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Truth and Tolerance, Christianity and Islam

Nov 4, 2008

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.

www.theage.com.au/national/imam-and-pastor-unite-for-message-of-peace-tolerance-20081029-5bha.html
www.abc.net.au/cgi-bin/common/player_launch.pl

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18 Responses to Truth and Tolerance, Christianity and Islam

  • Though I am no engineer, I associate the word tolerance with working within limits; there is a point beyond which a mechanical system will break down if those limits are ignored. Why do we apply reason when designing a bridge but throw it out the window when applying it to human behaviour? Today, the word, ‘tolerance,’ whilst retaining its outer packaging has had its contents replaced with Hegelian meaning: there are no limits, no definitions, and no categories. “It’s all good” as kids say today. The result is the breaking down of society.

    In Matthew 13, Jesus gave a parable about legitimate tolerance and its limits.

    “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
    “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
    “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
    “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
    “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ”

    And in Matthew 25:31ff, he says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, and he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    So much for tolerance.

    David Skinner, UK

  • Bill, the link you have to the ABC Radio National program you mention The Imam and the Pastor doesn’t seem to work. This one would be better: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/latenightlive/stories/2008/2402078.htm

    Ewan McDonald.

  • Thanks for that Ewan
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill, the Uniting Church has been a zealous supporter of the Interfaith movement. It is scary.
    Stan Fishley

  • David Skinner, I love your posts – great analysis. Stay fit and well, Blessings,
    Stan Fishley

  • Wow… 9 posts in 7 days! You are amazing Bill. Congratulations on your energy and enthusiasm.

    Now, to your latest post. Yes, “tolerance” has taken on a new meaning. This morning I am in the office telling everyone I hope McCain/Palin win because “Sarah is just soooo hot. If she was any hotter she’d melt the Alaskan glaciers”.

    I say this because my colleagues think it makes sense to say they back Obama because he is black. But if I say I’d vote for McCain because Palin is hot, they think this is ridiculous and only shows that I am intolerant of blacks. Go figure…

    I try using logical argument but it doesn’t work, so I resort to sarcasm, but it doesn’t work either. It is this blindness to leftist ideology that has overtaken logic to the point that they cannot see their own intolerances. And this in the public service! No wonder I sometimes despair at where we are headed.

    Frank Norros

  • Yes, Bill, Islam is a forgiving religion; but only if/when you submit to it. Christianity, as practised in the West, has a long history of compromise from, but not beginning with, Henry 8th to, but not ceasing with, the church and the Nazis.
    Can/should we expect anything different from ‘accommodation’.
    Arthur Hartwig

  • Dear Arthur Hartwig, The Qur’an is like a piece of legislation.You can interprete it widely or narrowly for good or for evil doing to suit one’s own purposes,a good example is the meaning of JIHAD. The judgement is God’s based on these choices as the followers interprete the Qu’ran.
    Not all moslems want the Christians to change their truth for our sake ,please preach and believe what you wish as only God has the prerogative to decide who will enter His Heaven. We must all stand by our beliefs and defend it in Honour and Reverence of our Creator and for the good of mankind.As a moslem I do not accomodate the Quranic truth to suit anyone so i have no right to expect you to do the same.
    Siti Khatijah.

  • Great article Bill. Thanks for taking the time to check it out. I have a very simple view on interfaith. Its all Jesus’ fault. He said, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me’. As a Christian, who follows Jesus & His teachings, how can we downplay what He taught? How can we agree that there is any other way to God? Aren’t you glad Jesus made it very clear, black & white in fact. God bless you, Ryan.
    Ryan Foley

  • Dear Siti. In this country and many other western nations that are founded on Judeo-Christian principles, you and I are free to practice and defend our beliefs as you have stated. But consider many Islamic and even Buddhist run countries where other faiths are persecuted and even illegal. What is their interpretation of their scriptures?
    God bless you,
    Ryan Foley.

  • Dear Ryan, thank you. God Bless you and all who are fighting for the truth in this world we were given to take care of. you are right. I am blessed to be able to practice my Sufi faith without fear in australia.Those countries that oppress and persecute are in clear rejection of the Qur’anic injunctions. when the Qur’an speaks of fighting God’s enemies ,spiritually, He means fighting your lower self,the greed, the power crazed,the forgetfulness of Him,the lust the opression. He does NOT mean to persecute other human beings. The injunctions of the Qur’an are not meant to be taken literal but spiritual to fight your internal demons. No one on earth is my enemy but my own lower evil self that I have to fight and get rid off and thus become a better human being .Once you persecute and murder and opress then you no longer profess the Islamic faith.They have chosen their path of destruction of their own soul as taught in the Qur’an.those who fight evil whatever perspective/faith they are are blessed.
    Siti Khatijah.

  • Dear Siti. I have a copy of the Qur’an and I know that there are many verses that the Jihadists use where it talks about oppressing and killing Jews and Christians. This is clearly not talking about personal ‘enemies.’ I also know that moderates claim that these verses have been abrogated so again it is back to your statement regarding interpretation. One thing that puzzles us ‘westerners’ is that when acts of terror are carried out, it is very rare to hear moslems come out condemning and denouncing these acts, so your comments on this are bold, and refreshing.
    Anti-Christians often bring up some of the violent things that happened in the Bible and even some wars that were waged in God’s name but if you study the New Testament, Jesus clearly ‘upgrades’ for want of a better word, all that had gone before. The Christian Gospel as taught by Jesus is the law of love.
    By your comments you sound like you would make a good Christian, by God’s grace may it come to pass.
    Sincerely, Ryan Foley.

  • Thank you. Yes, Jesus did teach the highest path.The highest path is pure love,unconditional for everyone and every living being walking this earth.The secret of us for salvation is we must now choose the highest path too as shown.So many have forgotten and rejected this teaching.
    Siti Khatijah.

  • Encouraging dialogue between Siti and Ryan. Being a Sufi, then Siti knows that a large majority of Muslims consider that branch of Islam as apostate and the options are clear according to the Qur’an and Hadith.

    Ray Robinson

  • apostasy is when you kill and persecute in His name. humans do not judge me my Judge is God who created me and the only One that has the right to banish me.I am not on this earth to please anyone but Him.
    Siti Khatijah.

  • Dear Siti. In light of your appraisal of Jesus I would refer you back to my first response to your first comments. (6.11.08 / 9pm). If you notice my posting just before that, it refers to a truth from the Bible where Jesus stated, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’. (Found in John 14:6). If you really do hold Jesus’ teachings as the ‘highest path’ is it possible that you need to step up to that path, meaning that Jesus clearly states that He is the only way, to the Father. Therefore, there are no other ‘paths’ except through Jesus. I know that Hinduism accepts many, many gods, even Jesus. I do not know all that much about Sufism but I understand that the Sufis are in a way, mystics but I may be wrong. Nevertheless, Jesus stated that He is the ONLY way. The problem with inter-faith is that they teach that all paths lead to God. But this is NOT what Jesus taught. Do you know that for your salvation, Jesus actually came and died on the cross to pay for your (and my) sins? He did that so that you do not have to pay for your sins. That is how much Jesus loves you and I. Father God offers you this gift of salvation for free. All you have to do is accept that you are guilty of sin (which you alluded to earlier) and acknowledge Jesus as Lord of your life. Jesus also said that, ‘whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it’. (Found in Mark 8:35). Dear Siti, if possible, I urge you to investigate further the teachings of Jesus (see Acts 4:12; Acts 2:21; Romans 10: 8-13), and if you are genuinely seeking after God, He will reveal Himself to You.
    God bless you Siti, Ryan Foley

  • The Inter-Faith movement seems to be appealing to a lot of people. It seems to me to be another sign of the rise of the anti-Christ and the full-filling of prophecy. I also believe that few Christians understand what Christianity is all about. I highly recommend the “Truth Project” from Focus on the Family. I am personally seeking ways to educate the general public about the value of real Christianity to our nation and Society. Whether they become Christians is another matter.
    Tom Wise

  • Thanks Tom

    Yes the Truth Project is very good indeed. My review of it is here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/07/15/a-review-of-the-truth-project-presented-by-dr-del-tackett/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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