These violent, extremist, and racist days need to try the discussion of our differences all over again. No dumbass bumper-stickers this time.
To tell the Jew that his culture is “worthy of respect” and “as valuable as any other culture” is to insult him in a far worse manner than telling him that the Jews can piss off. Being Jewish is precisely a being set-apart, being a chosen race and a royal priesthood. The recapitulation of the Jew as dwelling within the same, homogeneous value-status as everyone else is a strike against his Jewishness. An insult, while nothing to strive for, at least recognizes the Jew as Jew, while our “compliment” hollows him of his Judaism and smiles at him as ”just another culture.”
In fact, the “equality of all cultures” excludes most cultures, for most cultures, from the Greeks to the Nigerians, are united by a vision of themselves as superior, destined, chosen — special. In a similar manner, the “equal dignity of all religions” excludes most religions, for most religions — whether Islam, Reformed Presbyterianism, or Judaism — only exist insofar as they are a series of absolute claims about the nature of God and of man, claims which by definition exclude contrary claims and thus can never be melted into a mediocre soup of “equal dignity” with “every other religion.”
To mock a Catholic for believing in transubstantiation, as Richard Dawkins advises, pays her a profound compliment. It acknowledges her belief as a claim about reality that demands a response. “Respecting” this same belief as having “equal dignity” with, say, the Episcopalian interpretation of the Eucharist — this is an insult. The belief is mutated into one culturally and historically interesting artifact of human thought nestled alongside other artifacts. It is violently re-categorized as “one thought among many,” an opinion that demands no response and excludes no other opinions. Polite, careful, white people turn the Church into a respectable, claimless institution in order to compliment it as they lukewarmly compliment any other human institution. At least the Satanists desecrate the Church as Church.
Behind all this woolly respect there’s a wolf. “The equal validity of every culture” is racist. It masquerades as a universal axiom that every Arab, Eskimo, and Fijian could arrive at if only they would reflect, but it’s no more universal than cheeseburgers. It is the idea of a very specific culture — the post-Christian West. “The equal dignity of all religions” is violent. It is the doctrine of a very specific theology — that of religious pluralism. Implicit, then, in the violent restructuring of cultures and religions into equal units is the assertion of one particular race, culture, and theology as the dominant one, under who’s gaze which all Jews, Muslims, Catholics are revealed as relative — the culture of post-Christian liberalism.
Liberalism judges cultures as “equal” much in the way a man atop a tower peers down and sees the little moving dots as “all part of one family” — “leveling out” diversity by assuming a role that does not participate in this diversity, but judges it. But this role is itself a culturally, historically, and ideologically embedded role — based, as I hope to show, on the post-Enlightenment concept of the individual. So too, our religious pluralism is itself an exclusive theology that castigates all non-pluralist religions. Because we don’t understand this, we can never understand why our benevolent promotion of equality and tolerance is so damn offensive; why our efforts to fight racism through the violent, post-Christian assertion of the meaninglessness of culture just makes a more hostile, racist world; why radical religious groups treat us a perverse religion, a Satan, and a theology instead of in accord with the naive mode that we present ourselves — a secular, political entity. We are present to the world as a religion and culture that declares all other religions and cultures as subordinate.
Any honest discussion of race, culture and religion — and damn, do we need one — must first shirk the disingenuous mask of egalitarianism, admit that all religions exclude each other, admit, even, that and all cultures view themselves as better-than, admit that post-Christian doctrines claiming otherwise simply peddle one particular religion and culture as The Best — and find a reason to love each other anyway. More next time.