Diet Coke and Moral Pluralism

Advertisements and commercials are no longer just selling goods and services. They want you to buy a worldview. Perhaps they have always been like this, but it certainly seems more blatant now. Maybe blatant is good. If we are observant of what is being promoted maybe we will be able to make decisions more easily about whether or not we choose to jump on the bandwagon.

Case in point? The new Diet Coke commercial: Because I can. A minor celebrity, a millennial, walks a city street passing shops and cafes talking about what they enjoy, how it’s ok to be genuine, to be who you are. Perhaps it is a positive message in a graceless, unforgiving and demanding world, yet somehow I feel manipulated. Instead of feeling refreshed (pun only slightly intended) or encouraged, the Diet Coke drinkers come off as pretentious. This message seems to be birthed from the reactions against the “moral relativism”of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Our culture wants something more concrete to cling to, but we have opted for watered down alternatives, based on little other than our own personal preferences.

Apparently, we are now living in a shame-based culture. Whereas many eastern cultures have lived with this for centuries, Americans, accustomed to individuality and maverick personas, are tasting the devestating effects for the first time. Many blame our society’s readiness to inflict moral shame on phenomena like social media pressures and, ironically, the negative aspects of globalization.

What Diet Coke may be hoping to reinvent alongside the image of their soda can, is a far more welcoming culture of moral pluralism. We may not share the same set of moral values, but we are trying our best to live up to what our value code deems good. This is distinctively different from moral relativism, which says my truth is as good as yours. Moral pluralism recognizes, instead, that everyone perceives themselves to be answering to a higher value code, though they may differ. Moral relativism promotes the idea that no belief is wrong, while moral pluralism asserts that there may be multiple, even seemingly opposing views on an issue which can all be equally right.

In A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, authors John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle state that

“…in a descriptive sense …Christians can and should be pluralists, aware that we live in a religiously diverse culture and ready to make a case for the Christian worldview while recognizing the inherent dignity of all people..”

from Chapter Eighteen. “The Right Kind of Pluralism”

This thought is similar to Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, who opts for both religious exclusivism and political pluralism. As people of faith, we hold to the viewpoint that our religion is the only one which is true, and yet we embrace the diversity of our society and encourage the peaceful coexistence of all peoples. In his book Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World, Volf discusses this current cultural phenomenon by saying,

”A soft relativism of doing one’s own thing and letting others do theirs is an echo in cultural sensibilities and philosophical arguments of a world in which ‘solid things’ have been profaned. World religions stand in deep tension with important aspects of the ‘intolerance of the intolerance,’ a moral stance reinforced by present globalization processes.”

p. 101


As a Christian, I want my children to be grounded not only in truth, but also to have a strong sense of how that truth plays out in their lives. I want to teach my kids to anchor their beliefs to something more authoritative and less ephemeral than the swinging pendulum of our cultural mores.