Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tolerance

There is an illusion prevailing in the West. According to many Westerners, it is "bad" to say that your take on spiritual reality is right and the take on spiritual reality that others have is wrong. All faiths, it is believed, should be appreciated for what they are and no one should ever "judge" one as superior or inferior, right or wrong. It is believed that this approach to spirituality is superior, progressive, and enlightened. This is, for many, the illusion of "tolerance."

There are some problems with this view. See, this view is, itself, a take on spiritual reality, and it exclusively claims the same kind of superiority that it says other takes on spiritual reality are wrong to do. Furthermore, proponents of this view can be just as vocal at "evangelizing" others to embrace it.  In other words, it doesn't live up to its own claim.  It can't.

The reality is that all takes on anything, not just spiritual reality, are exclusive by definition. And reality is that all of us are seeking to "evangelize" others with our take on reality. That doesn't make us mean. It is just the way it is.  It is the nature of the fact.

What is the true test of tolerance? I don't believe the true test of tolerance is to embrace an illusion of tolerance, which in reality only tolerates other views in so far as they agree with itself and labels views as "extreme" in so far as they do not. I believe the true test of tolerance is found in how you treat those with whom you disagree.

In other words, all people have a view under it all, and all people believe their view is right, whether that view is "Jesus is the only way to God" or that view is "All views have some truth and are purely personal. We shouldn't judge someone's view as right or wrong." But how do you treat those who disagree with you? Do you demonize them? Do you oppress them? Do you label them as "extremists" simply because their views are overtly exclusive, not acknowledging that your own view is by definition exclusive as well?

This is where I believe the Christian Gospel gives us the real basis for genuine tolerance because at the center of this "take" on spiritual reality is a man, the God-man, who dies for His enemies.  Jesus died for me when I was his enemy, when we were at odds, and when I was "wrong."  So, on what basis can I sit there and oppress those I am at odds with?

I think many people think there are only two options, in varying shades:  a) be mean and oppressive to those who you believe are wrong, or b) try to find a way to abandon saying anything is wrong so that you won't be like those mean, intolerant people.  The Christian faith, however, gives you a footing to do neither of those.  See, the cross of Christ is the greatest indictment there is of humanity, by telling us that we are in such dire straits that Jesus had to die for us.  But the cross of Christ is also the greatest move of love and acceptance toward humanity, by telling us that in spite of the gravity of our situation Jesus chose to die for us out of love. 

Because of that, with our footing on the Gospel of the cross of Christ, we can be entirely firm in what we believe is the truth, even telling someone else that we think they are dead wrong, all while loving and accepting them as people.  This approach is, I believe, more direct, more honest, and more gracious. 

Do all Christians exemplify this attitude toward those they are at odds with?  Certainly not, thus proving how badly they still need the Gospel.


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