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Pluralism Doesn’t Mean Relativism
Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act has caused widespread and heated debate. Some say it allows people to discriminate against gays and lesbians, while others say it gives people of faith more liberty to live out their convictions. Reactions to the Hoosier state’s new law show there is fundamental disagreement over the scope of religious liberty and to what extent particular minorities should be protected.
The pointed commentary surrounding the Indiana law is a recent reminder that we lack agreement about the purpose of our country, the nature of the common good, the meaning of human flourishing. Our differences are everywhere: they pervade our backgrounds, preferences, and allegiances. They affect not only what we think, but also how we think—and how we see the world.
To be sure, not all of our differences are problematic. Most of us think some difference is good, that a variety of perspectives makes life more interesting. I think the world is a better place because I pull for the Duke Blue Devils (especially today!) and some of my friends cheer for lesser basketball teams this time of year. March Madness would be less interesting if everybody liked Duke and nobody cheered against them. (My friends have assured me there is little danger of this possibility.) We might reach a similar conclusion about beauty, taste, and humor. Some of these differences enrich our lives. Some of them lead to sharper thinking and greater creativity.
On the other hand, we do not think that all difference is good. We can all name beliefs and actions we think the world would be better off without. This is especially true when it comes to our moral beliefs. We might prefer a society in which everyone agreed ...1