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By Nominis Expers

      Let's start by making clear the distinction between pluralism in ontological categories, or categories of"being", and that of a political or social nature.

      The former belongs to a metaphysical consideration of how many substances exist, and that relates to our subject only tangentially. Inasmuch as our topic falls under the broad heading of "Secularism", it participates in the presupposition of that perspective: That there are no absolutes, only particulars, there is no ultimate value, there exist only particular values. That is to say, for example, that since there is no eternal dimension, existence is defined and limited to the here and now, and as such, there is no lasting value, only particular, temporary values. You can see how this view reduces ethics and morality to preferences; there is no ultimate Value; nothing lasts, nothing matters.

Having said that, let's turn our attention to Political Pluralism.

      Political Pluralism , according to The Oxford Companion to Philosophy is:

"A condition marked by the multiplicity of religions and/or ethnic groups within a single state; or a doctrine that holds such a multiplicity to be a good thing."
      In America today, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, we find ourselves indisputably in a pluralistic society. Changes are taking place in America's cities and towns in terms of the religious demographic. Mosques and Islamic centers, Sikh gurdwaras, Hindu and Jain temples, Buddhist temples and meditation centers, Zoroastrian and Taoist religious centers are becoming more common aspects of the religious and cultural landscape.

      As we begin to appropriate this new religious diversity in our public life and institutions, and in emerging forms of interfaith relationships, it is important for reasons of political and social stability to exercise toleration in order to coexist peacefully with others who have fundamentally different beliefs or values. The alternative is a unitary state where one religion or ethnicity is dominant and the central government rules everywhere; by definition not a Democratic system.

      In this atmosphere of the freedom to hold and exchange ideas, we can consider it a wonderful opportunity to learn from people of different perspectives, faiths, and cultural backgrounds. But to learn what? A descriptive account of differing belief systems, yes. A prescriptive formula for the equal veracity of contradictory truth claims? Absurd.

      In order for pluralism to maintain itself in peace we have to adopt an attitude of tolerance. The word "tolerate" is defined as "to recognize and respect others' beliefs, practices etc. without sharing them" and "to bear or put up with something not particularly liked." So we see that toleration is not synonymous with endorsement. Everyone has a right to their opinion. What we must be on guard against is a relativistic view of truth.

Relativism

"What you believe is true FOR YOU, what I believe is true FOR ME, all truth is relative, your beliefs and my beliefs are equal. Since there are multiple descriptions of reality, no one view can be true in an ultimate sense."

      This sounds tolerant, doesn't it? The mistake here is in the gratuitous leap from toleration of differing opinions and a legal right to hold such opinions to the granting of equal veracity to contradictory truth claims. This is devastating to an honest search for objective truth. In logic, the Law of Non-Contradiction states:

"A thing cannot both be "A" and "Non-A" at the same time and in the same relationship."
      Therefore we see that something cannot be true and not true at the same time.The evidences for objective truths must be examined and a reasoned response arrived at, albeit on a personal level. In a pluralistic society, every individual has a right to his or her own beliefs; everyone has a right to their opinion; everyone, in effect has a right to be wrong! Neither the state nor any other entity has the right to coerce those beliefs. Our right to them is one of our foundational liberties. As to whether those beliefs are rational and correspond to objective reality is a matter of personal responsibility. The thesis that all points of view are equally valid, all moralities are equally good and all beliefs or belief systems are equally true is clearly absurd.

      Pluralism is a fact of life. Tolerance is a necessity to the stability of society. Relativism is a either a careless, unthinking mistake or an offense to rational thought and a deliberate philosophical crime.



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