MULTICULTURALISM IN THE MARKET PLACE

 

Text: 1 Chronicles 12.32 - Needed, "Men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do."

 

The intensifying cultural war on our campuses center around a rejection of both truth and relevance of the Judaeo-Christian faith as a framework for understanding the cosmos, both micro and macro dimensions. A naturalistic worldview is the sole politically correct instrument for attaining truth concerning the cosmos.

 

Warren A. Nord presents our dilemma well in his work, Religion and American Education (University of North Carolina Press, 1995):

 

From the beginning, many of the most violent battles in our on-going culture wars have been fought over the proper place of religion in public education.  Unhappily in the heat of battle, in court fights, direct mail campaigns, school board elections, and the dispatches of journalists from the front—public opinion has been all too easily polarized.  As a result, we are apt to find ourselves uncomfortably and uncritically caught in a dilemma, defined by the most militant of the combatants for their own ideological or even tactical purposes."  (p. xiii).

 

The combatants in the cultural wars are usually on one side of our conflicts and are usually the ("Religious Right," or the "Radical Right" as their opponents would have it) those who believe that American education has been captured by the forces of secular humanism and this has become godless and hostile to religion.  Christians must not be paranoid reactionaries.  In the midst of this conflict it is their purpose and goal to restore religious purposes, practices and teaching to the public education. The other adversaries are those liberals (secular humanists) for whom the "Religious Right" is a dangerous intruder into the secular space of postmodern public institutions. For them, religion is properly a private matter, irrelevant to the purposes and content of education (note especially Goals 2000 and Outcome Based Education), and it is their goal to remove any vestiges of religious purposes, practices, and teaching from the public schools and universities.

 

Many Right Wingers believe that America is a Christian or Judaeo-Christian nation and to further their ends they would dismantle the wall of separation between Church and State.  At the heart of the leftist establishment is the presupposition that America is a secular religiously neutral nation..  Since neutrality is an impossibility, there must be alternatives to our present impasse.  Why is Christian teaching in the school adjudged to be indoctrination or brain washing, and naturalistic humanism adjudged to be neutral? How has Christianity become marginalized in our modern and postmodern culture? How did the Trojan Horse of naturalistic humanism enter our culture and especially the academy (and media).  Only those who understand the origin and nature of the scientific enterprise can possibly effectively respond to these questions. But few Christians are committed to both science and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Many evangelicals who work in the scientific arena polarize their work and their faith.  This dilemma has too often been dealt with believing that science deals with fact and religion deals with values and there can be no horizontal bridging of these two areas of human existence.  We can be grateful that many are presently addressing the impasse in our cultural wars.  A place for Christians to start is with Tom Sine's book, Cease Fire; Searching for Sanity in America's Cultural Wars (Eerdmans, 1995), as Christians are called to be reconcilers in our fragmented culture.

 

Unlike fundamentalists, biblically oriented Christians are not terrified by the engulfing, unstoppable tidal waves of social change, modernity, and secularization. Any religion which seeks to hold back the waves of change will fail.  Too often, too many Christians are not trying to resist the radical cultural changes; they are trying to catch up to it in order to ride it into the future.  The perceptive insight of Marshall Herman can perhaps provide some guidelines to direct our journey into the postmodern world.

 

... to be modern ... is to experience personal and social life as a maelstrom, to find one's world and oneself in perpetual disintegration and renewal, trouble and anguish, ambiguity and contradiction; to be part of a universe in which all that is solid melts into air.  To be a modernist is to make oneself somehow at home in the maelstrom, to make its rhythms one's own, to move within its current in search of the form of reality, of beauty, of freedom, of justice, that its fervid and perilous flow allows.  (Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1931), pp. 35-6)

 

In consequence, classical Christian theology has no standing in the postmodern university.  All the prestigious disciplines interpret reality solely in naturalistic terms.  Our entire malaise of postmodernism, deconstructionism, radical feminism, no university groups derive from the evolutionary naturalistic vantage point.  John Searle, professor of the philosophy of language and the mind at Berkeley campus of the University of California correctly states that the cultural war is fundamentally over what kinds of knowledge universities should encourage their students to acquire.  The war has such serious implications that no brief statement could be adequate.  Searle declares that the simplest level of the debate is between two groups—the "traditionalists" and the "challengers." The former value the classic works presented in courses with titles like "Western Civilization" while the latter want to reform the curriculum in the name of concepts like multicuituralism, postmodernism, feminism and gays and lesbian studies.

The resulting conflict over "the Canon" (a list of great books deemed worthy of study) and "political correctness" has been brought to the attention of the world at large by three spokes persons in particular (Bloom, D'Souza, and Searle).  Allan Bloom's work, The Closing of The American Mind and Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education.  Both of these weighed in on the classical side.  John Searle (esp. “Is There a Crisis in American Higher Education?”) is a major player in the debate also identified in the classical tradition.  He seeks to find the underlying philosophical roots of the battle.  Each of these seek to make it clear what it is that the challenges are challenging.

 

(1)  The Classicists say that some masterpieces are included in the Canon, not because of cultural or political bias but because of their inherent excellence and importance.  This claim is challenged by the Deconstructionalists who deny inherent meaning in any text.  (2)  A second claim from the Classicists is that there are "objective standards" of rationality, intelligence, truth, validity, and general intellectual merit.  (3) Classicists believe that the major purpose of higher education is to liberate students from their parochial backgrounds and introduce them to the general intellectual culture. (4) Classicists defend both individual rights and have an extreme devotion to a universal human culture on the other hand. (5) Classicists encourage a critical stance toward prejudice, both individual as well as community. (6)  The sixth point is most crucial.  Searle marvelously states his case:

 

A sixth and final feature that I can mention is this: Objectivity and truth are possible because there is an independently existing reality to which our true utterances correspond. This view is called realism and has often been challenged by various forms of idealism and relativism within Western philosophy. . . .  Our natural science, for example, is based on it.  A persistent topic to debate is, how far does it extend? For example, is there an independently existing set of moral values that we can discover or are we just expressing our subjective feelings and attitudes when we make moral judgments? (John Searles, "Is there a Crisis in American Higher Education?" Bulletin of American Higher Education, 4;6, no. 4, pp. 24-47.  Also see his view of the mind in The Rediscovery of The Mind Bradford: MIT Press, 1992, esp. pp. 14, 24, 23)

 

The entire canon of multicultural, politically correct agenda reject the sixth assumption. Their criticism stems from their presupposition that the classical canon favors dead white males.  That supposed "objective" standards mask racial prejudice, gender and class bias and that the most important thing about an individual is his or her membership in a subgroup (Women, Africans, Gays) rather than his or her identity either as an individual or as a member of a general scholarly culture (cf. elite vs. popular).  The purpose of postmodern education at least in the humanities, is political transformation and empowerment, not learning a tradition that is allegedly responsible for their own oppression. At the heart of the radical cultural shifts is the denial of metaphysical realism and scientific rationalism that provides the philosophical foundations for the classical position.  According to Searle, the sixth challenge involves a marriage of left wing politics with certain anti-rationalist strands derived from postmodern philosophy and nonlinear/chaos physics (esp. Quine, Rorty, Berstein, etal).

 

The idea is that we should stop thinking that there is an objective reality that exists independently of our representations of it; we should stop thinking that propositions are true when they correspond to that reality, and we should stop thinking of language as a set of devices for conveying meanings from speaker to learner.  ]n short, the contradiction of the sixth proposition is a rejection of realism and truth in favor of some version of relativism, such as pragmatism.  This is a remarkable guise for left-wing views to take because until recently extreme left-wing views claimed to have a scientific basis, for the current challenges are suspicious of science, and equally suspicious of this whole apparatus of rationality, objective truth and metaphysical realism that goes along with scientific attitude (Searle's previous article).  The heart of our cultural wars debate is about the fundamental nature of knowledge and rationality In this postmodern, multicultural maze, one must not deny that certain prejudices, Ecocentricism, etc., and that some writers of merit have been neglected due to race or gender.  The debate in the public square has always assumed an objective, transcultural standard of merit that the works of Asians, African-Americans or feminists might or might not meet. The most radical challenge to the concept of transcultural objectivity is present in the deconstructionist literary critic, Jacques Derrida, and philosophers like Thomas Kuhn and Richard Rorty.  Searle describes the simplified version of these thinkers' ideas that have influenced the campus cultural wars.  The idea roughly speaking is that Kuhn's concept of paradigm attempts to show that scientists run from one paradigm to another with no objective justification (cf. see my work, Thomas Kuhn's Concept o£ Paradigm; I deny that Kuhn in fact does this).

 

What Kuhn did for science, Rorty supposedly did for philosophy. Philosophers do not provide a mirror reflection of the real world because the whole idea of language mirroring or corresponding to reality is flawed from the beginning (Searle op. cit.).  Whether or not the above is a correct interpretation of the works of Kuhn, Rorty, and the deconstructionists, the effect has been versions of relativism, anti-objectivism and skepticism about science and the correspondence theory of truth in various humanities departments.  To Searle the existence of an objective reality is fundamental to rationality itself and this to the university's reason for existing.  "Thus it is self-refuting for someone to claim that metaphysical realism is false, because a public language presupposes a public world and that presupposition is metaphysical realism.  To deny the existence of objective truth" is self-contradictory.  The philosopher most often cited by Searle is Richard Rorty of the University of Virginia who emphatically rejects the metaphysical realism.

 

Rorty’s father was a member of the Communist party but broke with the American Communist Party in 1932 over Stalin's crimes.  After this period their family, including Richard, turned to Leon Trotsky and the Anti-Stalinist left. Rorty's family admired not only Trotsky but also John Dewey. Dewey turned from his evangelical Christianity of his childhood, because he took Darwinism seriously.  Rorty describes his philosophical hero in his work, "Wild Orchids and Trotsky" (found in his Messages From American Universities) Edmundson, ed. (Viking Press, 1993); note also Rorty's Objectivity, Relativism and Truth (Cambridge University Press, 199D.

 

What are the consequences of Rorty's philosophy? Rorty admits that if God as creator exists and cares about what humans do, then metaphysical realism is true, and is foundation for disputes about value and justice also exists.  (Platonic metaphysical realm of divine essences also solves the same problems but Plato's idea is not the origin of modern science) If God does not exist then man is the only absolute reference point from which to judge alternative hermeneutics of reality. Both pragmatists and rationalists hold that 'objects' are not really what they appear to be. To a physicist reality is composed of the spaces between particles and the particles seem to be in one place or another at the same moment.  But all issues are not matters of scientific fact; some issues address questions of value.  Materialistic rationalists agree with pragmatists that values, unlike particles, are created by human beings. John Searle is Rorty's rationalist/realist adversary.  Searle says concerning the origin of human mind and its capacities that "our brains are the products of certain evolutionary processes and as such, they are simply the most developed in a whole series of evolutionary paths that include the brains of dogs, baboons and dolphins."  (The Rediscovery of The Mind, pp. 111-126). Searle wrote that paragraph in a book to criticize the expression of materialist reductionist that currently dominated neuroscience, especially the work of Francis Crick (see esp. his The Astonishing Hypothesis (Scribners, 1999). One of the attractions of materialist reductionist is that by declaring mental activity to be no more than a particularly complex application of physical and chemical processes in the brain on a full naturalistic reductive mode mental states, like intentions and love, are regarded as mere place holders that can be eliminated from consideration when science understands the chemical mechanism that produce those subjective phenomena.

 

At the opposite pole from reductive materialism is dualism or vitalism, the view that mental activities or the life processes involve some fundamentally different "stuff" in addition to matter and the laws of physics and chemistry.  The scientific academy holds that both dualism and vitalism are to be regarded with the same contempt as outright creationism.  This implies some form of "supernaturalism" which is outside the knowledge and control of science. 

 

Reductivistic materialism can reduce biology to something like "DNA science" and the philosophy of mind can be reduced to neuro science.  Reductionists like Weinberg and Crick have nothing but contempt for well-funded nuclear biologists.  The code word between reductivistic-naturalist and integrative biologist is "emergence (see my critique of Process Philosophy, esp. Whitehead, and my "Brain, Mind, Computer Analogue:  What is Artificial Intelligence?" Do computers think?)

 

Stephen Jay Gould insists that the properties of organisms are mostly emergent, meaning that they cannot be predicted at the genetic level without clarifying how this assertion affects the blind watchmaker mechanism for creating complex organs. Similarly, John Searle insists that "one can accept the obvious facts of physics, for example, that the world is made up entirely of physical particles in the field of force, without at the same time denying . . . "that our conscious states have quite specific irreducible phenomenological properties."  (op.cit., p. 111-126).  Searle emphatically rejects the meaning of "emergent" that has unacceptable mystical overtones.  He nonetheless denies that consciousness is "irreducible".  He seeks to avoid the implications of this judgment by saying that the impenetrable barrier to reductionism is the result of a dysfunctional practice which has only trivial consequences.  His trivial consequence appears to this author to have fundamental metaphysical implications.  Crick calls his materialist theory of the mind an "astonishing hypothesis." Why? The concept of emergence is harmless to reductivism as long as it refers to properties of higher level systems, like the organism of the brain.  All forms of reductionism assert a difference between "how things really are," and how they appear to be.  Pragmatism seeks to avoid metaphysical realism by statements about what is useful at the time.

But even pragmatism is based on assumptions about how "things really are." All of these gurus of neurophysics adhere to Darwinism despite its fatal consequences for metaphysical realism on issues of value, beauty, theological discourse, etc.  Even the foundational knowledge claims that human beings are just animals with surplus neurons is established on pragmatic grounds.  The academy regards Darwinism as foundational. Searle avoids this fate by opposing reductions on reductionist grounds and pragmatism on pragmatic grounds.  Dr. Searle's analysis of the crisis in the university that he describes comes down to the very justification for having universities in the first place.  A university is fundamentally about knowledge. But its "true truth" is both denied and also its ontological status and therefore the possibility of attaining it. What is knowledge for?  What would error in knowledge be? How does propaganda, misinformation, spying, the existence of the CIA; the FBI, and the KGB relate to a denial of "true truth?" In any discussion of the physics of mind there are two separate issues in which attention is commonly focused.  (1) How is it that a material object, a brain, can actually make consciousness? And, conversely, (2) how is it that a consciousness, by the action of its will, actually influences apparently physically determined motion of material objects? There are active and passive aspects of the mind/body problem (see Roger Penrose, The Emperor's New Mind (Oxford, 1989).

 

If there is no "true truth" there is no erroneous knowledge even on pragmatic grounds.  Berkeley, California used to be called the Athens of the West.  At this present hour all major universities are notorious for irrational, self-indulgent, self-righteous behavior.  Rorty's pragmatism represents the mind set of the academy where knowledge is that which is useful for whatever you want to do.  Truth apart from utility cannot be known to us because the "human mind" is an animal which happens to be endowed with more neurons that were strictly necessary to survive in a hunter/gatherer environment. Most university people are not happy with the growth of irrationalism.  The essence of the crisis in the academy (cf. in spite of the demise of metaphysical concerns after Kant) is a metaphysical crisis!!!  The academy functions through what the granting agencies happen to like and they like what Congress will pay for. Government of the people, for the people, and by the people arise from slumber before the encroaching giant of cultural destruction enters the gates of our postmodern multicultural city of Troy one more time.  We cannot reach outer space by exiting on a balloon of reductionistic naturalism.  Reductionism and Naturalism are the products of the Darwinian Revolution.  We cannot engage in our lethal cultural wars which seek to destroy the Judaeo/Christian structure of the family, marriage, educational revolution (Outcome Based Education is New Age Pantheism) classical values, etc., without adequate knowledge of the shaping ideas of our culture.  In an irrational reductionistic naturalistic pragmatism only a critical realism can be the ground for a Christian world view in spite of the widely held politically correct denial of its significance. The central constructive response to these crucial cultural issues is that neither of the participants in the debate can justify their position.  Neither Classical Naturalism nor relativistic/radical contextualization points of departure in the cultural wars can provide non-arbitrary grounds for adjudicating between alternative perspectives. (Please do not suggest a pragmatic response! It is self-refuting; only a Christian worldview can provide a basis for pursuing cultural sanity.) Yet, we cannot be hostile or even apathetic toward culture if we are to attempt to redirect it.  In our "cultural wars" the cross is a grand offense (Hebrews 5.11; 1 Peter 2.3).  Yet today, Gallup and Barna have issued survey after survey demonstrating that the values of evangelicals and non-Christians hardly differ (cf. Gallup, Castille, The People's Religion; America's Faith in the 90's (NY: MacMillan, 1989); George Barna, P. McKay, Vital Signs; Emerging Social Trends and The Future of American Christianity (Westminster, 1L: Crossway, 1934); M.C.  Roof, A Generation of Seekers (NY: Harper, 1993); and Michael S. Horton, Beyond Cultural Wars (Moody Press, 1994).

 

To begin to move beyond culture wars while still pursuing Christian integrity and Christian influence, Michael Horton suggestion of four theses for moving beyond cultural wars is helpful: (1) We must recover the proclamation of God's character—awe in worship; (2) We must recover the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ's person and work; (3) We must recover the art of persuasion. This is a great challenge in our media maze where communication is visual not audible and homiletics has turned to inductive preaching (cf. vs. "Socratic method" of questioning because here was always resolution via argument/logic, but this "mode" is not politically correct in our pluralistic culture); (4) We must recover an interest in our culture and promote Scriptural horizons over these two horizons.  (T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture (NY: Harcourt, 1949), esp. p. 32; T. Oden, After Modernity—What?  (Zondervan; 1990); Frederic Burnham, ed., Postmodern Theology (NY: Harper, 1939); G. Machen, Christianity and Liberalism; and Christians United for Reformation (C.U.R.E.), 2221 E. Winston Rd., Suite K, Anaheim, CA, 92806.

 

The Church has always responded to cultural challenges, and needs to do so no less today.

 

James D. Strauss