Principled Pluralism – an excerpt from Free to Serve

The following is an excerpt from Free to Serve by Stephen Monsma and Stanley Carlson-Thies.

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Principled pluralism—or “civic pluralism” as it is sometimes called—is a political principle, a design for how a diverse people can live together in one political system. It requires neither that we agree completely with each other about our deepest beliefs (we don’t) nor that we stop trying to convince each other about what we think is best (we shouldn’t).

Cover ArtInstead, principled pluralism simply asks us to agree to respect each other’s convictions not only in private life but also in public life. Just as we ask for freedom to live our lives according to our convictions, we believe others with different convictions should be free to live their lives according to their convictions.

This means the public realm, our common life, will be neither Christian nor secular. The public realm ought not to privilege those of us who hold to Christian beliefs (or those of other religious traditions). Nor should secularism be imposed on all by banishing religion to the private world of congregational worship and personal devotions.

Doing so would show little respect for people of faith—people for whom faith is relevant not only for worship but also for how they educate their children, heal the sick, serve the needy, and run a business. People of faith would then not be treated in a neutral, evenhanded manner. But the answer to such favoring of secularism cannot be to favor those with religious convictions and their organizations. That too is wrong.

Central to our position is the basic fact that a thoroughly secular world does not occupy neutral ground between belief and nonbelief. Instead, a nonreligious, secular perspective is a distinct perspective, or worldview, that is in competition with religious perspectives.

Political scientist A. James Reichley was exactly correct when he once wrote, “Banishment of religion does not represent neutrality between religion and secularism; conduct of public institutions without any acknowledgment of religion is secularism.”

This means a thoroughly secularized public realm has taken sides in the contest between religious and nonreligious organizations and their differing views of life and the world. This is why principled pluralism not only seeks public policies that are evenhanded among the faith-based organizations of various religious traditions but also between faith-based organizations and secular organizations. Neither should be favored over the other.

©2015 by Stephen V. Monsma and Stanley W. Carlson-Thies. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.