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I often hear that Christians are "intolerant" and "impose" their beliefs upon others. 

And it's understandable, really. There have been many tragic incidents, both today (see Terry Jones) and in the past (see the Crusades) where intolerant and imposing people identified themselves with Jesus. Why this applies only to Christians and not to all of society, however, baffles me. Joseph Stalin's administration was pretty intolerant too (atheist regime). So is Osama Bin Laden, at least from what I hear (Muslim). So are Canadians (...pretty much everything you can think of). 
...Wait, what? Did you say Canadians? Isn't Canada supposed to be one of the most tolerant places on earth? Well, that may be true in many respects, but it seems to me that there is a blatant double standard when it comes to the topic of tolerance of spiritual belief in Canada, specifically as it relates to Christianity. Yes, that's right. I'm saying we're intolerant of Christians, not the other way around.

The truth is that we're all intolerant to some degree, whether it's our intolerance for certain kinds of music (I once heard it said that country music is a remnant from the fall of mankind), for Tiger Stripe-flavoured ice cream (whoever invented that idea should have been fired), or intolerance for a political party. But I think the inconsistencies between what we will tolerate and what we will not tolerate stem from an incorrect view as a society of what "tolerance" actually is. The title of this post was inspired by the fact that I literally have a headache right now. And it reminds me of Canadian "tolerance." (That's not to say that what follows is specific only to Canada; just that the relevant point of view is representative of Canadian culture in particular).

We have a really distorted view of what tolerance is in our world today. We as a society think it means "to peaceably agree with all points of view, especially when we're talking about religion (so just don't talk about it), and to acknowledge all points of view as equally valid, acceptable and correct." This is not only incorrect, but absurd and harmful to society.

The actual definition of tolerance is "a fair, objective and permissive attitude toward those whose beliefs or personal characteristics differ from one's own" (dictionary.com). Tolerance does not mean having to agree that another person's beliefs are equally valid, acceptable or correct at all. It means respecting their beliefs and loving them even if, and especially if, you disagree with them. For all of us to just accept that everyone else's views are equally valid and not talk about whether they actually are is in fact harmful to society because it makes us apathetic toward truth in the name of "political correctness." It's like pretending that 2+2=5 just so that you don't offend the person who really thinks it is. Or, to put it in a more serious context, it could be like pretending that an affair is okay just so that you don't offend your friend whose marriage and family are about to fall apart as a result. Really? If you honestly believed that somebody else's belief or practice was harmful to them, wouldn't you think it would be the right thing to do to say something, even at the risk of offending? 

So why do we call Christians "intolerant?" I can think of two prominent reasons. Firstly, because they are constantly telling people what they believe. Secondly, because they are constantly telling people that what they believe is right. Granted, it is possible to do both of those things in an intolerant way. But do those two facts themselves constitute intolerance and imposing of one's beliefs upon others? No, they do not. And ironically enough, all of us do those exact same things (tell people what we believe, and tell people that what we believe is right) with other subjects.

We have no problem denouncing our fellow citizens for voting for the "wrong" political party, cheering for the "wrong" sports team, or taking the "wrong" viewpoint when it comes to issues like human rights trafficking or child labour or the seal hunt. We want people to know what we think, and that what we think is the only right way to think. But if the subject of our debate is spiritual belief, then there's a double standard. Then you can't tell someone their viewpoint is incorrect, and if you do, it's "intolerant." Do we apply the same societal boundaries to topics such as politics, sports teams or human rights issues? Of course not. And with the exception of sports teams (or perhaps in some cases even including sports teams), those issues can be just as personal. This notion we have that by publicly disagreeing with someone, you are "imposing" your beliefs upon them and therefore being intolerant is absolute nonsense.

Should Terry Jones be shot down for his efforts to burn the Qu'ran in commemoration of Sept. 11? Yes. And he was, not only by society, but notably by Christians and Christian leaders everywhere as well. Were the Crusades an absolutely atrocious event that we all wish we could erase from our human history? Yes. Anyone (especially Christians) would tell you that. Does that mean that all people who identify themselves with Jesus are evil, wrong and should never tell anybody else what they believe, or that what they believe is correct? No. That's a double standard. If that's what you believe, then all atheists, Muslims, agnostics, Hindus and all human fathers and mothers are also evil and wrong because somebody who identified themselves with one of those groups did something evil and wrong at some point in human history as well.

...Yeah, not so logical anymore, is it?

I propose that in order for us as humans not to be hypocrites, we have two choices. We can be consistent by saying that nobody, no matter what the subject, can ever voice their opinions about anything, whether it be politics, sports, human rights issues, or spiritual belief. And by doing so, we can pretty much sign off on our society never progressing ever again. Or we can adopt the real definition of what tolerance is and allow, even promote, such discussions about correct political policies, child labour laws, and yes, spiritual truth, even at the risk of offending somebody.

See, for someone not to want to share their beliefs with somebody else really demonstrates apathy, not tolerance. I don't really care that much about other people liking the same movies that I do, so I don't usually go out of my way to try and convince them that Definitely, Maybe is the best "chick flick" ever. I do care about other people being consistent and tolerant of people who disagree with them about spiritually related topics, and so I am going out of my way to write this blog post. If you're reading this and you've thought that any Christian who tells you his or her point of view about something is "imposing" their beliefs upon you, may I suggest that we should be thankful they cared enough about us personally to be concerned with our well-being, even if they did it in the wrong way? And if they did do it in the wrong way, think with me for a moment. Aren't you also being intolerant of them by telling them they can't express their views, but you can?

The reality is that anybody who believes anything believes their view is right and correct. That's the definition of belief in something. But since some of those beliefs contradict one another, I think it's kind of a big deal that we talk about them to figure out what's true and what isn't. Otherwise, we could all be signing our own death warrants simply by refusing to risk offending one another. Is it really worth it? 

Tolerance means loving and respecting somebody else, even while actively disagreeing with them. People who disagree with you are allowed, and in fact should be encouraged, to challenge your belief in a loving and respectful way. After all, you believe your belief is correct too.
11/5/2010 07:43:35

I like most of what you said. And I think that maybe it isn't explicit enough to simply say "we have no problem denouncing the wrong sports team" and then suggesting that because we feel we cannot be so open about religion, there is a double standard.

Me not liking your Maple Leafs (now in 9th place?) has no real consequences. Not to mention that an argument about which team is better comes down to facts.

I think that is the distinction you are not making. Having a belief or an opinion are often different things. They also become very different things when the subject of that belief or opinion is not factual; ie. world religions.

There is also the severity of being incorrect. Rooting for a sports team has no real consequence if you happen to be wrong; or rather, if they don't win (supposing you don't ALSO have a gambling problem).

However, choosing the wrong religion (as it is suggested by nearly each religion) has eternal consequences; heaven, hell, 72 virgins, limbo, reincarnation into a crappy animal vs something super sweet like a bird of prey!, etc..

Most of what you said about tolerance is true. I think we are intolerant of Christians. I think it is ridiculous that we allow religious daggers to be worn in PUBLIC SCHOOLS but we remove christmas trees because it is too oppressive and offensive. I forget, was Jesus born under a cherry oak or virginia pine??

So yes, in that regard, your double standard exists. And you said so many great things about caring more for political correctness than seeking the truth.

I still believe it comes down to facts. When something is factual, its hard to argue. People do it, but it's more difficult - the most powerful weapon against facts happens to be ignorance. However, when you argue opinion, or when you spread opinion based on belief, you have to distinguish apathy and intolerance. I can refuse to listen in a respectful way. I believe that still falls under your (or dictionary.com's) definition of tolerance. If a Jehovah's Witness comes to my door and asks for five minutes of my time, he may not get it, but I will not be rude to him or go out of my way to disrespect his beliefs. Am I intolerant? If your answer is yes, then why is the definition of tolerance overlapping lack of human rights? Is it not my right to personal space? My right to choose my own beliefs?

If a person is minding their own business and not asking for an opinion, are they intolerant for denying someone who so desperately wants to give them one anyway? That seems like a gray area... I may have to come back to this after further thought (sorry... thinking as I type, here).

But I think there is another important distinction to be made here. If I haven't purposely engaged in a conversation about which NHL team is the best, and someone comes up to tell me that the Montréal Canadiens are the greatest; and I don't want to listen, am I suddenly intolerant? Why should I be labeled for something I didn't personally choose to be subjected to? Why am I not entitled to my own beliefs and opinions - and peace?

Food for thought.
Keep posting, you're great!


JRG

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Wes
11/5/2010 07:52:59

Hey man! Thanks for posting! :)

I totally agree with you. I gave more serious examples (i.e. human rights issues) for the reasons you're talking about regarding NHL teams. Sports teams have no real consequences. Other more serious issues do. I do think we are capable of discussing world religions and spiritual belief from a factual point of view as well, however.

As for your later point about being approached and not wanting to listen, I also agree with you 100%. If somebody approaches you to talk and you respectfully decline, that's not intolerant at all! But what I am saying is that if you tell that person (whether he's Christian or something else doesn't matter) that he's not allowed to believe what he believes, or not allowed to try and express it publicly, THEN you're being intolerant. But you absolutely have the right to respectfully decline to listen. It may do you more harm than good to do so (depending on the topic), but that's your right. The double standard comes in as you said, with the general population being outraged by Christian belief just for existing while going out of its way to accommodate the beliefs of others (and themselves).

Great food for thought, my friend.

-Wes

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todd
11/5/2010 11:16:49

Excellent Wes, I really like your comment "For all of us to just accept that everyone else's views are equally valid and not talk about whether they actually are is in fact harmful to society because it makes us apathetic toward truth in the name of "political correctness." I couldn't have said it better myself. The point is we need to discuss our difference not ignore them in an attempt to lovingly find the truth which will alone set us free. John 8:32

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11/5/2010 12:26:09

Hey Wesley Snipes. Ok lets get real here and admit what this is all really about. Trying to convert everyone into a Christian...lol, just kidding (really, I'm only kidding, I know that it's not really about that, it's an inside joke).

You got some good points. I know you're not too interested in Stackhouse's theology or whatever, but he does a pretty good write up on exactly what your talking about, and then some. Who knows, maybe you'll be surprised about how much you guys actually agree on , but then again, I don't want to assume that you disagree with a lot of things Stackhouse has to say ;) Anyways, let me know what you think. See you when your back in Vancouver

http://www.christianity.ca/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=7254


http://stackblog.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/all-religions-are-the-same-except-where-theyre-not/

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Juan Carlos Herrera
11/5/2010 18:05:38

This isn't totally related and not really even something that I can use as an argument or something, but I was at a party tonight and a friend of mine who works at a daycare was told by her superiors that the Canadian ministry of education has informed them that they must change the lyrics to the song ba ba black sheep to ba ba rainbow sheep because it's too discriminatory to mention a black sheep in a childrens song. A little ridiculous no? I don't think anybody ever sings that song and somehow relate it to something racial...Rainbows are cool, but I think it's a little over the top. Like I said, I know this isn't really the main focus and it's not exactly a great argument, but I think at times, people get too worried about offending others. My friend told me the kids prefer singing black sheep, lol.

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Eric
11/6/2010 07:17:07

The problem is that very little objection to religion in general, and Christianity in particular, stems from very little, if any, objective logical reasoning. Christianity will always rub humanity the wrong way, regardless of whether it is lived faithfully or not, because it attacks the idolatry that is fundamental to every sinful human psyche, especially in regards to authority.

It's that idolatry that will guarantee that there will never be such a thing as tolerance practised at any recognizable level, because ideas will only be tolerated until they conflict with that idol. Seeing as most in Western culture live with an overinflated sense of ego and the individual (yet another great gift of Roman Catholicism :P) for most the idol is the individual. Their ideas, their "rights", their sense of entitlement that they should be the ultimate authority over their own life as much as possible, will never mesh well with a God who claims complete authority and sovereignty, because for every unregenerated heart that sees that preached, they will interpret it as a denegration of their worth, value, and importance.

I think it's wise to recognize that we will never be truly tolerated, and to beg God for the grace to deal with it the same way Jesus did when He dealt with the same irrationality. He dealt with it humbly, patiently, and simultaneously with strong convictions and an unwavering devotion to truth and what was right.

"If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, for I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."
John 15:19

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