Read it carefully then ask yourself: About whom might this quote be speaking? What is the most likely historical and cultural context? (answer at the bottom of tomorrow’s post)

What he was able most signally to exploit was the belief that pluralism was somehow unnatural or unhealthy in a society, that it was a sign of weakness, and that internal division and disharmony could be suppressed and eliminated, to be replaced by unity

Diversity and difference are an unavoidable and cherished gift in this material time-bound realm. Life is profoundly enriched by variety. Bio-diversity is essential to the continuation of life on this planet. The healthy functioning of any community, depends to a great degree on its ability to respect pluralism and accept differences in thought, practice, and understanding. A monochrome social structure is a dangerous thing that works against human prospering.

But something must hold it all together. If human community is to survive, there must be limits to the differences we are willing to embrace. Communities must have some way of agreeing upon what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. This is the reason we have governments, armies, laws, courts, and police. Some behaviours, and even ideas, simply fall outside the accepted norms of human conduct. Society as a whole has determined certain choices are unacceptable and must be controlled. To a lesser degree any institution that is going to present a minimally coherent identity, must have some agreed upon behaviours, beliefs, ideas, and common practices that distinguish it from other groups. I am happy for you to join my bowling club, but if you are determined to use a baseball bat to play the game, we are going to have a problem.

So, how does a community balance the need for cohesive identity/unity with a desire to embrace and celebrate the diversity that is an unavoidable and beautifully rich reality of life? How do we continue together on our journey when we draw in different places the line between acceptable diversity and generally agreed upon norms essential to at least a minimal degree of social cohesion?

In the quote above, pluralism is viewed as the enemy of unity and the destroyer of human community. In the worldview embodied in this quote, diversity is viewed as only leading to “internal division and disharmony.” When diversity is the enemy, it must “be suppressed and eliminated” in the interests of “the unity of a national community.” The so-called “unity” achieved by this strategy trumps diversity every time. There is no place in such a system for the celebration of difference; there is no room for the “other.”

At times it may feel as if we invented this stand-off between unity and diversity in the last 50 years. But it is an ancient tension that has probably existed since human beings sought to come together in cooperative relationships that extended beyond two completely like-minded individuals.

The New Testament writers were clearly aware of the potential tension between the need for common identity and respect for difference. Paul, who was able in his personal life to move from a life dominated by the demand for rigid dogmatic unity to embrace a more expansive celebration of diversity, understood the tension and affirmed that,

the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body. (I Corinthians 12:12)

For Paul unity and diversity were simply both true and both essential, neither out-ranked the other. The “one” and the “many” were both unavoidable and essential elements of the rich fabric of life. There is a force towards oneness and, at the same time, an energy towards distinctiveness.

How can we hold together these two, apparently contrary, human impulses? The person referred to in the quote above was determined to collapse the tension against pluralism and in favour of rigid conformity. The danger of such a “deal with the devil” becomes alarmingly clear when the context of the quote is known.