Christianity, Tolerance, and Pluralism: A Theological Engagement with Isaiah Berlin's Social Theory

By Michael Jinkins | Go to book overview

Introduction

[S]ometimes God answers even the prayers of Her postmodern children.

James Hynes 1


Pluralism and Christian communities

Often we assume that agreement, harmony, or even unanimity among the members of a community is a necessary prerequisite for their life together to flourish. Diversity with regard to defining our most crucial beliefs and values, aspirations and goals, therefore is frequently seen as a potential, if not actual, enemy of a shared social existence. A powerful assumption seems to be at work, especially within some religious groups, to the effect that conflict over ideas, values and beliefs (i.e. axiological conflict) is something to be feared, that it must be avoided at all costs, and if it cannot be avoided, it must be carefully managed and quickly resolved. Among some religious communities, the possibility of such open conflict produces such anxiety that the group, or the group's leaders acting on behalf of the group, will strive to silence - by force if necessary - any voices raised in contradiction to or in defiance of the official voice of the community. The alternative is apparently unthinkable, and is summarily dismissed: the heretical belief that some forms of conflict regarding the most crucial issues of heart, mind, soul and life, though at times painful, are ordinary and beneficial to a society or a community, and that some forms of conflict evidence a cultural and historical richness and profundity without which a human group can hardly be described as a community at all.

At a time when many religious and social conflicts appear intractable, and the fear of ideological and tribal Balkanization looms ever larger among religious communities and secular states, Isaiah Berlin's work in social theory, political philosophy and the history of ideas provides an approach to thinking about pluralism that re-conceptualizes social conflict. Berlin understands that the irreducible diversity and the sheer variety of forms of human life represented in most complex social contexts, and the competition and incommensurability among the conflicting values and beliefs, and the ultimate ends arising from these particular social contexts in

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Christianity, Tolerance, and Pluralism: A Theological Engagement with Isaiah Berlin's Social Theory
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Preface x
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Isaiah Berlin 15
  • 2 - Can Christians Be Pluralists? 73
  • 3 - The Application of Isaiah Berlin's Understanding of Social Conflict to Communities of Faith 122
  • 4 - Is Toleration a Christian Virtue? 166
  • Epilogue in an Ecclesiological Key 201
  • Notes 205
  • Index 245
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