It is a bedrock assumption of our age that diversity is a good thing—something to be encouraged and celebrated. Nowadays, for example, a good part of a college mission statement is typically devoted to extolling the institution’s diverse faculty, diverse student body, and diverse course offerings. Similar claims to diversity can be found in the mission statements of almost any large corporation or institution. Anyone who bothers to read such statements will be assured of the organization’s commitment to diversity, its diverse workforce, and its plans to become even more diverse in the future.
Part of this commitment may be due to the fact that companies and colleges that are insufficiently diverse may be liable to lawsuits. Our society has decided that diversity, being such a good thing, must be ensured and enforced. Most large universities, for example, now have diversity officers whose job it is to see that everyone falls uniformly in line with diversity.
If diversity is such a good thing, we might expect to find much praise for it in the Bible. But the opposite seems to be the case. For example, the diversity of language visited on the people of Babel is presented in Genesis as a curse, not a blessing. More importantly, there is little if any support in the New Testament for the idea that the pursuit of diversity ought to be one of the main goals of life. On the other hand, there is much to suggest that unity is highly desirable. As Jesus, the good shepherd, tells his listeners, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10: 16). That doesn’t sound like a call to diversity. Neither do the four passages in John 17 where Jesus prays to his Father “that they may all be one.” Viewed from a New Testament perspective, the world’s diversity of beliefs is something to be overcome, not celebrated.
Yet celebrate it we do because we have been taught that diversity has all sorts of benefits, chief among which is that it “enriches” our culture. This can sometimes be true, but it is important to understand the conditions under which diversity contributes to a culture. Without a proper context, diversity can easily become a destructive element rather than a positive one.
The American experience of absorbing immigrants from many different backgrounds is often cited as proof of the enriching power of diversity. What is sometimes forgotten, however, is that the success of America’s melting pot experiment was largely due to the successful assimilation of immigrants to the existing American culture. Americans took pride in their diversity, but their main source of pride was that America had maintained its unity despite the diversity. The idea that unity should take precedence over diversity was expressed in the motto inscribed on the Great Seal of the United States: “e pluribus unum.” The words can be translated as “out of many, one” or as “one from many.” The hope expressed in those words is a secular analog to Christ’s prayer to his Father, “that they may all be one.” Likewise, in the Pledge of Allegiance the pledge is to “one nation under God, indivisible.” Again, the emphasis is on unity, not diversity.
So the main condition under which diversity adds to the strength of a culture is that a society’s diverse peoples be willing to assimilate to a common, unified culture with shared beliefs and values. Throughout most of American history, most newcomers were more than willing to assimilate. The “tempest-tossed” of the world were eager to be Americans. Like converts to a new faith, they often believed more strongly in American values and opportunities than did the native-born who sometimes took their blessings for granted.
But that no longer seems to be the case. For example, a 2013 Hudson Institute Study found that less than 50 percent of foreign-born citizens thought that students should be taught “to be proud of being part of the U.S.” What accounts for this changed attitude? The most likely answer is that many native-born Americans no longer believe in American exceptionalism either. Rather, they have been taught to believe that America is racist, sexist, homophobic, colonialist, and imperialist. In short, they have been taught to be ashamed of their culture.
Multiculturalists claim that the worst thing you can do is take away a person’s cultural inheritance, yet many of their courses and textbooks are aimed at alienating Western students from their own multimillenia cultural inheritance. Within a few decades, the traditional basis for assimilation was shattered. Many Americans lost the sense that they belonged to a worthwhile cultural tradition. The emphasis in America (and also in Europe) shifted from cultural unity to cultural diversity. Diversity came to be looked upon as a good thing in and of itself without reference to any larger unity of purpose.
Still, humans continue to yearn for some kind of unity, and a substitute was needed. What could take the place of cultural unity? For many social and intellectual elites, the answer was human unity. Not the unity we have as children of God, but simply our shared humanness. And if we are all united by our common humanity, who needs a common culture? If anything, cultural boundaries serve to prevent the simple human bonding that would occur without them. Moreover, the elites, being for the most part secular humanists, view the human race as unfallen. Thus, we are all united and we are all basically good. If you start with such assumptions, then, of course, it would be safe to celebrate all sorts of diversities. In this secular version of The Peaceable Kingdom, the differences between lion culture and lamb culture are as nothing, and the lion will lie down with the lamb on an eco-friendly mat.
Paradoxically, then, the belief in the benefits of diversity for its own sake rests on an even deeper conviction that differences between peoples are in reality only surface phenomena. Although cultures and religions may appear to be diverse, they are, in this view, very much the same; the differences are not significant. Or, to put it another way, many citizens of the West have become so sheltered and naïve as to actually believe that people from different cultures are separated only by such superficial and innocuous things as differing tastes in food, drink, clothing, and music.
The new wisdom about cultures goes something like this: Don’t get hung up about cultural differences because they don’t matter. Underneath the minor differences, people are essentially the same. And because they are the same it follows that cultures and religions must at their core be very much alike—just varying expressions of the same human impulse. Here we touch upon one of the roots of cultural relativism. If all cultures and religions are pretty much the same, then the members of one culture have no business in forming judgments about the rightness or wrongness of another culture’s traditions or practices. And there is certainly no basis for thinking that any culture or religion is superior to any other. Therefore, go forth and celebrate them all equally.
In practice, however, cultural relativists tend to favor certain cultures over others. The basic division is between the West and the non-West, and the basic formula is West, bad; non-West, good. In the West, where most of the professional multiculturalists reside, the idea that there is nothing special about their own culture quickly morphed into the idea that there is something radically wrong with it for not appreciating and respecting all the richness and diversity of the rest of the world. Thus, the multicultural revolution brought with it a heavy burden of guilt, and the guilt, it was believed, could only be absolved by greater shows of openness and tolerance to the “other” and to all of the other’s beliefs and practices.
One result of this sea-change in thinking was that the idea of assimilation became anathema to many. The most dramatic effects of this new way of viewing cultural interactions were felt in Europe. For just at the point when waves of immigrants began to descend on Europe (and the UK), European elites were coming to the conclusion that their culture was not worth assimilating to.
Unfortunately for the Europeans, a great many of these immigrants were arriving from Muslim countries—that is, from cultures that would be difficult to assimilate even if one were inclined to assimilate. But the European elites were not so inclined. To attempt to assimilate others implied that your culture was superior to theirs. Indeed, many Europeans were inclined in the opposite direction. They reasoned that if any accommodating was to be done, it was the host culture that had to accommodate to the newcomers.
On several occasions, Pope Benedict XVI warned about a “dictatorship of relativism” in the West, and there is no better illustration of the concept than the capitulation of Europe to the relativistic multicultural ideology. In regard to Islam, relativism dictated that Europeans should ignore the evidence of their eyes and assent to the proposition that barbaric laws and customs were every bit as good as civilized ones. Relativism dictated that schools should accommodate the newcomers by dropping offensive subjects—such as the Crusades and the Holocaust—from the curriculum. Relativism dictated that immunization programs be halted because the unmeltable enrichers were suspicious of modern medical science. Relativism dictated that Europeans accommodate themselves to practices that were heretofore thought uncivilized—polygamy, wife-beating, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and the like. Moreover, relativism further dictated that criticism of such practices would result in criminal charges.
Diversity can be a good thing—up to a point. The point you don’t want to go beyond, as Europeans are learning, is the point at which you have to sacrifice everything good in your own culture for the sake of maintaining the illusion that all cultures and beliefs are created equal. Unfortunately, many in America now appear willing to make that sacrifice. Perhaps the classic statement of diversity uber alles was uttered by former Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey, after the first Fort Hood massacre. It could have been worse, said Casey: “What happened at Fort Hood was a tragedy, but I believe it would be an even greater tragedy if our diversity becomes a casualty here.”
General Casey’s comment misses the point that the diversity and the tragedy were inextricably linked. It was precisely the Army’s blind commitment to diversity that made the attack possible in the first place. Major Nidal Hasan made his jihadist intentions almost crystal clear well in advance of the massacre, but deference to diversity dictated that no one would notice—or, if they did notice, no one would take action. After Hasan delivered an unnerving PowerPoint presentation to his colleagues on the justification for jihad murder, the policy committee at Walter Reed Army Medical Center declined to do anything about it on the grounds that it would look bad if they kicked out one of their few Muslim residents.
Celebrate diversity? That would depend, wouldn’t it, on what diversity you’re talking about. Does diversity enrich our society? That again would depend on the content of the diversity. As columnist Mark Steyn put it:
“Diversity” is not a virtue; it’s morally neutral: A group of five white upper-middle-class liberal NPR-listening women is non-diverse; a group of four white upper-middle-class liberal NPR-listening women plus Sudan’s leading clitoridectomy practitioner is more diverse but not necessarily the better for it.
If such a grouping ever did occur, the NPR-listening women would soon discover that cultural differences can run a lot deeper than one’s choice of spices for the evening meal. Europeans have learned this lesson the hard way. They discovered that people from other cultures arrive not only with different tastes in food and clothing, but sometimes with radically different beliefs and practices. Consequently, Europeans are now, belatedly, rethinking their commitment to diversity. According to a recent Pew poll, the majority of Europeans believe that Muslims in their countries do not want to integrate. An Ipsos poll of nine European countries found that more than half of those polled believe that immigration is having a negative effect on their lives. An opinion poll conducted by the University of Munster shows that the majority of Germans disagree with the statement that Islam “belongs in Germany.” Even the European elites are having second thoughts. In 2011, the leaders of Europe’s three most powerful nations pronounced multiculturalism a failure. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron called it a “failed policy,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that multiculturalism had “utterly failed,” and French President Nicholas Sarkozy declared that the experiment is “clearly … a failure.”
Europe’s blind adherence to doctrinal diversity has led it to the brink of societal suicide. Hopefully, America can learn from Europe’s failed experiment before it travels too much further down the same path. And if you need an added incentive for putting the celebration of differences in a proper perspective, consider that the Gospel calls us to a much higher destiny than mere diversity.