Tolerance is one of the most abused words in the English language today. It always used to mean putting up with someone you disagreed with. It meant allowing the other person the right and courtesy to express their views, even though you strongly opposed those views.
But in our Politically Correct age which denies the possibility of absolute truth, tolerance has come to mean embracing the other person and his views, or ideas, or behaviours, or worldview. We must now accept and endorse that which we disagree with. Of course that is not tolerance in the traditional understanding of the term.
In his helpful little book, Is God Intolerant? (Tyndale House, 2003), Daniel Taylor explains what real tolerance is all about: “To understand tolerance, one must understand that tolerance requires objection. The word derives from a Latin word, tolerare, meaning ‘to bear or endure’. A handy working definition of tolerance is ‘putting up with the objectionable’. At the very heart of tolerance, ironically, is a moment of intolerance – of refusing to agree.”
And as Taylor reminds us, “tolerance is not automatically a good thing (Germans were wrong to tolerate Nazism in the 1930s, for example).” We should not tolerate that which is wrong or that which is false. Yet that is just what we are being asked to do under the new understanding of tolerance. We are being told that holding to absolute truth or universal morality is divisive, and an indication of intolerance and judgmentalism.
I write all this about tolerance for a particular reason. At the moment we have two men from Nigeria touring Australia. One is a Pentecostal Christian and the other is a Muslim imam. They have travelled the world promoting a message of tolerance and acceptance.
A documentary film, “The Imam and the Pastor” has been made about the pair, and was launched at the UN a year and a half ago, and has been shown in various places around the world, including the British House of Commons.
The two men speak of the need to get along, work for peace, and embrace the common ground of the two religions. One website describes the pair this way: “Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye from Nigeria were mortal enemies leading opposing armed militias in the ethnic and religious conflicts that rocked Nigeria in the 1990s. Thousands were killed and whole communities devastated. In pitched battles Pastor James lost his right hand and Imam Ashafa’s spiritual mentor and two cousins were killed. Now the two men are co-directors of the Muslim-Christian Interfaith Mediation Centre in their city of Kaduna, Northern Nigeria, leading task-forces to resolve conflict across the country.”
Now getting any two groups of people to stop shooting at each other, and getting them to sit down and discuss issues is always a helpful thing to work toward. Dialogue is better than violence and bloodshed. But the question always must be asked, is the move to get along and work together at the expense of truth? That is, if one or both parties so water down their own religious beliefs in order to get along, then we have a problem – certainly if it is the Christian doing the diluting.
Both Islam and Christianity strongly affirm the reality of truth, and the rightness of their own religious beliefs. And there are major differences between the two religions. For example, Biblical Christianity affirms that Jesus died on the cross and rose again. Islam denies this. That is a major difference that cannot be ignored. If Christianity is true in this regard, then Islam is not, and vice versa.
This is not the place to spell out all the major differences between the two religions. I have done that elsewhere on this site. I have also discussed the strengths and weaknesses of interfaith dialogue. My fear is simply that in the attempt to promote a good thing (the reduction of violence and religious conflict, and the need to learn to talk to one another) we will simply see a further deterioration of the truth claims of Biblical Christianity.
That is, many people – including Christians – may be misled by this presentation into thinking that truth claims really are divisive and harmful, and that we should therefore just play down doctrinal, religious and ideological differences, in an effort to just get along. And that seems to be the thrust of this presentation. In a recent Age article about the pair, for example, it said this about the Pastor: “he has a message for fellow Pentecostals and other Christian fundamentalists who think their religious path is the only truth. ‘There is more than one way to truth, and remember what Jesus said about loving their neighbours’.”
Other interviews reveal further concerns. Atheist Phillip Adams featured the pair on an ABC Radio National program recently. The thirty-minute discussion is revealing for a number of reasons. Most interestingly, the misotheist Adams really liked the two men and their message. That tells us a lot right away.
And with all interfaith movements, the issue of the importance of doctrine and theological truth is ignored or radically downplayed. That came through in the interview as well. The pair said “ours is a spiritual union”. The Pastor said “Islam is a forgiving religion”. Many Christians living under Islamic dhimmitude might beg to differ.
Also, the Pastor very briefly mentioned the resurrection of Jesus, but then went on to say that it is not what we say that is important but the way we live. Both men spoke of “values” they shared, but beliefs or doctrines were simply overlooked.
Indeed, the pair said we need to move beyond tolerance, and we need to move on to acceptance. But as I mentioned, if either religion is true, then full acceptance is simply impossible. The only way a Christian can accept Islam is to deny the very basic beliefs and teachings of biblical Christianity.
It is also interesting to note that the pair will be featured in a seminar at the upcoming National Prayer Breakfast in Parliament House, Canberra this weekend. One has to ask if this is a wise move for an event which has up till now been billed as a distinctly Christian affair. If the organisers wish to hop on to the interfaith bandwagon, they might alert those who normally attend as to their intentions.
Again, these men are to be applauded concerning their attempts to reduce religious violence and to strive for peace. But of course real peace can never come at the expense of truth. These men have come to accept one another and work together. That is a very commendable thing indeed. But if the unique truth claims of Christianity are lost in the process, or at least shoved to one side, then one has to ask just how profitable this joint venture really is.