A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
18th February 2008
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A multicultural society is a dream that does not stand up to analysis.
It is good to dream of living in harmony without coercion. It would be wonderful if people who have nothing in common other than their humanity lived in peace with each other. We should wish that people so respected each other's differences that we would enrich rather than denigrate our neighbour. Many hope to so extend tolerance that nobody would be offended by somebody else's behaviour or lifestyle.
For Christians, multiculturalism expresses our concern for other peoples' welfare. Extending hospitality to the alien and the refugee. Accepting God's sovereign allocation of languages and nations from the tower of Babel. Reaching out to strangers with the saving message of Jesus. Rejecting the imperialism of this world's kingdoms in favour of God's eternal Kingdom—the one that is not of this world.
But as a non-Christian religion: Multiculturalism is the utopian dream of individualism and libertarians. “I want freedom. I want the freedom to be myself. I want the freedom to do whatever I want without the restrictions of other people's choices. I want the unfettered right to be me.”
As with all idealistic dreams multiculturalism has within it profound and admirable hopes, set in contrast to dark and unpleasant nightmares creating unrealistic and impractical goals.
Of course we want people to live in peace and harmony. “World peace” is the standard bimbo beauty queen's response. Of course it would be better to have world peace without coercion. Of course it would be wonderful if that world peace could be built on an appreciation of our diversity and variety.
The nightmares alternatives of apartheid, assimilation, conquest and the melting pot are dreadful. To separate people ethnically smacks not only of racism but also inhumanity. To require everybody to adopt the majority culture is oppressive. To wipe out every alternative culture by conquest is the guilt of imperialism. To throw everybody in together to create a new mixed culture requires rejecting our past and assimilation to an unknown nationalistic future.
Fundamental to all the nightmares is that I am going to be told how to live. The individual will be told what to do, and worse, what not to do. All these nightmares are about the victory of the community over the individual. They all restrict freedom.
But a “multicultural society” is a contradiction in terms. The more multicultural—the less a society. The more different—the less we can socialize. To insist that all Australians speak English is a terrible restriction of personal freedom. Everybody speaking the language of their choice limits social interaction or communication.
Most governments use the rhetoric of multiculturalism as a soft way to induce migrants into accepting the assimilation of their progeny. In the first generation we accept that you do things differently, but we educate your children into bicultural living and assimilate your grandchildren into our mainstream culture.
But some cultures are very resistant to assimilation. Materialists are easily bought into the mainstream. But religious based cultures do not quickly change. They have more deep-seated values and lifestyle choices than the cheap and easily purchased soul of atheists and materialists.
They will not be assimilated into coercive multiculturalism. They will not accept Nationalism as their religion. They will continue to practice their moral choices of conscience concerning family life, marriage patterns, child raising and will commend their culture/religion to others. They will run their own schools to raise children within their distinctive culture. For they believe not in the values of a culture but in the virtues of life.
Some of these practices will contradict the wishes of society or the historical culture and law of the nation. These customs will create tension within society. When there are a sufficient number of adherents, especially living together, these minorities will create ghettoes and no-go zones.
Religion is more than private conscience. Polygamy is for some the right way to live that would benefit society if it were introduced and regulated. To deny polygamists their rights is a denial of multicultural ideals. But do monogamous taxpayers want to contribute to polygamists' welfare benefits?
It is not ultimately possible to divorce our legal, social, political, educational, or welfare systems from our history. They are all expressions of the protestant British culture that created modern Australia. Even the reality of tolerance and the dream of multiculturalism come out of that protestant British mindset. It is neither the dream nor the practice of Saudi Arabia or Communist China.
But are there limits to the tolerance of multiculturalism? Do we really want several legal systems: tribal traditional, Sharia and British all co-existing in one united society. The logic of secularist multiculturalism says yes. The reality of life says no.
Law without ethics and morality is tyranny. Ethics and morality without any overall philosophy/religion are vacuous. A nation without an ethical culture creates oppressive jingoism rather than tolerance or justice. As one of our political leaders was reported to say this week: “Australia first, above all else”. Sadly for him the reality of life is that many Australians put God first.
Our Lord—Jesus—went so far as to say, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). This puts him a long way ahead of: “Australia first, above all else”. But then again, Jesus is God.