For a while we were different, but our differences were nothing. Someday perhaps we will be different, but our differences will be glory.
That’s an admittedly strange place to start. At the very least I admit it. So let me back up a bit to the thought that inspired it, or at least preceded it.
There are different sorts of approaches to diversity. The one which is most prevalent in my culture, and perhaps the parts of the world with which my culture shares genetic ties, is the diversity of destruction: embracing differences because they don’t matter. In fact, if the differences try to matter, we stop embracing them. This is lowest common denominator diversity, and as with all lowest common denominators, it’s less than the originals.
A good example is comparative religions, a study that most frequently tries to prove that all religions are the same, if we’re just reasonable enough to ignore the ways they’re different. This is the school that reduced religion to personal experience, because it happened that all religions involved some sort of personal experience. Religions of personal experience can embrace their diversity–everyone can get along–because we keep telling ourselves the diversity doesn’t really exist. If one religion happens to make larger claims, its diversity isn’t accepted.
Another example, this from pop culture, is the song “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Heterosexual relationships and Homosexual relationships, according to the song, are really the same sort of thing, if we’re just reasonable enough to ignore the obvious differences. Again we’re exhorted to embrace diversity through the simple expedient of not believing it actually exists.
Another sort of diversity altogether is the diversity of danger: recognizing that differences are real and significant, and therefore forbidding them. This is the view of diversity which the above view of diversity battles. (Which is ironic, if you think about it too much, but no one really appreciates it if you point that out. Also, no one really believes you if you point it out.)
This second sort of diversity is the one that is generally attributed to Christians. It’s more often found in secular organizations like large businesses, national governments, and academia. It exists in Christian communities only as a perversion.
And there we get to the heart of the matter. By saying that something is a perversion of Christianity, I’m saying that there exists a sort of difference that is bad, that there is a sort of diversity which Christians ought never to embrace. That certainly sounds like the diversity of danger. In fact, it’s impossible to be Christian and accept the first sort of diversity, the “differences don’t matter” diversity; doing so is a repudiation of Christianity. (Sorry, Episcopalians.)
But for Christians, difference is sanctified. It has existed from the beginning when the very first thing God did was to declare that some things are different. Most notably, there was a difference between himself and that which he created, but he went on to declare difference after difference within creation too. So to accept the second sort of diversity, the “everyone should be the same” sort of diversity, is also a repudiation of Christianity. In fact, historically, whenever anyone has tried even to limit the diversity of Christian expression, they’ve been renounced by the Church. (I’m thinking specifically of Iconoclasm and the Fratricelli, although a disturbing number of protestants would fall into the category too, if only they believed that anyone had the authority to renounce them.)
Nevertheless, the Church has also maintained, usually at great peril to itself, that while diversity is a natural component of Christianity, there are things which are not Christianity too. To put it another way, there is an amazing diversity within the Church, but the Church also recognizes that sometimes that diversity is bad and actually outside the Church, and that life itself depends upon stamping out bad diversity while preserving good diversity.
I suspect I’m not explaining it well. This is what I think I’ll call the diversity of common sense however: That there is variety within good, but some differences aren’t between good and good but between good and evil. I think this is the view of diversity that most people actually hold.
It’s just untenable without Christianity. No other world view supports it. Atheists, pagans, and pantheists, who have so delightfully much in common, are reduced to the first sort of diversity. They have no real schema for saying that some differences are good while others aren’t, at least they have nothing aside from arbitrary declarations that will likely pass away. (Just as human rights appear an arbitrary declaration to them, and are currently passing away to the peril of society’s most vulnerable.) Other monotheists are reduced to the second, or a strange blend of the second and first: here are rules, follow them as everyone else does. If something isn’t covered by the rules, it doesn’t matter.
I’m out of time again. But I want to end with a simple paradox. Christianity has an obvious standard, Christ. It’s possible to say that somethings are in conformity with Christ and others aren’t. Christianity also has hagiography though, a beautiful record that conformity to Christ produces something unexpected. The more people pursue conformity to something common, they more they become extraordinary and uncommon, and very much more like individuals the more they become like Christ.