What would you think would be the main idea of an article entitled “Survey Shows U.S. Religious Tolerance”? Wouldn’t you think the article would be about how, unlike many Middle Eastern countries (and most of the U.K.), the religious people of the U.S. are much more tolerant—as in not burning down mosques, outlawing proselytizing, or generally persecuting those who believe something different about God and the universe? That’s what I thought when I saw the New York Times headline about tolerance. The U.S. is more tolerant than say Britain where the archbishop of Canterbury is willing to relegate whole neighborhoods to Sharia law, where it might be a crime to proselytize or even question the Koran.
Sadly no. When I started reading the NY times article I soon discovered that I was a victim of an Orwellian switcheroo where words have new meanings but the “Ministry of Truth” has not changed the dictionary. According to the paper of record, a majority of Americans are tolerant of religions other than their own because they think different religions can all lead to salvation. 80% of Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists. Which is surprising. (I would think all Hindus would believe there are many paths to God. Why the unorthodox 20%? Maybe they didn’t understand the question.) More than half of the Muslims surveyed agreed. ???? Really? What’s going on there? What happened to “there is no god but Allah ands Muhammad is his messenger”? The list does get weirder. 57% of evangelicals agreed that there are many ways to get to heaven. I wonder how many of those were surveyed outside a Barnes and Noble carrying their venti latte espresso cappuccino (sorry I was just stuttering in Italian) getting into their hybrid SUV after picking up the latest book from Brian McLaren before they head off to a three day retreat cruise where they will sing the same three lines of a chorus over and over amid calls for authenticity and cool bumper stickers that say “relevant”
All ranting aside According to dictionary.com, the word tolerance means “a fair, objective and permissive attitudes . . . toward beliefs different than one’s own.” Funny that doesn’t sound like the NY times definition. I am fairly sure the reporter has a dictionary somewhere in that big gray building or at least in the not so distant past they would have. Maybe I’m just reading the wrong definition. The second definition says: “allowing the right of something for which one does not approve.” No nothing about that in the NY times version.
Maybe I’m missing something. That first definition did say something about being “permissive.” Maybe that’s what’s going on. Believing there are many ways to salvation is a permissive attitude. No can’t be that. Because a permissive attitude is not the same thing as believing contradictory claims about the nature of the universe and the state of human nature can both be true in the same way at the same time. That’s not a permissive attitude. That’s permissive logic, because make no mistake: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism are making competing and mutually exclusive claims about the nature of human beings and the nature of God.
One Pew Forum researcher said:
It is hard to hold a strongly sectarian view when you work together and your kids play soccer together.
Why? Why can’t I be tolerant and sectarian? Recently I spent a whole week surrounded by atheists and anarchists and atheist anarchists. Now we didn’t play soccer but we ate and drank, and made merry together and even managed to talk about Christianity. It’s not hard to be sectarian and tolerant. Tolerance would be to not to stop people from worshiping as they believe. Tolerance would be to have a permissive attitude and not call for the outlawing of mosques or headscarves. Tolerance would be to engage Muslims in discussion over dinner. Tolerance would be to visit a synagogue, mosque, or ashram in order to avoid having a caricature of someone’s belief before you disapprove of it.
But NY Time’s tolerance isn’t a permissive attitude. It’s permissive logic. Apparently you have to permit your mind to believe that contradictory claims are both true and not true. You have to believe the Buddha was right that there is no God only nothingness and believe that God is triune and will have no other gods before Him and believe that there is no God but Allah, Allah “has no partners” (there is no trinity) and Mohammed is his prophet.
Honestly give me a good atheist or agnostic any day. At least they are dogmatists about logic. I know where I stand with atheists. Oh wait, according to the NY Times, an atheist “may mean they are just hostile to organized religion.” Where is Christopher Hitchins when you need him? He would be the first to say something like, “anyone who wants to worship in a grove while reading the Da Vinci Code and getting in touch with the divine consciousness is NOT an atheist. Now where’s the bar?” New Age haters of organized religion embrace the term “Pantheist” It has more letters, makes you look smart and looks cool on a bumper sticker. Don’t bogart someone else’s term.
I realize that I’ve been imbibing a little too much from the sarcasm well but as Flannery O’Connor said:
To the deaf you shout and to the blind you draw really big pictures.
One person who almost got it spot on was Todd Johnson of Gordon-Conwell Seminary. Contrary to Mr. Green’s “kid’s playing soccer” explanation, Johnson said, “It could also be a form of bland secularism.” Got that right Todd. But then he misses the putt at the end:
The real challenge to religious leaders is not to become more entrenched in their views, but to navigate the idea of what religion is all about and how it relates to others.
No Todd. The real challenge is how to be tolerant, loving, kind, and sectarian and teach others to do so as well. The early Christians, you know the ones who endured beatings, prison, and being the chew toys for lions, didn’t worry about navigating the idea of religion. Instead they loved people like crazy. Fed the hungry, stayed out of Roman politics (easy since there were no elections), raised children (theirs and the ones the pagans abandoned), cared for the sick of all religions, tended the graves of Christian and non-Christian alike, and one other thing they told everyone everywhere who would give them the time of day about their sect and how it was The Way till people were sick of it.
Imagine if one of the 57% of New York Times evangelicals ever stood before the Roman governor in Gaul:
Governor: “Do you acknowledge that Caesar is divine and Rome is the light.”
New York Times Christian: “Well, if you are asking if I think there are many ways to the truth, I would have to say that I am not so arrogant to say that my beliefs are the only way to salvation.”
Governor: “By order of the Emperor you are required to acknowledge Caesar as divine and Rome as the light by burning this incense to the statue of his divine form.”
NYTC: “Incense? Dude we don’t burn incense anymore. That’s not how you worship. You have to have some sort of chorus and really get into the worship. Incense is so old worship. I can help you with a few chords if you want.”
Governor: “Do you acknowledge Caesar as divine and Rome as the light or not?”
NYTC: “Well, I don’t like to put things into dichotomies really. That all seems so narrow, dogmatic and mean-spirited.”
Governor (under his breath): “Zeus preserve me. I have no idea what this lunatic is saying. What happened to the simple ‘I can not bow down’ of the old days? Quick. Simple. Question. Denial. Execution.”
Governor: “You are a Christian are you not?”
NYTC: “Well, I prefer the term Jesus follower.”
Governor: “Fine. Does your religion teach that there is but one God and you should worship no other.”
NYTC: “Um. Those divisive fundamentalists do, but you know following Jesus isn’t about you know tedious theology and endless questions and dogmatic statements. I’m open minded about you know paths to God”
Governor: “What is it about?”
Governor: “Your religion. What is this Christianity?”
NYTC: “Well you know, it’s about community and fellowship and worship, it’s about social justice and equality. It’s also about coffee in the sanctuary and wearing sandals on Sunday morning oh and saving the environment.”
Guard: “Yes, My Liege”
Governor: “Send this milquetoast to the lions.”
Guard: “Governor, he hasn’t denounced the Hebrew God nor acknowledged Caesar. We can’t throw him to the lions.”
Governor: “Okay Captain what do you suggest I do with him. He’s so like that luke-warm water we get from Laodicea—makes me spew.
Guard: “Liege, I suggest you let him go. If this is Christianity, then Rome has nothing to worry about.”
Consider this my really big picture.