Friday, August 04, 2006

a bogus neutrality

Chatting to a university student the other day. Enrolled in a history course on Religious Conflict. On the first day the lecturers stated that their essays must come from a 'neutral' perspective, by which was meant a pluralist perspective - that perspective which affirms that no single religion has a privileged access to truth. All faiths are equally valid. All roads lead up the mountain to God and there are no give-way signs!

I have a question! Since when is this pluralist perspective a neutral perspective? It is so very far from neutral. It is a tiny step from 'all faiths are equally valid' to 'no faith is particularly special.' And that is not neutral!! That is a cynical, disrespectful, demeaning stance to take with the many, many peoples of the world for whom their faith is precious.

But here is the irony. A closer examination of the course contents would suggest that three monotheistic religions are in view - Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Then a quick flick through the lecture outline would suggest that Christianity is the favoured religion to whip with about 10 out of 12 sessions given in some part to this pursuit ... with any whipping of Islam pretty much avoided from what I can see. I may have missed it...

If pluralism is genuinely neutral then equal space is made for the Christian faith. It will attract the same inherent respect as Islam (and Buddhism and Hinduism) ... and Hinduism and Buddhism and Islam will attract the same level of critique as Christianity.

Until that stance is adopted in our discussions (particularly at a university, for goodness sake!), surely the very last thing that can be affirmed is that what is happening is neutral?

nice chatting

Paul

3 comments:

Andrew Butcher said...

Your comment provoked both the historian and the sociologist in me to respond. I don't know the course or what discipline it is being offered under but very often it is a very simplistic view of history that says that Christianity is the cause of conflict. Think of the "traditional" view of Christian missionaries in NZ's history and you get the picture. Even recent historical scholarship, by Jamie Belich say, doesn't balance the picture any better. But these so-called "religious conflicts" are often more to do with political posturing, gamesmanship, and the raw and often highly self-serving stuff of politics. That a major religion should be evident in its context is often a useful whipping-boy for "solving" the causes of conflict, but I suggest the reasons for religious conflict are far more mundane than we often suppose.

Scott said...

It's so representative of the NZ university culture though! In a similar vein, a student at Canterbury Uni said the following about the prospect of a Christian sharing their faith on the library steps.

"Right to free speech and all, but I don't think that that should stand if you're being obnoxious or openly harassing people"

I guess this is neutrality at its highest.

Paul Windsor said...

Yes - it is representative of the university culture ... but so also is the high proportion of Christian people in many faculties in those universities. How can they be drawn into this kind of debate? They are the ones who need to lead the way...
However I fear that Christianity as 'private truth' with kinship to a personal hobby preference of some kind - rather than as 'public truth' robust enough to look after itself in the marketplace of ideas, but just needing a voice to do so - has won the day.
This is why Christian academics and professionals need to ensure that their understanding of Christianity keeps pace with their understanding of their discipline. It is certainly why we at Carey are committed to qualifications like a Graduate Diploma in Applied Theology. These people need help!
What's more the mission of Jesus needs these people exerting influence as part of the 'scattered church.' It sure ain't going to be effective on the back of pastors doing their thing in the 'gathered church.'