Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus? The Proust of the Papuans? I’d be glad to read him. – Saul Bellow.
In asking about the Papuan Proust, novelist Saul Bellow summed up the core problem with the twin idols of our age, Multiculturalism and Diversity. For the ideology of Multiculturalism—now dominant on most college campuses—posits as a dictum that there is a Tolstoy of the Zulus, and a Proust of the Papuans, and that it is only white racism and Western Judeo-Christian chauvinism that has prevented these unheralded geniuses from receiving their due recognition.
And so high school and university textbooks now feature these putative literary lights cheek-by-jowl with Shakespeare, Dickens, and Faulkner, and if anyone dares point out that the nonwhite, non-Christian literary emperors are naked indeed, the charges of “bigotry” and “racism” will rain down.
After Strange Gods
And literature is the least of it. The hegemony of the multiculturalist idea is universal and complete. Today, no one questions the idea that one culture is as good as another. No one even whispers the possibility that the achievements of one group in a given area (for instance, medieval Christians) might actually surpass those of another group. No one even dares to think that there might be better indicators of the quality of an endeavor than the number of different ethnicities of the people involved.
Multiculturalism is one of the most successful heresies in history: it is as dominant in America and Western Europe today as Calvinism ever was in Geneva, or Anglicanism in Elizabethan London. Multiculturalism is the entrenched ruling dogma of the United States of America. The victory of the multiculturalist idea is so complete that those in thrall to its dogma do not even seem to notice the grotesqueries in which it involves them.
On November 5, 2009, Army Major Nidal Hasan opened fire at Fort Hood in Texas, murdering thirteen people and wounding thirty others. A flood of details quickly emerged that established not only that Hasan was an America-hating Islamic jihadist, but that his Army superiors had known this for several years and yet continued promoting him out of fear that if they did not do so, they would offend against the multiculturalist ethos that prevails in the U.S. military and society at large.
And it’s true: if anyone had reported Hasan, American Muslim advocacy groups would have immediately risen up in protest, and the mainstream media would have carried worried “exposes” about “bigotry” in the American Armed Forces. The person who filed the report would have faced nationwide scorn and ridicule, and maybe even disciplinary action. No one who sins against the gods of Multiculturalism and Diversity can expect to get off lightly. And so even General George Casey, the U.S. Army chief of staff, paid homage to these reigning idols when, just days after the massacre, he worried about the possibility of “a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers”—which never materialized—and declared: “Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.”
Excuse me? The loss of “diversity” is worse than the wanton murder of thirteen people? We really are dealing with a new religion here, one willing to sacrifice innocents to its gods. Casey’s appalling comment marked the apotheosis of the multiculturalist ethic, heralding its absolute triumph in American public life.
Biting the Hand that Feeds You
And yet for all its unparalleled and unquestioned ascendance, Multiculturalism is a heresy—one that can, like all heresies, bamboozle the unwary, dazzling them with the partial truths it contains. Since all human beings are creatures of the one God, to value the contributions of various ethnicities may seem to be an extension of the idea of the dignity of the human person. The Church is catholic, universal, and so to deny the virtue of ethnic diversity may appear to manifest a dangerous parochialism, or even worse, a flirtation with the “idolatry of race and blood” against which Pope Pius XI thundered in his anti-Nazi encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (“With Burning Anxiety”).
And, indeed, it is the Catholic Church, more than any other world religion, which most fully embraces the real diversity of the human race—bringing the Gospel to all nations, and seeking (even more effectively after Vatican II) to “inculturate” her central tenets in the existing civilization of a people, rather than demanding that they accept the Western cultural “package” in which the Church’s teachings may have arrived. While the process of sorting out what is essential and inessential can get messy (the Church in Africa, for instance, must struggle against the residual, pagan practice of polygamy), the Church works earnestly only to transmit the truths essential to salvation. And she is uniquely qualified to do so. Regardless of his culture, she teaches that
[M]an will always yearn to know, at least in an obscure way, what is the meaning of his life, of his activity, of his death. The very presence of the Church recalls these problems to his mind. But only God, Who created man to His own image and ransomed him from sin, provides the most adequate answer to the questions, and this He does through what He has revealed in Christ His Son, Who became man. Whoever follows after Christ, the perfect man, becomes himself more of a man. For by His incarnation the Father’s Word assumed, and sanctified through His cross and resurrection, the whole of man, body and soul, and through that totality the whole of nature created by God for man’s use. (Gaudium et Spes, 41)
Thanks to this belief, the Church can anchor the dignity of human nature against all tides of opinion, for example those which undervalue the human body or idolize it. By no human law can the personal dignity and liberty of man be so aptly safeguarded as by the Gospel of Christ which has been entrusted to the Church. For this Gospel announces and proclaims the freedom of the sons of God, and repudiates all the bondage which ultimately results from sin.(8) (cf. Rom. 8:14-17); it has a sacred reverence for the dignity of conscience and its freedom of choice, constantly advises that all human talents be employed in God’s service and men’s, and, finally, commends all to the charity of all (cf. Matt. 22:39).
Multiculturalism might sound almost catholic in the abstract, like merely an avowal of ethnic diversity as a positive good and an effort to highlight the cultural and other achievements of people of differing backgrounds. But its partisans almost never take notice of the human dignity or cultural achievements of Christian, and particularly Catholic, Americans and Europeans. Multiculturalism in practice maintains that all cultures are equal, but some are more equal than others. And the cultures that invariably get the short end of the stick are those that are most fully steeped in Catholic values. Listen closely to the moralistic language your professors use when they talk about Western “colonialism” and “imperialism,” and compare it to the neutral, even positive rhetoric they employ when discussing (for instance) the Islamic conquest and forced conversion of the Middle East, or other non-Western powers (such as the Mongols) that have engaged in aggression. Likewise, compare their heavy-handed condemnations of “sexism” in the West with their kid-gloves treatment of (or virtual silence about) sexual slavery and female genital mutilation in Islamic countries, female infanticide in India, or footbinding in China.
None of this is an accident. Rather, these are manifestation of the fact that Multiculturalism in reality is an anti-Christian, anti-Catholic, anti-Western exercise in moral and cultural Relativism (see Chapter 2). A true multiculturalist hates all forms of Christianity and Judeo-Christian civilization, but retains particular contempt and bile for manifestations of Catholic piety and culture. That is why liberal journalists will, on the one hand, defend the free speech rights of those who savage the papacy and the Church, while deploring the “insensitivity” of (for instance) the Danish cartoonists whose lives came under threat for gently lampooning Mohammed.
Open Borders and Dead Souls
Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, one of the world’s foremost victims of the multiculturalist anti-Western bias, noted this glaring inconsistency in a speech he had slated to give in London—before multiculturalists barred him from Britain for his opposition to Islamic supremacism and Muslim immigration. And Wilders traced it to its cause: “The differences between Saudi-Arabia and Jordan on one hand and Holland and Britain are blurring. Europe is now on the fast track of becoming Eurabia.” Wilders explained that this was “apparently the price we have to pay for the project of mass immigration, and the multicultural project.” Mass Muslim immigration into formerly Catholic Europe, of course, is based upon the multiculturalist dogma that a “diverse” population makes for a stronger society than one dominated by a single ethnicity.
The practical effect of this idea is the leveling of all distinctions and the establishment of a thoroughly relativist society. Europe for the last thirty years has followed a consistent policy of admitting large numbers of immigrants from Muslim countries, and—because of the multiculturalist imperative—doing nothing to compel them or help them to become Europeans, with European values and European outlooks.
And why not? Why should enervated, multiculturalist, post-Catholic Europeans “impose their values” upon the Muslim immigrants? Only the most benighted, backward chauvinist, they say, would assume that his value system had any greater worth than that of the next guy. But that only holds true if the next guy is a Muslim, and the one refraining from imposing his values is a Christian Westerner. The multiculturalist obligation does not fall upon everyone equally. A Muslim immigrant to a Catholic European country is under no obligation to change his beliefs or behavior to conform to Christian or European sensibilities. To expect him to do so would be to transgress against the cardinal multicultural principle of “diversity” as the highest good. The same does not hold true of a Christian who moves to Saudi Arabia (where bibles and crucifixes are simply illegal).
Paradoxical as it may be, however, this relativist anti-Christianity and anti-Westernism only serves ultimately to aid in the establishment and entrenchment of a belief system that is anything but diverse or tolerant. For all over Europe, Muslim immigrants, under the benign eye of the multiculturalist establishment, have set up ethnic/religious enclaves in which Islamic law and culture is respected, and the law of the land and its mores are not. What’s more, these immigrants are in countries all across Europe becoming increasingly assertive about the applicability of Islamic laws to non-Muslims. For example, Islamic law forbids insulting Allah or Muhammad on pain of death. And while no serious Catholic should support the ridiculing of any religious figure, the freedom of speech—especially speech that is insulting or inconvenient—has been generally recognized in the West as a key bulwark against tyranny and an important concomitant of the God-given dignity of the human person.
Even now, European multiculturalists, working willingly in tandem with Islamic supremacists, favor restrictions on speech that is deemed to give offense (to a protected multiculturist ethnic group, that is, not to the dominant Judeo-Christian culture) or to be “hateful.” Accordingly, blasphemy laws are being revived in several European countries, not because of a rebirth of Christian piety, but due to a multiculturalist will to avoid offending a non-Western, non-Christian culture. Proof of this assertion is the fact that these laws are never applied to anti-Christian speech—only to speech offensive to others (especially Muslims). Wilders, who is currently facing prosecution for just such offenses, explained in his abortive London speech that “the dearest of our many freedoms is under attack. In Europe, freedom of speech is no longer a given. What we once considered a natural component of our existence is now something we again have to fight for. That is what is at stake.”
Professors and Double Standards
This contempt for Western values that are rooted in the Christian and Catholic tradition also manifests itself in double standards. Multiculturalist feminists, as I mentioned earlier, rail against the alleged oppression of Christian women in America while excusing far worse conditions among non-Christians. One case study (out of thousands) comes courtesy Dr. Laura Briggs, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and Head of the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona. Briggs recently gave an address welcoming new Ph.D. students to the department. In the course of this address, Briggs, author of Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico, praised the work of other professors, including that of Saba Mahmood, Associate Professor of Social Cultural Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. Mahmood, said Briggs, “confronted one of the legacies of a long history of orientalism and the recent wars in the Middle East: the way we are invited to see Muslim women as hopelessly, painfully oppressed, without their own autonomy, will, or individual rights.”
So apparently the rampant and systemic oppression of Muslim women—the veiling, seclusion, divinely-sanctioned beatings (disobedient women are to be beaten, according to Koran 4:34), the devaluation of inheritance rights and testimony, polygamy, and all the rest—has nothing to do with Islamic law or culture; it is merely a byproduct of “orientalism and the recent wars in the Middle East”—in other words, it is the West’s fault. This is Multiculturalism in its purest form.
“If we sometimes notice other Middle Eastern women—women’s rights activists, for example,” Briggs continued, “it is only to reinforce the notion that the great mass of Muslim women are terribly oppressed by the rise of conservative religiosity, by their husbands, by the ways they are compelled to dress.”
Briggs had good news: Saba Mahmood, she said, spent two years in Egypt and discovered that that oppression is just a mirage: “But after two years of fieldwork in the women’s mosque movement in Egypt, Mahmood asks us to consider a new question: what if community, as much as or more than the notions of individual rights, is a route to living meaningfully? Perhaps we ought to rethink the idea that women’s agency and personhood spring from resistance to subjection, and attend to the ways that in conservative religious communities, the cultivation of virtue and of closeness to God, of certain emotions and of forms of embodiment, are challenging but hardly one-dimensional ways of producing the self.”
Once one hacks through the pseudo-intellectual, multiculturalist gobbledygook, it becomes clear that Briggs was essentially saying that if women felt fulfilled in being subjugated as inferiors under Sharia law, their good feelings were more important than their oppression and subjection, and rendered that oppression of no concern. And therein lies the double standard: one wonders what Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem might have said in the 1960s if this same argument-from-fulfillment had been posed to them regarding American Christian women (see Chapter 10, “Feminism”).
And aside from being inconsistent with what had been the feminist view of Western women’s alleged oppression, Briggs’s welcoming attitude toward the oppression of Muslim women—as long as they’re happy—represented a betrayal of those women, whose suffering is objective, ongoing, and largely unnoticed. But feminists like Briggs never gave Christian women who were happy as housewives the same kind of respectful deference.
The underlying reason for that is that Multiculturalism, in the final analysis, is not really about respecting all cultures equally at all. The very idea of that is manifestly absurd in any case—as if Nazi Germany and ancient Athens, or human-sacrificing Aztec Mexico and Catholic Spain—were essentially moral equivalents. But while it is true that thinking seriously about this core multiculturalist principle immediately lands on in the quicksand of Relativism, that Relativism is not in itself the ultimate focus or goal of the multiculturalist initiative. Since Multiculturalism was fashioned in the hard-Left groves of post-Sixties academe as a stick to use to beat the West, and particularly the Church, why shouldn’t feminists coo over the forced and feigned happiness of oppressed Muslim women while insisting that perfectly happy Christian women are actually miserable? Denigrating and ultimately destroying the Judeo-Christian West, not stamping out some putative racist devaluation of other cultures, is the point of the whole multiculturalist enterprise.
And once that goal is accomplished, if it is accomplished, Multiculturalism itself will be swept away. It will have served its purpose. And in its place there will be established a tyranny far more severe and hateful than anything the multiculturalists themselves ever ascribed to bad old Catholic Europe.
On The Immorality of Illegal Immigration, by Rev. Patrick Bascio, C.S.Sp., (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2009).
The Immigration Mystique, by Chilton Williamson Jr., (New York: Basic Books, 1996).
The Making of Europe, by Christopher Dawson, (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2002).
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, by Anthony M. Esolen (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2008).
The Camp of the Saints, by Jean Raspail (Petoskey, MI: The Social Contract Press, 1994).
This essay is an excerpt from Disorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind, Edited by John Zmirak (Ascension Press, 2010), and appears with permission of the publisher.