Catholicism and Pluralism Today

A truly pluralistic society can’t exist, because it would have to be pluralistic about its own principles. But it seems a practical accommodation is possible.

A view of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, from the observation deck at 70th floor of the Rockefeller Center. (Image: Artem Sapegin/

We hear that we live in a pluralist society. But what does that mean?

It’s not just a society in which people have a variety of beliefs and standards. That situation’s been common since the rise of complex civilizations. Nor is it one that wants to find ways for people of differing beliefs and standards to live together cooperatively. That’s long been the practice in multinational empires, and in trading societies like the Netherlands.

Rather, it’s a society that is publicly committed to pluralism: the view that a variety of beliefs and standards within a single society, all with equal status, is a positive good. The greater the variety, the better—so contemporary pluralism specially celebrates beliefs and standards that subvert traditional views. They are thought to benefit us all by providing something novel that disrupts the tyranny of custom.

Take what is considered the moral necessity of Drag Queen Story Hour. Children must, it is thought, be taught to accept and approve of men who engage in theatrical parodies of female sexuality. Otherwise, they will be less likely to grow into the tolerant and accepting citizens our society is thought to need. Also, the choices that society offers them will be limited. That’s considered a shameful restraint on their autonomy, one especially cruel to those inclined toward sexual non-conformity.

All this is strange. Throughout history, people have thought there is strength in unity. Today, though, the slogan “diversity is strength!” is accepted without question. The radical nature of the change leads people to believe they have advanced socially, morally, and even spiritually over their predecessors. So much so that they have very little to learn from them. Hence the reconstruction of history to emphasize the real or imaginary sins of our ancestors, whose monuments must be destroyed and writings censored, and the heroic virtue of those whose opposition to established ways foreshadowed the brave new world now under construction.

But why? The theory behind the current idealization of multiplicity is a radically subjectivist individualism that holds that each of us defines for himself what he and everything else are. As the Supreme Court put it, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.” Society thus becomes a menu of lifestyle options, the longer and more varied the better.

Many people today find such a view believable, since it is accepts the outlook of a prosperous consumer society and turns it into a metaphysical principle.

But is it a view that can support such a society, or any society at all?

It seems not: a truly pluralistic society can’t exist, because it would have to be pluralistic about its own principles. Augustine tells us that “a people is a multitude of rational beings joined together by common agreement on the objects of their love.” But that would be a problem for a society that truly insists (as the yard sign says) that “love is love”—that all loves are equally love, so all should be equally honored.

It would be impossible to put such a principle into practice. Some people love to eliminate distinctions, others love struggling for superiority. Both loves are common, but they can’t be favored equally because they’re at odds practically. One or the other must get the advantage, and the principle that love is love can’t say which.

What principles can’t decide, practical considerations can decide in particular cases. Not surprisingly, conflicts are resolved in favor of what favors the system and the billionaires and bureaucrats who run it. Struggle for economic and hierarchical superiority is favored, but so is leveling traditional social distinctions: both support a system based exclusively on bureaucracy and commerce. You can try to make millions or become a university president, but you can’t assert that men and women are different in any way that matters.

Similar considerations apply to disputes between proponents and opponents of drag shows for children, and of the Traditional Latin Mass for Catholics. Drag shows help turn sex into a theatrical plaything with no connection to enduring functional relationships between men and women. So they help turn humanity into an unresisting collection of unconnected consumers, clients, and productive resources for business and government. That’s convenient for business and government, but at odds with a humane and rewarding way of life for people in general.

At one time, the Church and others represented concerns that went beyond wealth, power, and efficiency, but technocratic society deprives broader human goods of institutional defenders. The result is that people with mainstream views—educators, journalists, respectable politicians—take the side of drag events for children. The alternative would be to reject the outlook of our dominant institutions, and they can’t do that and remain mainstream or respectable.

The Traditional Latin Mass, on the other hand, liberates people from domination by their immediate surroundings—notably, the tyranny of bureaucrats and of clericalist hierarchs—through its fixed nature and vivid presentation of realities that transcend time, place, and institutional interests. That’s totally at odds with the ambitions of rulers who view themselves as proprietors rather than servants and custodians of the secular and religious order of things. That is why both the FBI and some high Church officials view the TLM as a threat.

So, how should we deal with pluralism? It puts Catholics in a difficult position. We should be honest, so we shouldn’t base arguments on the claim that pluralism is correct. But there’s legitimate room for negotiation, since a pluralist system is never consistent.

Our rulers praise it in principle, for example, but reject it in practice to the extent it might apply to pluralism itself. In contrast, Catholics appeal to it in practice, since it encourages the authorities to tolerate the Faith, but reject it in principle—at least if I’m right to view some sort of integralism as part of that Faith—because it conflicts with what Dignitatis humanae called “traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.”

Therefore, nobody’s a perfect pluralist. We can nonetheless ask for the benefit of general principles the authorities claim to stand for. Socialist parties have acquired and used printing presses to broadcast denunciations of private property, and an organization promoting world government can legitimately claim the protections of the United States Constitution. It seems equally legitimate for Catholics to claim freedoms relating to speech, association, and privacy that a pluralist Constitution grants to all, and use them to live in a non-pluralist way and make arguments that would ultimately require a Catholic rather than pluralist society.

In support of our legitimacy within a pluralist system we can also point to our reliance on persuasion, rather than extreme means. Political Catholics are much more likely to preach than resort to force, especially in comparison with other political tendencies. And the Church’s charitable activities have obvious secular benefits that a pluralist society ought to recognize.

So it seems a practical accommodation is possible. Pluralist fanaticism is of course a problem. Journalists and other activists now claim, in the name of pluralism and tolerance, that failure by Catholic organizations to provide contraception and abortion is an attack on women’s autonomy, and denying that a “trans woman” is a woman is incitement to violence and even violent in itself. But most mainstream people don’t want to go so far, the principle of pluralism doesn’t give an unequivocal result in such cases, and persecutions eventually die down.

Toleration for Catholicism is therefore likely to prevail eventually if we are intelligent and maintain fidelity to principle. In any event, our duty remains what it has always been: to live as well as we can, contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, and trust that all things work together for good to those who love God. Events we can’t predict or control we can only leave to Providence.

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About James Kalb 138 Articles
James Kalb is a lawyer, independent scholar, and Catholic convert who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of The Tyranny of Liberalism(ISI Books, 2008) and, most recently, Against Inclusiveness: How the Diversity Regime is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It (Angelico Press, 2013).


  1. We read: “…a truly pluralistic society can’t exist, because it would have to be pluralistic about its own principles.” As for Catholic participation in such a “society,” well, we now have a mutant version of synods…

    The sociologist Pitirim Sorokin termed mega-inclusive pluralism “chaotic syncretism.” This chaotic phase marks the end of a civilization, not the beginning. Historically, the Catholic path was to be Apostolic—while Roman civilization disintegrated into eastern mystery religions (analogous to Pachamama?) and then, in the west, feudal garden patches and castle walls (analogous to a polyhedral Church if it loses its center?).

    Is our path, today, the restoration of the later Christendom, or at least to carve out a societal niche of some sort? Or is our path more that of a starkly Apostolic Age?

    Apostolic? Except that that the Successors of the Apostles have been groomed, synodally, into the reduced role of “facilitators”—facilitators for a Church which is proposed by tribal-chieftain Batzing to be “still Catholic but in a different way!” Different? As in led from behind (double entendre intended) by “expert” word merchants?

    From Batzing’s der Synodale Veg Non-Synod, to composite/continental Synods, then in 2023 to a Synod on Synodality (say what?), and then—possibly—to a Sorokin-like Synod on Synodal Syncretism in 2024? An “inverted pyramid,” bottoms-up, and compass-free (!) Church might as well just declare victory and move on…

    …consolidating these polyglot agendas into a harmonized (!) Dicastery for Evangelization!

    • Thanks for mentioning Pitirim Sorokin!

      How long is is since there were people with eminent academic positions who had their own way of thinking and actually added something to the discussion?

  2. Pluralism – as an ideal – is evil, and has to be a device of Satan.

    The promotion of the same also is likely a crafty stratagem by TPTB. By essentially promoting moral relativism under color of virtue TPTB have instituted in the words of a judge “the tyranny of tolerance.” As I have read, the only thing that isn’t tolerated is intolerance. But a more precise and honest statement is that the only thing that isn’t tolerated is the intolerance of sin.

    One must always look at actions (e.g. the effect) and discount words alone. That is the only way to see through deception and – to a certain extent – concealment. Considering the nine ways of participation in the sin of another is another essential tool.

    For instance, I virtually came to the conclusion myself (through reasoning) that antitrust is partially about maintaining a competitive labor market which leads to higher wages. And this was confirmed in a book that I am now reading: “Evil Geniuses.” But such a conclusion has been historically contradicted by a certain ideology (mentioned in the book) which insists that all antitrust is about is lower prices. And that was my prior belief. It is also likely widely believed by others.

    As such, those who have difficulties with moving to another company are ignorant that the “regulatory landscape” has been – through laxity – altered in favor of employers. And this has obvious consequences.

    Tolerance isn’t a virtue. The related virtues and vice are at least mercy, justice, laxity (failure to punish sin), and vindication (i.e. punishment). Certainly, the propagation of religious error ought not to be tolerated. Tolerance is close to or identical with the vice of laxity.

    It is derived from religious/philosophical liberalism per the book “Liberalism is a Sin.”

    It denies the natural duty of humans to find and believe religious truth.

    Toleration of the Catholic Church and its teaching isn’t enough. The state ought to support it – to a certain (e.g. likely non-financial) – extent. But the current extreme weakness of the Church isn’t due to Herself (except – probably – as a divine punishment), but to the malice of others (i.e. TPTB) and the permissive will of God.

    I pray that the Catholic Church will triumph soon.

  3. We have two issues:

    One is, the Bible tells us that a Bishop “must also have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, the devil’s trap” (1 Timothy 3)

    We cannot make the faith look ridiculous and/or obnoxious. But, we don’t have to be fashionable …

    Jeremiah 6:16 “Thus saith the Lord: Stand ye on the ways, and see and ask for the old paths which is the good way, and walk ye in it: and you shall find refreshment for your souls.”

    This leads us to, ” 8 Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today; and the same for ever. 9 Be not led away with various and strange doctrines” (Hebrews 13)

    Decisively, Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1-14). God’s mind is revealed in the Word of God.

    The Church has to walk this fine line skillfully (the Jesuits are known for taking it near breaking point without, it is said, causing a break). Our faith is not a fashion parade (we must stand firm in the faith), but we should be careful not to alienate outsiders unnecessarily.

    It is difficult, meaning we need to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance.

  4. Pluralism may have different definitions. A theory or system of devolution and autonomy for individual bodies in preference to monolithic state control is one definition, in which bodies separate from central state authority may coexist without encroachment from the state or other bodies.
    Kalb is right, that pluralism can’t exist, that is, – when it presumes we must not only tolerate other ideologies rather that we must pretend we’re all equal in belief, or also, that we must incorporate these ideologies. In a global setting tolerance for sake of peace is necessary. Except in the US there is imposition, not essentially from other religious bodies rather from a state administration that assumes the right to impose its ideology precisely as a legal protected right. The state has become the arbiter of right and wrong, of values that are effectively a pseudo religion in guise of justice.
    A one true religion has claim to asserting that truth, although in our modern political setting vastly different from Christendom, Catholicism, while rightfully expected to proclaim truths of the faith, must do so in tandem with a respect of conscience. That need not imply religious homogenization, that all are equal in their beliefs.
    Our challenge today is the Catholic impetus to convey the truth and evangelize. That is best done by example, as well as engagement and professing what makes Catholic principles beneficial for the entire culture. It’s more a matter of convincing than protecting.

    • Where are the the scholars today to research and bring case law to the issue? The Supreme Court opinions related to removing prayer and Bible study from public schools (Madalyn O’Hair and others) denounced the powerful mechanism of government being used to impose a then majority belief (Christianity) even in a limited way. How ironic that we are on the opposite end of these concerns today although those opinions are still germane!
      While respect for each other’s freedoms granted by the Republic and free will endowed by God, may cause us suffering, Christian students must be still also permitted to seek the true, good and beautiful towards eternal life, unhindered and certainly not penalized. This includes peaceful expression in countering the current agnostic—at best—culture of death, as well as right of refusal to participate in ritualistic posturing that contradicts their beliefs.

    • Patricia an example of case law failure is the Compassion in Dying [physician assisted suicide for advanced Aids patients] V State of Washington 1994 US District Court. The case for assisted suicide was won based on a protected liberty interest [citing the 14th Amendment] despite State law prohibiting assisted suicide.
      It’s not that case law didn’t favor prohibition of assisted suicide [see Justice Robert Beezer’s formidable case history in his dissenting opinion]. Rather it was the number of liberal jurists in that District Court. Today it seems even more unlikely to win such a case because the ideological profile of jurists has become more secular rather than prudential.
      A case would likely need to be made in the lower courts that could reach the appellate division and carried on to the Supreme Court where we have a minority of secular ideological jurists.

      • Additionally, Supreme Court Justice A Kennedy in Casey [Planned Parenthood SE PA v Casey] two years earlier 1992 defined in his majority opinion against Casey a concept of liberty that has no rational limits, to wit, an irrational conceptualization.

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