Over at RNS, Yonat Shimron has published an interview with Eboo Patel, where he calls for a shift in our national narrative “From ‘Judeo-Christian’ to ‘Potluck Nation.’” The basic point would seem to be that rather than identifying as a Judeo-Christian nation we should seek to be a religious potluck where everyone brings their dishes to the table. Our nation has a history of deplorable racism that continues to rear its ugly head in recent times, but I think Patel has misunderstood both the problem and the solution.
A Christian nation would welcome immigrants and denounce racism in all its forms; the problem with America is not that we are too grounded in the Judeo-Christian heritage; it is that we have never been as grounded in that ethic as we should be. The Old Testament consistently taught Israel to treat the foreigners living among them justly, and gave what Jesus Christ declared the two greatest commandments: to love God wholeheartedly and to love your neighbor as yourself. Judeo-Christian morality is not the problem—it is the solution.
The ‘Potluck Nation,’ on the other hand, is highly problematic. In Patel’s vision, “This is a country that welcomes the contributions of people of all identities to the American table because if distinct communities do not contribute, the nation does not feast.” There are (at least) two problems with this picture.
One is that it assumes everyone is bringing good food to the potluck. That is the basic assumption of pluralism—there is no governing standard, yet somehow everything will be good. But what if some people bring poison? Let’s be realists for a moment. All identities? Really? ISIS is a distinct community; where shall we put their atrocities on the table? What would the National Democratic Party of Germany contribute to the feast? What if the Hindu caste system or Sharia law are put on the table? Or perhaps someone wants to revive religious practices of the past, and cook up some Spanish Inquisition, forced conversion of native peoples, or Aztec human sacrifice for the potluck?
At this point the genteel pluralist would throw up their hands and say ‘of course not! I didn’t mean that any of that should be put on the table!’ But why not? Pluralism has no foundations, no rational reason to exclude one group or another, because its entire rationale is inclusion. That’s why you don’t see any actual pluralists; you see people who are pluralists on the surface, but underneath (usually not very far underneath) lies some other ethical system. In the west, it’s usually the Judeo-Christian ethical system (with pagan alterations)—even for people who are avowed atheists. Genuine pluralism would be a feast of death.
Which leads directly to the second problem, that Patel seems not to notice that someone must set the table. Someone must lay the base for all our cultural dishes to set on, and, indeed, police which dishes get put on the table and which are thrown out. Green bean casserole? Yes! Rat stew with cyanide sauce? No!
The desperate pluralist objects, why do we need a table? Why can’t we lay our feast out on the earth? We can, but all that means is we’ve moved from talking about a society to talking about the world, and that is why we live in the world we have, where some societies have freedom and others have oppression. No, if you want to talk about a society you have to ask who is setting up the table. The Judeo-Christian table has given us a nation with tremendous freedom. Replace that with an atheist table and you will get the freedom one sees in China or North Korea. Replace it with a Muslim table and you will get the freedom you see in the Muslim world. Replace it with a pluralist table and you will get chaos as it comes crashing down because it hasn’t a leg to stand on.
That attempt to have a pluralist table is one of the reasons our society is experiencing so much turmoil. A free society will indeed allow all kinds of unhealthy dishes on the table, within limits, because freedom means people get to believe and express foolish ideas. But when you let foolish and wicked ideologies start to mess with the table, when you let the chef who brought the rat pie help decide what dishes get a place on the table, you’re in real trouble. Patel’s potluck is a pipe dream, because it assumes everyone will bring good food and set a solid table together.
Of course, there will be a day when everyone brings good food to the table, because God has eradicated all evil. God will set the table on that day, and everyone’s contributions will be part of a wonderful feast. But on that day there will only be one religion, the Christian faith. Pluralism will be no more.