Tolerance – from a Christian Perspective.
We live in a world where the word “Tolerance” is bandied about frequently. Everyone is to love everyone else and to be “tolerant.” If one considers the extent to which this term is applied, considers the range of habits of humans, the numerous religions, to include beliefs that may not be considered religious (such as atheism), and simply differences of opinion, political or otherwise, then any element of subjectivity is thrown out of the window and objectivity becomes the norm. Objectivity becomes an open-minded acceptable approach to everything and anything. Tolerance would then provide the segue to “anything goes.” The Enlightenment and the Age of Reason may have paved the way to today’s “anything goes” concept of tolerance. America seems to be the arena for the greatest discourse on “tolerance”, while the Muslim nations (and I’m sorry if I offend anyone) seems to be the arena for a discourse on “intolerance”, embodied in the more fundamental interpretations of the Koran by Islamic groups.
It is most often the atheist, or certain minority groups, that claims intolerance towards them, while shouting out for “tolerance” – demonstrating a clear distain for tolerance with the activities of homosexuals towards selected groups that may have opposed their desire for same-sex marriage by a vote of the majority in California. With an intensive political season behind us, compounding the events of the year 2008, church leaders expressing their views on political candidates, even to the point of making recommendations, came under scrutiny, if not the individual, their church. I thought it was possible, to avoid any attack on the non-profit status of a church or religious organization, for a church leader to express to his constituency his own personal views, with the disclaimer noted that the views were his own and not that of the church, or the elders of the church. But, except for the threat to the non-profit status, such a statement would be possible. And the focus has become the location from which a minister’s views are spoken. (Except for Reverend Wright whose views never stirred the ire of the IRS to challenge his church with the threat of the loss of its non-profit status). The pulpit is the wrong place. Whatever happened to freedom of speech? You could argue there is freedom of speech but only if the tax status of an organization cannot be challenged, or the organization pays taxes. What about governmental entities, they can speak their mind, are not taxed, and yet are not subject to any penalty. In fact in most cases Americans cannot even sue a government entity. Be a for-profit church and say what you want. To me this is more a threat, a most notable lack of tolerance. Why should such a threat even be possible, but if applicable to be fair then apply to other organizations as well.
There have even been veiled threats, indeed obvious, of limiting talk radio, especially talk radio that does not support liberal views, or shows a distain even for liberal views that adhere to a fairness doctrine, but such doctrine might be limited as to what is judged “fairness” and then by whom. It is obvious, the “whom” is those that feel most threatened. There is a parallel here with Christianity.
My view may upset some who believe the “anything goes” type of tolerance should be universal. That simply is not possible for a Christian. There is the issue of freedom. The Christian believes that Christ died so that men could be free. “…Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17 – NIV Bible) All humans are included. The operative word, however, is “believes” and that belief needs to be in Christ. What distinguishes Christ from the important head of other religions is the resurrection.
In Medina there is a tomb where Muhammad is buried. Pilgrimages to Muhammad’s grave take place daily. There is no tomb where Jesus’s body lay; there is a tomb where Jesus once was buried. For the Jews their Messiah is still to come. In Buddhism their revered leader lives, then dies and another comes on the scene as their leader chosen by the followers. Members of their faith go through a succession of lifetimes – continuing in a rebirth as humans, animals, spirits, lowly deities or demons, or something mystical and unseen. Words are empty expressions of reality and quiet meditation is preferred. Self is non-existent. Gautama, the first Buddha, died at age 80 (483 BC). There is no mention of his resurrection, nor the form he took when reborn. Hinduism has no single founder and is born out of traditions associated with native India. Reincarnation is possible. Hindus can be atheists. It is a religion often referenced as understanding only by experience, and thus difficult to explain. In that regard then it is only the Christian faith that has someone that actually died to save mankind. That salvation is for those that have faith. Judaism and Islam base their salvation on works. Buddhists base salvation on knowing, having insight, into the ultimate nature of reality – a life with demonstrated practice of ethical conduct and altruism (selflessness, acting for others good). Hindus see salvation as freedom from life cycles of birth and death, but the determinate is an unknown.
As to tolerance, a Christian can be comfortable with another person having a belief system at variance with their own. There are ways for people to lead a moral and ethical life and be fine citizens and neighbors. That does not mean, however, that the tolerance of another religion in the same community means an acceptance of that religion. It is more to the issue of being humane than accepting a different belief of an eternal life with God. Christians can be open about other religions, even explore the merits, try to understand and even attempt to embrace the concepts of a non-Christ centered belief system. The operative word for a Christian may not be “tolerance”, but “volunteerism.” Christians can tolerate another religion in the same neighborhood, next door even. Christians feel strongly, though, that those other religions should treat Christians with the same degree of acceptance and tolerance as Christians treat them. Now there will always be individuals that go to an extreme within the boundaries of their religion and exhibit a lack of tolerance. This can occur within the religion itself. It comes down to a question of degree, or percentages. What is the attitude of opposing religions, views, to each other and to what extent is it a majority or minority that overtly objects to the other?
The Christian faith is a voluntary one. Everyone is welcome; they just need to have faith in Christ. Christians do not earn their way to an eternal life with God. Christ earned that passage for the Christian. In understanding Christ’s sacrifice for them, as incredulous as such an act may be (one man dying for the transgressions of another – past, present and future), accepting Christ’s actions, thankful too for what Christ did, and coming to grips with the reality of it all, a Christian becomes free. Voluntarily having faith in Christ with the wisdom of Christ’s ultimate punishment for all humans, learning God’s outline for living and the penetrating ethical and moral values repeated in the Bible, having true repentance for one’s badness and continued struggle with conforming to God’s demands, is all that is asked. Christians do not need a resume’ of works they have performed to show their leader come judgment day. On judgment day God knows the heart of all men and all humans will come to God after death for judgment – to include Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, and all others. Those having faith in Christ as Lord and Savior are considered justified and will be saved.
Have you ever considered having your children punish you for disobeying you. As an example your son fails to observe curfew and arrives home late and with the smell of alcohol on his breath. You are upset, but instead of restricting him to his room for a week, or taking away his car keys, you take off your belt, you hand it to your son, taking off your shirt you then kneel on the floor and say, “Son, your punishment deserves 10 lashes with the belt. I am taking the punishment you deserve. Hit me. Hit me hard. You do this and you will be forgiven.” How do you think the son would react? Has anyone else ever taken on the failures of mankind, the transgressions of all humans, as did God, God in the form of his son. Only one – Christ – and for this action all should be indebted to Christ and most thankful. God knowing man could not live up to His standards provided the way for humans to attain salvation. Those that have faith in Christ know how Christ lived and try to live as he demonstrated – loving God first and our neighbors (mankind) – knowing too how impossible it really is to achieve, but trying and when stumbling asking forgiveness with a repentant heart. It sounds much easier than it is. You can say, I can say, “I have faith in Christ and know what is expected of me,” but know that God has your number, mine too, and only if we are true in our faith will God welcome us into his kingdom. No other religion offers the same avenue – a path that makes salvation possible. Salvation in the truest sense to a Christian is not possible under the umbrella of any other known religion in the world today. Thus, from this limited analysis of the different religions they may be tolerated, but not acceptable to a Christian. Dinesh D’Souza in his book, What’s So Great About Christianity, defines tolerance (Latin: ‘to bear,’ and ‘to put up with.’), and notes that “Tolerance contains the seeds of disagreement and even contempt: I tolerate you because although I believe you are wrong, I will endure you and let you persist in your erroneous ways.”[i] Christians can do just that, becoming uncomfortable only when the non-Christian neighbor cannot do the same.
Christians may understand other religions but not accept their belief system – others simply must be tolerant of that. Non-Christian religions creeds and doctrines are based on works and controlling more than volunteering. Other religions are told to stay within the framework of their religions; they cannot go elsewhere. There are denominations within the realm of the Christian faith that share the same view – only their church is the right church, whether the congregant believes in Christ or not. Is it a fear of seeing the light of Christ and in turn volunteering for another religion or denomination? Christians do not fear such an event taking place. Certainly there are Christians who have become Muslims or Jews; Catholics that have become Methodist, even non-denominational followers of teachers of new churches that only preach the Bible without the creeds and doctrines that began in the palace of Constantine. That is the freedom of a follower of Christ being exercised. Doubts play a role and all religions must be open to individual’s abilities to research their doubts and draw their own conclusions finding their own pathway to an eternal life with God. No coercion. No killing of those that leave the flock. No stoning. Simply a tolerance for the individual’s right to volunteer to believe, as an educated person – knowing what is reasonable, rational, explainable, can be heard, supported by evidence, and can be proven using as needed the influence of the divine. Suppression of the books of others faiths is not practiced by Christians, as it is in Saudi Arabia where the Bible is not allowed. God wants man to love him, provides the freedom to choose even while saying, “Choose me.” God knows though where the Word is shared and minds are open his message will be heard and his love will be felt. Christians are never alone – God is always in their company.
Where there is truth there is freedom. We must all be tolerant of those wanting to seek the truth, allowing them in their own way to study, learn, explore the possibilities and arrive at their own conclusions based on historical and available evidence.
[i] What’s So Great About Christianity, Dinesh D’Souza, Tyndale House Publisher I knowCarol Stream, Ill. 2007. Pg. 54