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 Vol. 3, No. 12 

Page 12

December, 2001

The New Intolerance

By Furman Kearley

Christians are often perceived by society as being intolerant. Some people who claim to be Christians are not tolerant. And some people who claim to be tolerant are worldly minded and intolerant of Christians. Since all ought to be truly tolerant, this matter of tolerance and the new tolerance needs to be discussed. Tolerance is differing with people without persecuting or doing violence to them. Intolerance is opposing a view to the point of violence. The new tolerance has come to expect that people will not disagree with any belief and that every belief is acceptable.

Critics of Christianity, especially homosexual critics, criticize Christians for being intolerant, but this charge is untrue. For 300 years under pagan Rome, Christians were tolerant of paganism and many "isms." They did not persecute the Jews, but certainly strove to understand them or to refute them or withstand them. Neither did they persecute pagans or those intolerant of Christianity.

Apologetics in the New Age by David Clark and Norman Geisler says,

"Pluralists are wrong when they claim that tolerance depends on pluralism. Exclusivists can be tolerant in accepting the right of others to have different beliefs. Pluralists can be intolerant in telling adherents of all religions that they are wrong when they hold exclusive beliefs. Indeed the whole notion that one needs to accept as true the other person's belief in order to tolerate that person is a misuse of language. It makes no sense to speak of tolerating ideas with which we agree -- we tolerate those beliefs with which we disagree. In a sense, tolerance demands a compassionate exclusivism, not an amorphous pluralism" (Clark and Geisler, p. 230).

To demand that Christians approve abortion and homosexuality in order to be tolerant is to demand too much. Christians hold both of these positions to be sinful and must speak out against them. For Christians to speak out against them is not to be intolerant of abortion and homosexuality. Christians did not approve of Roman paganism and spoke out against it, but they did no violence against paganism and pagan people. Christians should not do violence against abortionists and homosexuals, and true Christians do not do violence against sin. To make sinful practices such as homosexuality and abortion illegal is not being intolerant.

The sinful teaching of evolution is not opposed with violence but with dialogue. Christians have lost the battle to evolution, but this does not mean that we do no argue against it and work to change the laws. However, evolutionists and our public school systems are guilty of wanting evolution alone to be taught and have practiced intolerance toward the teaching of creationism.

Some who claimed to be Christians but were not were so intolerant that they practiced such things as the Crusades. By military might and force, they attempted to force others to be Christians. Charlemagne tried to force Germanic tribes to be Christians at the point of a sword. He forced them to go down into the water as pagans and said they came up as Christians. This practice, of course, is not true and was not right. Any true Christian knows that one cannot make another Christian simply by silencing him. To tolerate and to practice tolerance mean to accept those who hold a wrong position and advocate a wrong solution to be wrong but not to silence them by violence.

Christians hold a number of things to be sinful. They speak out against adultery, atheism, immorality, murder, stealing and covetousness, but they do not deny the right of those who advocate those things to speak for them. They try to make them illegal and to get others to vote against their legality. Even the pagans would have no respect for Christians if they did not oppose vehemently the things Christians believe are wrong. To speak out against and to make illegal are not to persecute.

True toleration is to tolerate any and every view with great extremes but not to persecute these views. Pornography as a view has been tolerated but not persecuted. To make a view illegal is not to persecute it. Rather, to stop a view by violence is to persecute it. Seldom, if ever, do feminists prosecute and persecute pornography, but they oppose it, as they should. Adult Christians oppose pornography because it influences children and is often aimed at children, but we do not usually persecute pornographers who practice their pornography in secret and do not expose it to other adults and children.

But as some critics have pointed out, pluralists seem to assume that tolerance is possible only if one takes a nonjudgmental view of other's points of view. Many assume that tolerance demands acknowledging the truth of others' views. But this assumption is not correct. Tolerance in no way requires that we accept the truth of another person's beliefs. By definition tolerance implies a disagreement with the other doctrine. We never speak of tolerating a belief we ourselves accept. If we tolerate a doctrine, we are not approving but rejecting or disapproving that idea. Thus, as Harold Netland says, "Toleration has an element of condemnation built into its meaning." If tolerance entails disagreement, then it is difficult for someone who accepts to some degree the truth of all great world faiths to tolerate any of them. So it is a bit odd for pluralists to speak as if tolerance demanded pluralism. In a sense, tolerance demands exclusivism (Exclusivism, Tolerance and Truth).

Christian doctrine does not require tolerance to be extended in every matter. We are to be tolerant of different opinions, but we may oppose them. We may be tolerant of different stances but oppose the different stances. Jesus was very tolerant. He could have brought fire from heaven down upon the wicked and those who opposed him. But he opposed them sensibly and peacefully. He called them blind guides who did not accept the truth that he spoke. Peter and John opposed civil rulers and civil government. They said, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

Christians are tolerant of all who teach error. We try to correct them and teach them truthfully. We should not persecute them, and we ask the same in return. We grant them freedom of speech and ask the same of them. We ask of them freedom of assembly and grant to them the same.

Copyright 2001 Louis Rushmore. All Rights Reserved.
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