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).
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.