Celebrating Many-ness: Abraham Kuyper’s “Pluriformity”

Diversity is a beautiful byproduct but an impossible end goal. Diversity must be built upon unity. Aspiration needs foundation. Within the church we should embrace diversity aimed at enjoying God, but reject diversity for it’s own sake. Outside the church, we can affirm the goodness of diversity but must insist that it may only be found by shared vision of the good life, based on a standard of real truth.

One the greatest evangelical thinkers on culture and diversity was Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch pastor, theologian, and politician between 1860 and 1920. In 1869, Kuyper delivered a lecture in Amsterdam titled, “Uniformity: The Curse of Modern Life,” in which he asserts that humanity strives for coherence and unity, though it is a counterfeit unity not oriented toward the Creator. Such was the unified rebellion demonstrated on the planes of Shinar where the tower of Babel was erected.

God’s Unity and “False Uniformity”

Kuyper begins the lecture by pointing to God’s creative work. “Unity is the ultimate goal of all the ways of God…one day by his will all dissonances will dissolve into harmony.”[1] The unity which is God’s ultimate goal is this: that all of his creation should acknowledge its Creator. Everything in the universe has its coherence in the Son of God. “In him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).

Kuyper then shows that human history reflects recurring counterfeit efforts to achieve unity apart from God. This he calls “false uniformity.”

But as with counterfeit currency, the similarity is only in name. In God’s plan vital unity develops by internal strength precisely from the diversity of nations and races; but sin, by a reckless leveling and the elimination of all diversity, seeks a false, deceptive unity, the uniformity of death. The unity of God is written in the blueprint of the foundations; the unity of the world is merely painted on the walls. The Lord’s unity is like the organic strength which holds together the fibers of the oak tree; the world’s unity is like the spider web which upholds tenuous tissues in between. Organically one or an aggregate, a natural growth of a synthetic formation, become or made, nature or art—there, in a word, lies the profound difference distinguishing the spurious unity of the world from the life-unity designed by God.[2]

Kuyper’s point is that human aspirations toward unity in the midst of diversity, apart from reference to the divine, are counterfeits that are bound to fail. Kuyper spoke with prescience to millennials.

The cries for brotherhood and love of fellow-man are but a slogan. Not fraternity but a false uniformity is the goal toward which its glittering images drive us.[3]

When diversity becomes an end-goal, then it becomes uniformity. There must be a coherent meta-narrative around which diversity structures itself. Many truths descend into no truth, and finally those who claim real truth are silenced. Those who resist diversity as an end-goal are not allowed to be diverse. They are excluded. This is the “reckless leveling and the elimination of all diversity.” Thus diversity becomes a human idol, the “ism” of multiculturalism, and it cannot sustain itself.

Pluriformity Rather Than Uniformity

What Kuper calls for is pluriformity. Pluriformity is diversity with a foundation. “The unity of the human family may only be looked for in its origin and destiny, never in the developmental phases it passes through on its way.”[4] Diversity needs a foundation for its fullest and freest expression. And the true foundation of diversity is unity toward God, life according to the design of the Creator. Or even if divine revelation is rejected, then the “theater of nature” itself implies the same reality.

The starlit heaven does not show us innumerable identical stars but endless groups of stars all different from each other. Precisely in this multiform distinction the beauty of the firmament shines. So it may not be assumed that God meant to have uniformity in his human world and that pluriformity arose as a result of sin…Moreover, the very fact that God created male and female proves conclusively that uniformity was not part of the creation plan.[5]

As the church seeks to affirm the cultural embrace of diversity, we must be cautious not to over-embrace. The church must never embrace diversity as the end goal. Rather, the end goal is to enjoy God and to worship him.

Outside the church, we see in broader Western culture a top-down push toward multiculturalism. Diversity is nearly a new religion. While we can affirm the rightness of diversity, we must offer the warning that diversity must be enjoyed within common commitments. Otherwise it will lead to fragmentation.For instance, there are places that are no-go areas for police in London because Sharia law is operative in those areas. Other areas are particularly Hindu, and those customs dominate and rule. So rather than the next door neighbor being Muslim or Hindu, instead what has happened is increasing segmentation.

Kuyper suggests a practical policy for the church and for the state. For the church, Kuyper says that in regards to the tension between unity and diversity, “I know of no other solution than to accept—freely and candidly, without any reservations—a free multiformity.” (39) He was speaking in the context of an established state church. Instead he envisioned free and autonomous denominations. For the state, Kuyper suggested strong national identity as opposed to all nations being pressed into the mold of one global form (he would have voted in favor of Brexit).

Further Resources

 

 

[1] Kuyper, “Uniformity,” Kuyper: Centennial Reader, 21

[2] Kuyper, “Uniformity,” 23-24.

[3] Kuyper, “Uniformity,” 24.

[4] Kuyper, “Uniformity,” 35.

[5] Kuyper, “Common Grace in Science,” Kuyper: Centennial Reader, 445.

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