I promised in my last post No Peaceful Option that I would offer what I think coexistence looks like apart from the bumper sticker platitude. Virtuous coexistence lives in my Facebook feed. Diversity of thought, thy name is Facebook. Here in this space something amazing happens. Good people disagree about the fundamental questions of life. Let me preface what follows by saying this is not me bragging though I am proud of how we all get along in our little arena of diverse opinion. No doubt, you too, can point to the coexistence going on in your own correspondence. This should be celebrated. Coexistence is not a bad thing at all.
Christians can coexist with other religions. Recently Sam Harris of Letter to a Christian Nation has challenged Christians that Christianity and Atheism aren’t that far apart. After all, Christians are atheists when it comes to religions like Islam and Hinduism. Christians deny the teachings of Islam just as Atheists deny the teachings of all religion, right? Well, Douglas Wilson has responded, and I agree, that Christianity has more in common with Islam than atheism. After all if a Christian, an Atheist, and a Muslim all saw a trout suddenly appear in a punch bowl, the Muslim and the Christian could discuss the miracle and what kind of deity could and would do such a thing. The conversation with the atheist would be quite different. I have a facebook friend who is a self-identified Hindu but we coexist mostly over the despicable lack of religious freedom in India. Freedom House is an organization that champions the coexistence of religions. However, coexistence doesn’t mean an amorphous acceptance of only what we have in common. What my FB friend and I can agree on is that neither of us should be prevented from expressing or advocating our position. This is especially true when it comes to Christian evangelism. Virtuous tolerance means my Facebook friend may vehemently disagree with what I believe but respects my freedom to say it, even to him.
Speaking of disagreement. It might not seem so given our political climate, but Christians can coexist with other Christians even when the disagree passionately about theology. MCOI is a an example of this kind of coexistence. As I look at the team here at MCOI, I am always impressed that a ministry that is so dependent on combating bad theology is so diverse theologically. Within our little evangelical conclave, we have charismatics, dispensationalists, Reformed, and whatever Don Veinot happens to be!
Probably the most interesting example of coexistence revolves around political ideology. I’m a self-professed political junkie and I do like the bloodsport often to my determent. On any given Monday its dueling articles from the Washington Post. The most prevalent topic is whether Jesus would condemn capitalism. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, dear reader, but there has been a rash of “What-Bible-are-those-people-reading-of course-Jesus-wouldn’t-think that” kind of articles lately. And several of them find their way to my Facebook feed via friends who have a theological or political axe to grind. We have debated the birth control issue at length. One thing that is a hallmark of virtuous coexistence is we respect each other enough not to engage in fallacious arguments especially the favorite of political commentary–the Tu Quoque. Essentially the Tu Quoque says “You Too.”It ignores the argument in favor of pointing out hypocrisy. (For good examples of this see MSNBC and FoxNews talking about Rush Limbaugh.) We vehemently disagree with each other about the state, religion, justice, virtually everything but our respect for each other means we bring our best arguments. Coexistence becomes much easier when all of us have too much respect for our opponents to insult them with bad caricatures of their positions.
I also think the virtuous coexistence means that we have to get over being “offended” and get over worrying about offending others so much. One of my atheist friends loves to post offensive T-shirts making fun of religion. Recently he posted one that said, “Why would you want to be born again when you can just grow up.” That’s offensive. So is the internet meme going around that says, “Science flies you to the moon and religion flies you into buildings.” That is also offensive and actually fallacious. Yes they are snarky. But I will be honest. Virtuous coexistence includes offending and being offended. After all, MCOI’s signature verse is “Have I now become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16) Implied in this passage is that one can be offended without becoming an enemy to the offender.
Let me end with an example of virtuous coexistence. I post my essays for the Crux on my Facebook page just about every week I write one. This last one was no different. True to form my agnostic friends and even some of Christian friends held me to the fire. I made the following quote in that previous blog:
I don’t care how fundamentalist you read the New Testament, you will not find authority to burn gay people, forcibly baptize Jews, or wage war on others to make them Christian. Even though all of those were done in the name of Christ they were done inconsistently with the fundamental teachings of the New Testament. On the other hand, no matter how liberally you read the New Testament you will not find a Jesus who “lives and lets live.” To the contrary you will find a Jesus who dies violently in order to show that he is the only way to know God.
I received two responses that were respectful but challenging. One from a non-religious person who asked whether the burning gays and waging wars of conversion were consistent with the Old Testament. I knew the passages he had in mind. The slaughter of the Amalekites from 1 Samuel 15 and the Levitical injunctions against homosexuality. The second response was from a Christian progressive who didn’t see what the fuss was about. Different religions can even worship together with elements from their own traditions. We disagreed but there is mutual respect and we co-exist quite nicely. I won’t give you the blow by blow mainly because I won’t to save them for other blog posts.
My main point is that Co-existence is not only possible but virtuous not when whitewash disagreements but rather when we respect people and their ideas enough to offend without making enemies.