A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

On Tolerating Tolerance

Henry Neufeld comments on a recent post from Chaplain Mike of Internet Monk, in which Henry reflects on tolerance and what that means in the realm of competing and contradictory ideas. He writes,

For some reason it seems that many people today think that all ideas must be regarded as equal else one is intolerant or worse. I would suggest instead that tolerance involves tolerating someone I actually think is wrong.

I concur with Henry and in the area of religious disagreement I have seen a shift in the past twenty-five years in how tolerance is defined. It used to be that tolerance meant my willingness to co-exist and support someone's right to believe something religious even though I believed that person's view to be wrong, and even expressed as much to that person. Such tolerance allowed for frank and substantive discussions between people with differing doctrines and even of differing faiths.

But in more than a few circles today, tolerance no longer refers to the context in which the theological argument is shaped. To be religiously tolerant means that the debate cannot even be had because to say to someone "You are wrong" in a religious context is in and of itself intolerant. Thus, what happens is that in the name of this new tolerance people who refuse to play the religious game of all ideas and beliefs are equal are themselves intolerantly dismissed by the "tolerant" as having a phobia (Islamophobia, homophobia, etc.). Such verbiage is nothing more than a way to quiet those who would disagree. After all, who wants to be labeled with a phobia? This same kind of psychological-verbal manipulation happens as well when people throw around the inclusion/exclusion dichotomy. Who wants to express a view that someone else is simply going to dismiss as exclusionary? We Mainline Protestants are really good at this one, especially since our view of inclusiveness is, more often than not, expressed in ways that are too broad and too shallow.

Many years ago during my college days, I had a Muslim friend who loved to engage me in theological discussion. I, of course, enjoyed debating with him in return. One day he said to me, "You realize that if Jesus is not divine, as you Christians claim, then you are an idolater for worshiping him?" In response I said, "That is right; however, if Jesus is indeed divine, then you are an idolater for refusing to worship him." He agreed.

Neither of us was offended at having been challenged by the other. We didn't declare the other one intolerant for asking each other to consider the possibly idolatrous nature of our worship. We both engaged in serious theological dialogue and debate because we truly enjoyed each other's friendship and we both knew that religious beliefs were too important to write off by simply affirming that all ideas and all doctrines were created equal. To believe the latter would deny the importance of truth.

I have no idea whether Henry would agree with where I have taken his comments, but, if he disagrees with me, in characteristic tolerance he would simply tell me I am wrong, and I would not be offended in the least. Truth is too important to be intolerant of one another's views and too critical for our existence to treat all ideas as being equal... theologically and morally.


Anonymous said...

"Such verbiage is nothing more than a way to quiet those who would disagree."

I see this dynamic also at work in the frequent use of the word 'justice.' For example, if I am advocating justice, then you cannot disagree with me without aligning yourself with injustice. By merely using the word 'justice' I have set the terms of the debate in my favor.

Language is indeed a powerful too.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Chris, I have a colleague in ministry who often plays the "justice card" to squeltch the voices of those who disagree with her.