The call for tolerance and understanding, in western countries, has become increasingly vocal in recent years. And it has been realised, in part, through challenging people’s thinking, and through legislation. As a consequence, as a society, we are constantly being encouraged to move away from the prejudices based on ethnic, sexual, religious and political views, to embrace a more “inclusive,” “caring,” and “enlightened” attitude.
Now from a secular point of view that can all sound very “reasonable.” Indeed, many “sound” and “persuasive” arguments have been put forward. And there are aspects of the various debates which have needed to be said. Unfortunately, some of the arguments clash head-on with the very basics of religious belief. And not just the beliefs of Islam, Hinduism, etc.
For example, most religions are exclusive; they have no tolerance for other beliefs. Even Christianity teaches there is only one way to God; there is only one way for salvation. Because at the very core of Christian belief is the teaching of Jesus being the only way to God. And that no one can get to God except through him (John 14:6).
At the very basic level of Christian belief, then, is the understanding that there is only one genuine religion. And that all other religions are false—which simply lead people away from God. In Christianity, there is no room for other beliefs. Christians are called to neither accept them or embrace them. And that is despite whatever is legislated or society teaches.
Furthermore, for those of Judeo-Christian traditions, the Old Testament provides specific guidelines of the expectations of YHWH God. Indeed, God specifically said that was no room for other gods; that people were called to be faithful to him, and that it was his justice that needed to prevail. Furthermore, the Old Testament demonstrates the importance that God placed on keeping his rules. Because it illustrates the extraordinary lengths that he was prepared to go to, to keep his people from straying from the path.
If we want to get an idea of what a true Christian community should look like, then, we need go no further than the principles that YHWH gave on Mount Sinai and beyond. And if we lived in a truly Christian country, we would need to apply those principles in our community. We would need to remove all other religions from the land; we would need to reject all other religious practices of any sort. And, furthermore, we would need to stick to the guidelines that he has provided for a healthy community, and not go about tinkering with his rules.
As can easily be seen, then, there is a great gulf between religious beliefs (of which Christianity is just one example) and the hopes and the expectations of a secular society. And, of course, if we lived in a true Christian country, or a true Muslim country, etc., things would be a lot simpler. The laws or society’s attitudes would reflect their particular religious views.
But we don’t live in such an environment. Indeed, even in Australia, where historically it has been claimed to have been a “Christian country,” nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, the structure of society in Australia has always been far removed from true Christian values. And even the values that were held in high esteem have, over the years, been twisted and largely forgotten.
Of course, this then leads to the question, “How do people of faith live in a secular society?” Well the problem is that people of faith live under two sets of rules: the rules of the society under which they live, and the rules of the god under which the serve. But if people are to be true to the god and their faith, the rules of their god must take priority. And that was certainly what Jesus tried to teach his disciples when presented with a Roman coin (Matthew 22:21).
At the heart of the issue of much religious intolerance, then, is the problem of the exclusive nature of religion. It is the priority of God over the secular. And for Christians it is the priority of applying God’s laws and principles for a healthy relationship with him, and for the building up of a healthy community.
Yes, trying to teach people, and passing legislation, may make things “legal,” in a secular sense, but it will not necessarily change things in the eyes of a believer. Because no matter what society teaches, or what legislation is passed, there will invariably be aspects that will not be acceptable to people of religious faiths (Christian or otherwise). And simply pretending that tolerance is possible in all circumstances, is simply to ignore the obvious.
But in regard to Christianity, it’s not necessarily that Christians’ don’t care. They do. It’s just that their focus is on people having a healthy relationship with their creator, and for the building up of healthy God-centred communities. And that requires them to apply God’s principles, when society’s laws and attitudes conflict.
Posted: 26th August 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis