christians must learn to live in a pluralistic society. For some people, moving to a new â€œvillageâ€ is an adventure. They love the excitement of a new place and are stimulated by the new experiences that result from change. However, for others the move to a new venue causes anxiety. Maybe they had a vested interest in the old location. Maybe they donâ€™t have the skills that are needed to adjust to a new situation. Maybe they are intimidated by new surroundings and new people. Maybe they are just uncomfortable, because they miss the old familiarity. For whatever reason, they resist the forces of change that work to integrate them into a new environment. Like a family adjusting to a new town, Christianity is being forced to deal with change and the unsettling realities of the global village.
Christianity is not a stranger to change. It originated in controversy and experienced substantial growth in the chaos that followed the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Barely forty years old, the tiny group was uprooted from the Middle East and transplanted around the edges of the Mediterranean Sea. The new group continued to grow in numbers and influence until it achieved a measure of tolerance under Constantineâ€™s Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. The fifth century witnessed the devastation of Rome and the eventual disintegration of the whole empire, but Christianity persevered through another round of radical changes. Later, the church faced the challenge of Islam, suffered through the schism of East and West, and still became the glue that held the medieval world together. In the sixteenth century, Christianity was again subjected to radical change as Martin Luther and others challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic Church; this time the challenge came from within as the church was torn asunder by the protestations of the new â€œProtestants.â€ Christianity has experienced countless changes since the Reformation, but none has been more challenging than the rise of modern relativism that says all values vary from time to time and place to place.
The Reappearance of Relativism: Relativism is at least as old as Greek philosophy. Five hundred years before Christ, Protagoras (490-422) and other Sophists focused on customs and rhetoric in teaching their students. For the Sophists, the idea of Truth was irrelevant because everything was relative to human subjectivity. Everything was subject to Protagorasâ€™ famous claim of â€œHomo Mensura,â€ that is, â€œMan is the measure of all things, of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are notâ€ (Palmer 43). Western civilization usually traces its roots to the ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle because their universalistic perspective eventually prevailed over the relativistic ideas of the Sophists. However, to say that absolutism prevailed over ancient relativism does not mean that the absolutist tradition has not been challenged and subjected to change.
Through the years, one absolute system after another was challenged and then abandoned in favor of a new set of absolutes. Indeed, the story of Western philosophy from Plato and Aristotle to Kant and Hegel is a hall of fame for the great minds of Western civilization. Over a period of approximately 2500 years, each philosopher perceived of his work as identifying the flawed theories of his predecessors. Each one tried to make the needed adjustments, but each new â€œsystemâ€ was predicated upon a new absolutism, that is, the presumed existence of some â€œfixed frame of referenceâ€ which provided a measure of value for the whole society. With each new development, the â€œold normâ€ gave way to a â€œnew norm,â€ but absolutism was always reaffirmed. Of course, the influence of Judaism and the spread of Christianity reinforced the idea of absolute value and had a tremendous impact on the development of an absolutist tradition in Western civilization.
In the 19th century, however, late-modern thinkers like Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, and Nietzsche began questioning the underlying premise of absolutism, and the idea of absolute norms gradually fell into disfavor. The old norms eventually disappeared, but this time the disappearance of the old norms did not usher in a new set of norms or absolutes. Indeed, society now seems to be left without any norms at all. A society comes face to face with the specter of relativism when it abandons the â€œold normâ€ vs. â€œnew normâ€ perspective in favor of a â€œno-normâ€ scenario.
I am reminded of a news report about a rampaging river that swept away a whole section of Californiaâ€™s interstate highway system. Without warning, the vehicles of helpless travelers plunged into the floodwaters and were swept downstream with the current. People perished because they had nothing to hold on to. However, one man was swept out of his truck and on down stream until he became wedged in the branches of a tree. In the raging flood, he had found a reference point that provided a safe haven throughout the night. Everything was being swept away, but his tree held firm against the rushing current.
Relativism means there is nothing to hold on to — There is no common denominator among the competing values of the pluralist perspective. If there is no referent to evaluate the relationship between variables, then there can be no ultimate measure of value. With philosophical relativism, there is no common measure of value for personal morality and ethical practices, and value becomes a matter of personal preference or collective customs and conventions. Most people are horrified when a person bombs an aircraft or shoots up a high school, or when an extremist group engages in the systematic elimination of another race or ethnic group. We can and do â€œjudgeâ€ them from within a particular legal system, but true relativism has no referent with which to evaluate the practices of one individual or culture in relationship to the practices of another individual or culture. Philosophically and theologically, there is nothing to hold on to.
The late modern/postmodern era has abandoned the traditional absolutes of religion and metaphysics as well as the natural law absolutes of the Enlightenment, but now it has no basis for belief in constant value. As if by default, society is left with the rationale of relativism that says all values vary from time to time and place to place. Whereas the â€œold norm vs. new normâ€ mentality tried to absolutizethe existence of constant value, relativismâ€™s â€œno normâ€ mentality now seeks to absolutizethe non-existence of constant value. It may be true that the old absolutism is an outdated representation of universal value, but in reacting to the inadequacies of absolutism, relativism has produced a twisted dogma that says universal value cannot exist.
The Flawed Alliance Between Pluralism and Relativism: Many people assume that pluralism and relativism go together like the proverbial â€œhorse â€˜n carriage — you canâ€™t have one without the other.â€ They see pluralismâ€™s diversity as an ultimate reality that inevitably leads to relativism. Like a strip mine ripping away successive layers of soil, pluralism has supposedly stripped away the historical layers of absolutism and laid bare the modern mother lode of individual autonomy. The difficulty with autonomy is that it eliminates the idea of a common denominator, and if there is no measure of value then â€œvalueâ€ becomes a floating, changing tendency — free to float in any direction. Deciding questions regarding value without a common denominator makes as much sense as a fisherman who tries to mark the location of a good fishing hole by carving an X on the side of his boat.
Hypothetically, if we accept the idea that pluralism and relativism go together then we are stuck with the philosophical implications of relativism, especially the idea that right and wrong are individualized preferences or social conventions that change from time to time and from place to place. Unfortunately, the clamor for change seems to have swept away the fading footprints of universal value and left society with a brooding postmodern uncertainty. Indeed, the flood of change is so massive today that nothing remains constant — except the idea of change itself. There are no trees left to hold on to.
Confronting Relativism: With the old reference markers having been swept away, thinking people are left with very few options: The first option is to deny the uncertainty of the present era. People who use this approach simply reject the pluralistic worldview. They cling to some former certainty and seek meaning and purpose in the absolutism of the past. Insisting that there are still â€œtreesâ€ to hold on to, they adhere to some form of authority whether in science, philosophy, religion, or some other fixed frame of reference. The traditionalists are very different from each other, but each one is holding on to something from the past. Scientists cling to the authority of empirical data. Humanistic philosophers rely upon the rationalism of their own ideas. Religionists reaffirm traditional creeds. New Age and other such movements rely upon astrology, crystals, reincarnation, and other nontraditional forms of spirituality and metaphysics.
A second option is to accept the uncertainty of relativism as the ultimate expression of the pluralistic worldview. These people are forced to live with a relativistic mentality where all kinds of floating â€œvaluesâ€ clash against each other. In this scenario, the idea of ultimate meaning and purpose is only an illusion. The true relativist accepts the fact that life is uncertain insofar as eternal meaning is concerned. Indeed, Albert Camus (1913-1960), who is considered by many to have been the conscience of his generation said, â€œThere is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy (3).â€ Some people actually commit suicide as Camus predicted, while others allow their lives to waste away in a variety of ways almost as if they were killing themselves in slow motion. They try to drown their uncertainty with alcohol. They tranquilize themselves with narcotics and other mind-altering substances. They indulge themselves in thrill seeking. And they gorge their sensual appetites with every conceivable form of sexuality. In general, they spend themselves in an endless round of self gratification: â€œEat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!â€
Other relativists persevere with courage and integrity even in the face of cosmic uncertainty. Like Camus, these modern people contend that human beings can validate themselves and have meaningful lives without traditional philosophy or divine guidance. At mid-century, Jean-Paul Sartre said, â€œWe are left alone … That is what I mean when I say that man is condemned to be freeâ€ (Kaufman 295). These people are â€œfreeâ€ to engross themselves in an endless round of activities and introspection. They find personal satisfaction in family and friends as well as the arts and sciences. And they find societal purpose in striving to reach the socio-political and economic goals that they envision for themselves and their communities. For some, the promise of fame and fortune is an end in itself. The title of a book by sociologist Neil Postman sums up the predicament; we are Amusing Ourselves to Death.
Whether people try to escape the void or face it with courage, those who subscribe to this second option are forced to conclude that there is â€œnothing to hold on to.â€ Richard Rorty is a respected intellectual who spent forty years searching for meaning and purpose. In a recent article entitled â€œThereâ€™s No Big Picture,â€ Rorty acknowledged that he has stopped looking for ultimate answers (19). For Rorty and those who hold his view, there are no â€œtreesâ€ to cling to in the darkness.
The third option is to adopt paradox as a way of life. This position is paradoxical because it embraces relativism as the modern/postmodern reality but continues to cling to the absolutismof the premodern era. These people acknowledge the â€œno absolutesâ€ implications of relativism, yet they cling to moral, ethical and/or theological ideals that presume the existence of â€œuniversal values.â€ Paradox applies both to secular and sacred points of view.
Secularists who do not consider themselves to be Christian or even â€œreligiousâ€ have adopted this modern contradiction. Paradox is the uneasy compromise of the businessman or woman who uses pure rationalism in the business world but subscribes to New Age metaphysics. Paradox accommodates the scientist who subscribes to a scientism that is strictly empirical but acknowledges the fact that some scientific phenomena are inexplicable. Paradox also accommodates the humanist who dismisses the goodness of an infinite God but assumes the inherent goodness of finite human beings. In fact, there is now a popular phenomenon that seems to confirm societyâ€™s loss of confidence in both traditional absolutism and modern relativism. The trend is seen in the publicâ€™s current fascination with angels, astrology, witchcraft, the occult, supernatural horror, and other such ideas and practices.
Paradox also applies to religionists who adopt relativismâ€™s perspective, but try to preserve the sacred legacy. These modern â€œChristiansâ€ reject the gospel story and the traditional view of Christ, just as nonChristians reject the philosophical absolutes of the traditional world-view. Needless to say, some people would argue that anyone who makes such a denial is not a Christian. The irony is that some of the people who have rejected the traditional absolutes, whether religious or otherwise, cannot live with the relativistic fragmentation that is implicit in contemporary Western thought, yet they go to great lengths to avoid the nihilistic implications of modern relativism. Some borrow the vocabulary and images of Christianity, but interpose a connotation that is foreign to the historical narrative. Henry Miller, for example, became famous with books like Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, but toward the end of his life, he was singing a different tune. In â€œA Sense of Wonder,â€ his use of â€œIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…â€ from the fourth gospel made him sound somewhat traditional, but his pantheistic connotation had no connection to Christian orthodoxy (Schaeffer 76-77). Others have abandoned Christianity in favor of westernized versions of other world religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam. Still others invent spiritual rationalizations of their own, like Sheila, the young woman in Habits of the Heart who described her spirituality as â€œSheilaism.â€ She said, â€œâ€˜I believe in God. Iâ€™m not a religious fanatic. I canâ€™t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. Itâ€™s Sheilaism. Just my own little voiceâ€™â€ (Bellah 221).
It appears that contemporary Westerners cannot accept the absolutism of the past, but they want something more viable than the relativism of the present. They no longer embrace the old certainty, but they cannot live with the new uncertainty — so they try to â€œreinvent the wheelâ€ by creating substitutes for traditional spirituality.
I am reminded of a story my brother tells about a frustrated passenger on a flight from Montgomery, Alabama to Washington, D.C. Just before the plane took off, a woman rushed on board, stored her bag in the overhead compartment, and breathed a sigh of relief as she relaxed in the seat next to him. Shortly after takeoff she looked up and asked, â€œWhat time does this flight arrive in Chicago?â€ The last time he saw her she was rushing across the Washington terminal, trying to get a flight to Chicago.
No matter how sincere a person may be, it is possible to be sincerely wrong, and I would argue that all three of the above mentioned options are wrong: (a) Contemporary pluralism is now a fact of life; therefore the first option of reaffirming the old absolutism is not a realistic alternative. (b) I believe pluralism can exist without relativism and all its problems; therefore pluralismâ€™s marriage to relativism in the second option is an ill-advised union. (c) If absolutism and relativism are both wrong, then the paradoxical combination of the two in the third option is a hollow compromise. Furthermore, if we are going to pursue the radical alternative of accepting pluralism and rejecting relativism, then we must do more than condemn relativism. We must not only sever the theoretical connection between pluralism and relativism, but also propose a viable alternative, that is, a general theory of value that bridges the gap between the traditional absolutes and the skepticism of modern/postmodern relativism.
Relativity Theory As a Radical Alternative: It is the thesis of this paper that the theory of relativity has philosophical implications that have been misconstrued as relativism. The spiritual message of the relativity mode is that the changing values of human existence must be understood in relationship to value that does not change. When this message is fully understood, the dross of paradox and uncertainty will have been skimmed away leaving a â€œmodel of understandingâ€ which reaffirms the fact that human existence is lived in relationship to God whether we acknowledge it or not. The unfortunate reality is that historical Christianity has been watered down in recent years. Indeed, many modern people think Christianity is some kind of elixir: you mix all kinds of â€œgood stuff,â€ shake well, and take a big dose every Sunday. The question is where do we go from here?
The first module in the proposed â€œmodel of understandingâ€ acknowledges the existence of a moving frame of reference. Like the stage for a play or the setting for a novel, the moving frame of reference provides an overall context for the world and for humanityâ€™s place in the world. By way of definition:
The moving frame of reference refers to the cosmic lake of time and space. The new model abandons all of the old hierarchies that assume the existence of a fixed frame and acknowledges the existence of a moving frame in which uncertainty is built into the moving, changing world in which we live. It gives the search for meaning a unique point of departure, that is, the departure platform, itself, is moving and changing, like everything else. The situation is as if a railway passenger has suddenly discovered that both the train and the station platform are moving.
The moving frame abandons the â€œbig pictureâ€ absolutism of Plato, Aristotle, et al, but it also rejects modern relativism where â€œno big pictureâ€ is possible. The moving frame is merely the first aspect of a new model of understanding; it is the first leg on a three-legged stool.
The second module of the model is the inclusive classification model of uniformity/nonuniformity; it is a model within a model. Uniformity/nonuniformity is the most fundamental of all classifications because it distinguishes between sameness and difference, between self and other. The underlying principle is the same whether one speaks of the traditional â€œA and non-Aâ€ logic of Aristotle or the binary oppositions of postmodern thinkers like Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault.
Uniformity defined: Whether we speak of fingerprints, DNA, or a special relationship with a loved one, we know that each person is a unique entity. Uniformity, therefore, is a primal identity as seen in the single oneness of each human being. Uniformity must also be understood collectively as the sameness of a group. In terms of ethnicity, for example, uniformity can be seen in the collective uniqueness of being Jewish. However, diversity exists within each uniformity; that is, there are many different categories of being Jewish. Notwithstanding the oneness and sameness, differences co-exist within the particularity of any given uniformity. I call these distinctions â€œsimple differences.â€
Nonuniformity defined: On the other hand, nonuniformity is the primal contrast that results from the existence of other individuals who are equally unique. Indeed, nonuniformity must be understood as a radical otherness. It involves differences that are outside the oneness or sameness of uniformity. In relationship to any individual, everyone else is either other or others. Continuing the previous ethnic example, if being Jewish is a collective uniformity then nonuniformity describes all non-Jews. Indeed, the term â€œGentileâ€ has no meaning except to describe the nonuniform classification of people who are not Jewish. I call these distinctions â€œcomplex differences.â€ (Obviously, the same classification process would be used with any individual and all kinds of groups.)
Human beings have assorted cognitive tools that allow them to analyze, organize, and understand a great deal about themselves and the world in which they live. Physicist Stephen Hawking said â€œâ€¦ever since the dawn of civilization, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world… (13). The most basic of these tools is the capacity to classify and create categories which show that things are either similar (uniform) or dissimilar (nonuniform.) Any uniformity would be monotonous and boring by itself. My fatherâ€™s favorite color was red; he used to say, â€œI like red; I donâ€™t care what color it is!â€ But can you imagine a world in which everything is red? Works of art are meaningful because painters use different colors and musicians use different notes. The resulting variety produces combinations of colors and sounds that are pleasing to the senses. By the same token, each individual and each group is unique, creating special relationships when they come together.
The third module of the proposed model is value-based because it incorporates the idea that spiritual value does not change regardless of the circumstances. Furthermore, it functions like a third party mediator who intervenes between the uniformity and nonuniformity of two parties. By way of definition:
Constant value is defined in the context of E=mc2 where â€œcâ€ represents value that does not change. In Einsteinâ€™s famous formula, â€câ€ represents the constant speed of light and is not changed by surrounding circumstances. Regardless of the movement of the source of light or the movement of an observer, the free space velocity of light is invariable. The physical consequence and by inference the spiritual consequence is that the value of constant â€œcâ€ is superimposed upon uniform and nonuniform variables.
The obvious question is whether one dare use the idea of constant value in the physical realm as an analog for constant value in the spiritual realm. But what is so radical about using light as a symbol for the existence of spiritual value?
Human beings have always used light as a metaphor for philosophical and spiritual enlightenment. Most of the ancient tribes attached spiritual meaning to the sun, moon, and stars, and some even worshiped the sun. Plato, one of the originators of Western thought, associated the sun with the ultimate good, and most of the great world religions attach spiritual significance to the phenomenon of light. In the Hebrew tradition, light has been associated with deity: God created light, was clothed in light, and was manifested in his â€œshekinahâ€ glory. In the Christian tradition, Jesus identified Himself as â€œthe light of the world,â€ and people are identified either as children of light or children of darkness.
I would argue that since we now have a better understanding of the nature of light, we should refocus our attention on what Jesus meant when he said, â€œI am the light.â€ Indeed, when we consider the fact that the free space velocity of light is constant, that it is independent of both source and observers, and that the speed of light is even used to measure time, we should realize that light is more than mere illumination. Perhaps the old light metaphor should be extended to include not only intellectual or spiritual enlightenment but also the nature of light, itself. In the context of this expanded metaphor, constant value provides a nexus between the uniformity of the temporal world and divine nonuniformity — just as the speed of light provides a nexus between uniform motion and nonuniform motion.
A powerful spiritual force continues to inspire traditional communities all over the world. Even in the heavily secularized societies of Western Europe and North America, large numbers of people still have faith in God. Having commissioned a survey to help The New Yorkerâ€™s editors understand contemporary people, the magazine published â€œThe Narcissus Survey: A Fearless Inquiry Into Whateverâ€ in its January 5, 1998 issue. The human spectrum was broken down to identify the common folks on â€œMain Street,â€ the wealthy folks on â€œEasy Street,â€ and the culturally elite on â€œHigh Street.â€ The editors found that when asked, â€œDo you believe in God?â€ most people said yes (92 per cent of the people on Main Street; 90 per cent of the people on Easy Street, and 61 per cent of the people on High Street.) While it is true that 39 per cent of the intelligentsia identified themselves as unbelievers, the important thing is to realize that in any kind of election or referendum, 61 per cent is considered a landslide victory.
Notwithstanding three hundred years of increasing secularization, most Americans still have some kind of religious orientation. The issue therefore, is not whether people are spiritual, but whether their spirituality has any impact on the way they live. My contention is that if a person acknowledges God as the Creator/Sustainer of the universe then that belief should have a direct impact on the way he or she lives.
Traditional Christians believe that Jesus Christ is â€œ…the same yesterday, and today, and foreverâ€ (Heb.13:8). For these people, the idea that Christ is the mediator between heaven and earth is more than a metaphor. They already understand that the Christ event superimposed constant value on human existence. The purpose of this paper has been to show that it is not an anachronism to talk about the Christ event. On the contrary, Christ must be understood as having superimposed constant value on human existence, including the paralyzing uncertainty that is now associated with the modern/postmodern era.
Mediators are used to resolve many of the problems that develop between the uniformity on one side of a relationship and the nonuniformity on the other. For example, my parents were preparing to elope because my motherâ€™s parents were insisting that she finish school before she got married. Fortunately, a friend of the family intervened as the mediator between the marital couple and the brideâ€™s parents. As a result of the mediation, my parents were married that evening in an informal ceremony at home instead of continuing an elopement that would have been a disappointment to my grandparents.
Mediation is also used for conflict resolution in the legal process. The objective is to resolve issues between the parties thereby eliminating litigation or at least speeding up the judicial process. If a mediator can solve problems in personal relationships and in legal disputes, how much more important would it be to have a spiritual mediator to span the gulf that separates the uniformity of human beings from the infinite nonuniformity of God?
It should be obvious to traditional Christians that the central thrust of historical Christianity is that Jesus, as the incarnate Christ, is the ultimate mediator between the Creator and his creation. In other words, the constant Christ is the â€œmeasure of valueâ€ between human uniformity and the nonuniform otherness of God — just as the constant speed of light in E=mc2 is the measure of value between uniform motion and nonuniform motion. This paper is merely an abbreviated application of special relativity from a Christian perspective, that is, where constant value was personified in the person of Jesus Christ, where the logos â€œâ€¦was with God â€¦ was God â€¦ (and) was made fleshâ€ (John 1:1, 14). (Although it is beyond the scope of this paper, an analysis of general relativity from a nonChristian point of view will show that constant value can also be understood as an eternal abstraction that is to be interpreted in the context of secularism and other world religions.)
Conclusion: There seems to be a dialectic at work with the relativity model with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. The model begins with the mystery of an inexplicable moving frame of reference; we live in a complex and uncertain world in which no segment of human society has all the answers. The modelâ€™s second module is a nondiscriminatory duality (male/female, black/white, etc.) that not only imposes linguistic order but also integrates the sameness and differences of uniformity/nonuniformity. Finally, the model is value-based, that is, constant value is superimposed in a way that mediates between the sameness of self and the difference of other just as the constant speed of light in E=mc2 mediates between uniform and nonuniform motion â€“ Constant value is the third party mediator that reconciles self and other, including the eternal otherness of God.
Bellah, Robert, et al, Habits of the Heart. New York: Perennial Lib, Harper & Row, 1985
Camus, Albert, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. Trans. Justin Oâ€™Brien, New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1955.
Hawking, Stephen W., A Brief History of Time. New York: Bantam Books, 1988
Kaufman, Walter, Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. New York: Meridian Books, 1957
Palmer, Donald, Does the Center Hold? Mountain View: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1991
Rorty, Richard, â€œThereâ€™s No Big Picture,â€ The University of Chicago Magazine, Chicago: April 1994
Schaeffer, Francis A., The God Who Is There. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1968