Sunday, 26 October 2014

Paul and Multiculturalism

The recent attacks on Canada's Parliament Hill have me returning to a subject that has preoccupied me and every thinking Canadian's mind in one form or another for most of my life, namely multiculturalism. It became most acute in the post-9/11 world, as Muslim and really any darker-skinned individuals became increasingly profiled as potential terrorists simply by virtue of their creed or colour. Now, my primary training as a thinker is in New Testament studies, so that is where I tend to go when I think about serious things in the world. And this all has me thinking about Paul and his efforts at reconciliation between Jewish and Gentile persons and groups within the context of the ekklēsia.

Now, for obvious reasons, Paul did not have in mind the relationship between Muslim and non-Muslim persons within the broader context of a modern liberal democratic state, and as such any direct application of Pauline statements to the contemporary context is deeply problematic. No, precisely because two millennia of history have elapsed between Paul and today we have to think in terms of development. We have to consider that Pauline thought has, over two thousand years of reading and knowing the text, permeated our collective consciousness. Such a way of thinking is not unrelated to the projects of recovering Paul recently carried out by continental philosophers such as Badiou and Agamben, among others. And through so doing we begin to reckon with the possibility that multiculturalism in fact has profoundly Christian roots, or put otherwise that the Canadian practice of multiculturalism is a nation-wide radicalization of Pauline thought so as to embrace not just incommensurable gender and ethnic and class differences as did Paul but incommensurable religious differences as well. One suspects that one could well frame most of our most painful struggles within the Canadian state in terms of Pauline struggle: the tension between French and English paralleling the tension between Jew and Greek; the inequality between First Nation and European peoples paralleling the tension between slave and free; the struggle for LGBT rights paralleling the tension between female and male. Our solutions, I think, tend to be ones that Paul would approve, as despite his reputation I think him a deeply cosmopolitan rather than parochial thinker.

I state this not to engage in some sort of Christian triumphalism but rather to suggest that those who assail multiculturalism as somehow opposed to Canada's Christian heritage are in fact deeply misguided. Rather multiculturalism is the distinctly Canadian way of working out that heritage. It is an appropriation of the Pauline legacy in a novel way. It is one that we see developing in Lonergan's work, even if Lonergan never uses that term and rarely addresses the Canadian situation directly, and I hold increasingly that Lonergan should be seen as providing some of the strongest theological and philosophical work supportive of Canada's multicultural vision. Likewise I think work yet needs to be done to situate Lonergan as a deeply Pauline thinker, but that's another matter.

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