Sunday, December 04, 2011

After Multiculturalism

As we near the end of the semester, art history classes and textbooks everywhere are coming to naive and unproblematized multicultural crescendos.  One in particular (CDROM included!) conveniently afforded a reductio ad absurdum by claiming we have no right to judge Aztec rituals of human sacrifice, which were more humane (because of their speedy technique) than a religion centered on a crucifixion that lasted for hours. Such puerilities prompt the inevitable writing on the wall from Leslie Newbigin (literally: I projected this on the Wheaton wall last week).
It is only be being faithful participants in a supranational, multicultural family of churches that we can find the resources to be at the same time faithful sustainers and cherishes of our respective cultures and also faithful critics of them… There is good and bad in every culture… The criteria for making judgments between the one and the other cannot come from culture. That is the familiar error of cultural imperialism. There can only be criteria if God has in fact shown us what his will is. He has done so in Christ. If that is denied in the name of religious pluralism, then there is no valid criterion by which the positive and negative developments in human culture can be assessed.
Once upon a time such sentiments were academically unacceptable.  But as Newbigin's multicultural Indian context has expanded, his insights have been vindicated.  With the academic dethronement of secularism to the level of one perspective among others, frank admissions like Newbigin's are finally permitted.   The bland liquid fashionably labeled "other," comprised of diluted world religions, which was bottled and sold to captive student markets by the American professoriate, has expired.  Or to put it more pointedly, religious believers colonized by critical theory are politely asking their betters if they might be permitted to govern themselves. 

Consider, for example, torpedoes fired by feminist scholar Tina Beattie such as these:
When western secular scholars override [religious] concerns through their commitment to the 'outsider' approach to religious studies, they betray their own positioning within a dominant ideology of western secularism that marginalizes or silences religious ways of knowing...  One does not acquire a more truthful understanding of the transcendent Other by seeking to transcend religions, because if this Other is knowable at all then it is knowable only through its inscription in the religious stories people tell, which allow the unknowable Other to become the personal and intimate beloved of religious believers.
Why, asks Beattie, do secular feminist scholars of religion, for all their daring methodologies, nearly never mention prayer?  For Beattie, the solution is not Mary Daly's "elimination of both God and method," but "the relativization of method through the reincorporation of transcendence."  The boomerang of critique has returned to its academic wielders:
From the ivory towers of academia, feminists and gender theorists have become proficient at identifying - and often condemning - the patriarchal, hierarchical and authoritarian characteristics of religious institutions.  But compared with the hierarchies of academia, the world's religious institutions are flourishing and dynamic communities.
Not your grandmother's feminism, that. Critique must of course continue (and with Beattie, most certainly does).  But without the possibility of real, revealed religion, there simply is no multicultural vantage point from which to see.  In other words, the Guerilla Girls are back - but they now, like most of this world's women, believe in God.