Posts Tagged ‘tolerance’

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Will The Real God Please Stand Up! (Part 1)

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

“All religions are equally true.”

No religion is the ‘right’ one or the ‘only’ one.”

“It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.

It’s not uncommon these days to hear such catchphrases whenever the topic of religion or God is being discussed.  In fact, our culture today places such a premium on tolerance and diversity that if someone even suggests that all religions are not true, that person is going to be labeled as everything from “naïve” to “hateful”.  It certainly seems to be the case that over time, more and more people have come to accept the idea that all religions are true.  But is that really the case?  Is it possible for all religions to be equally true?  If not, then why have so many people bought into the idea that all religions are true?

The more I encounter this question, the more convinced I am that one of the biggest reasons that there’s so much confusion and disagreement on this is the failure of most people to understand the difference between belief and truth.  In conversation, I have found that it’s quite common for people to use those two words interchangeably as if they were the same thing, but they are not the same thing.  As we are about to see, there is a significant difference between belief and truth.

To illustrate, suppose that I asked those of you who never met my dad to write down what you sincerely believe to be an accurate description of my dad.  Write down what you believe about his physical appearance, as well as a description of his character and his personality.  Suppose that I asked all of you to submit your descriptions to me, and then imagine all of your papers spread out on a table in front of me for review.  What we now have represented on that table are various beliefs that people have about my dad.  Obviously, there will be a great deal of diversity among those beliefs because they are contradicting one another in their descriptions of my dad’s eye color, hair color, weight, height, personality, etc.

Even though this is a simple illustration, it contrasts the stark differences between belief and truth.  It tells us that:

1)  All beliefs cannot be true because they are oftentimes making contradictory claims. (My dad cannot be five feet, ten inches tall AND six feet, two inches tall!)

2)  No matter how sincere a belief may be, if it doesn’t agree with the truth, it is a false belief.

3)  The truth is not going to change in order to conform to one’s beliefs. His beliefs must change in order to conform to the truth.

Since it is reasonable to think that these unchanging, fundamental principles regarding the nature of truth apply to other truth claims as well, we have every reason to think that these same principles apply to truth claims about God.  Even though we recognize and respect the fact that there is a diversity of different cultural beliefs about God, that is a very different thing from saying that all of those beliefs are equally true!  In fact, as we’ve just seen, it is impossible for all of them to be true because in most cases they are making contradictory claims.  The atheist believes that there is no God.  Most religions believe that there is a God-  both claims cannot be true. Some religions believe that God is a vague, impersonal force whereas others believe that God is a specific, personal, moral, intelligent Being-  it cannot be the case that they are both correct.  Just as with the illustration about my dad, all beliefs about God cannot be true, and any belief about God that does not correspond to the truth about God is a false belief.

I’m not sure why we are so shocked or offended by that.  After all, entire cultures have been shown to hold false beliefs about much simpler truths.  For example, throughout history there has been a diversity of cultural beliefs about the earth with regard to its shape, its composition, and the means by which it travels.  But regardless how long or how sincerely those cultural traditions were held, their beliefs turned out to be false.  The point is, if entire cultures have been wrong in their beliefs about something that is much more accessible to them, it should come as no surprise to us that they may also be wrong when it comes to something that is much more difficult to grasp- that is, the truth about who God is and what He is like.

So, where does this leave us?  Is there any way to verify which beliefs about God correspond to the truth about God?  Can we know the truth about God?  If so, what is it?  In my next post, we will examine these questions and more.

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Posted in Theology | Comments Off

There’s Nothing Tolerant About The New “Tolerance”

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

            Over the next few posts I want to look at some issues that came up recently in an article published in the editorial section of a local high school campus newspaper.  I’ve mentioned before that I have the privilege of working with the high school students at my church.  Because of my interactions with them, they will often mention to me some of the issues, topics, and discussions that have come up during the week on their various campuses.  Two of our students recently brought me a copy of their school’s paper which had an editorial written by one of the students on the newspaper’s staff.  The title of the article reads, “If God Is Real, Why Won’t He Reveal Himself?”  The article is by no means limited to that question.  In it, the author raises several thought-provoking questions that range anywhere from the problem of evil, to the areas of science such as the fossil record.  Later, he goes on to raise doubts about God’s fairness and questions God’s apparent unwillingness to reveal himself openly to us today as he did in the Bible.

           Even though the title is rather vague, suggesting that it is critiquing religion in general, there is no doubt that the writer had Christianity specifically in mind as he makes several references to “the Bible”, “Jesus”, and “Christians”.  As one reads the article, it’s hard to miss the author’s cynicism as he openly challenges the Christian students on campus to come up with the goods.  For example, he says, “Have you ever been sitting by yourself, contemplating His existence, and then you ask yourself, ‘Jesus, if you are real will you appear?’  Let me guess, Jesus was a no-show.”  By the way, this is not the first time that this same paper carried an editorial written by a student on the paper’s staff which openly and unashamedly challenged the Christian students. 

              As I read the article, I kept wondering what would have happened if this student had written an editorial that was just as critical toward any other religion, group, or lifestyle on campus.  Based on the cultural trend that I’ve witnessed over the past several years, it’s a pretty safe bet that such an article would have never been allowed to go to print.  Even if it had, it would have drawn a tremendous amount of attention from local organizations and, perhaps, even from the local media who would have immediately condemned such an article as “intolerance”, “bigotry”, and “hate speech”.  There’s no doubt that the “tolerance police” would have been all over that one.

              This brings me to my main thought.  In case you haven’t noticed, there is a big emphasis on tolerance these days not only in our public schools but in the media as well.  Unfortunately, what’s being promoted  today as “tolerance” turns out to be nothing more than a counterfeit of the real thing.  This is why it is imperative that we clearly understand the difference between true tolerance and the distorted version which so many people have come to accept.  Let’s begin with a proper understanding of what it means to be tolerant.  Simply put, true tolerance means that we can agree to disagree.  It’s important to understand that tolerance, by definition, actually requires disagreement.  Why is that?  Because if you’re in agreement with the other person, there’s nothing to tolerate-  you agree with them!  The whole point of genuine tolerance is that it allows us to freely and openly express our disagreement with someone else’s views or lifestyle while still maintaining a sense of respect and civility toward them.

            Now compare this to the distorted version of tolerance being promoted today which says:  1)  “All views are equal”  2) “Everyone has their own truth”  and  3) “You cannot say that another person’s views or lifestyle is wrong.”  While that may sound  like good advice, a closer examination tells us that such a definition of tolerance is not only unreasonable, it’s impossible for anyone to live that way consistently.  Even the writer of the editorial cannot live by that definition.  Even though he doesn’t come out and say it in so many words, his criticisms of Christianity imply that:  1) All views are not equal (Atheism is more true than Christianity)  2)  Christians do not have the truth (Christians have sincere beliefs that are false) and  3)  It’s okay to say that another person’s views are wrong (Christians are wrong).

            Please understand that I am NOT criticizing the author for writing his article or for disagreeing with Christians.  In fact, I respect (tolerate) his right to disagree with us and to openly express that disagreement.  I am simply drawing our attention to the fact that there is an obvious disparity which exists when it comes to which groups are allowed to express their views publicly and which groups are not allowed to do so.  The lesson in all of this is that we need to be careful not to buy into today’s counterfeit version of “tolerance”, because in doing so we surrender our right to speak openly and freely.  As a result, we will no longer have a voice in the arena of discussion and it will become impossible for us to engage anyone in open, honest dialogue.

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Posted in Christianity and Culture | 2 Comments »

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