Monday, June 8, 2015

Against the Flow: Reclaiming Tolerance

The prophet Daniel found himself a victim of a rather contemporary definition of tolerance.

The Babylonian empire had fallen to the Mede-Persians. The new king kept Daniel in his high government position because, of all of his government officials, Daniel was the one who truly had the king’s best interests at heart.

The others became jealous – surprise – and determined they would do Daniel through trickery (an ancient version of “we have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it”). A new law, approved by the king: for one month, the king, and only the king, could be worshipped. After that, everyone could go back to worshipping their regular gods. What was wrong with one month?

Everything, for a man who worshipped the one true God. Daniel continued his prayers to Jehovah as he always did, was arrested, and, much to king’s personal dismay, placed in the lion’s den. Daniel survived unharmed. The king, enraged at what he had been tricked into, threw the officials and their families into the lions’ den. They did not survive unharmed. In fact, they didn’t survive at all.

If Western culture, and especially the American variant of Western culture, has a national religion, it would have to be the religion of tolerance. In the name of individual rights, everything is acceptable, and more than acceptable, everything must be acknowledged as acceptable. America, led by its cultural and governing elites, is worshipping at the altar of tolerance.

But it is not tolerance as it has been understood historically.

“One of the things that poses a real threat to human freedom is the contemporary understanding of tolerance,” says John Lennox in Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism.  “I say contemporary, because the old and good meaning of tolerance has been abandoned for something insidious and dangerous.”

Lennox explains: “Tolerance asserts the right to have convictions, to make judgments about right and wrong, which differ from those of others. It also asserts the right to express those views without fear. …Tolerance does not demand that we accept the opinions, beliefs, and lifestyles of others, but only that we learn to live without forcing them to line up with us.”

This traditional understanding of tolerance is not where America is today. This religion of tolerance recognizes one sin, and one sin only, and it isn’t intolerance. No, it’s what now perceived and defined as intolerance.

Of all the charges of intolerance leveled at Christians, none is worse than the claim of exclusivity – that faith in Jesus is the only way to salvation. There are not “many paths to God.” There’s only one. All of our so-called sins flow from that one. (Muslims have the same problem, but you will not likely find our cultural and political elites saying nasty things about Muslims, especially radical Muslims.)

By definition, we Christians are automatically intolerant.

Pointing this out is something of a non sequitur. You can be intolerant toward Christians and still cling to the belief you are tolerant because intolerance of systematic intolerance is a virtue.

Why does Lennox say this is insidious and dangerous? Because it’s the kind of thinking that afflicts totalitarian regimes.

We need to reclaim the original definition of tolerance, but it won’t be easy.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been discussing Against the Flow. This post is taken from chapter 14, “The Law of the Medes and Persians,” and Chapter 15, “The Law of the Jungle.”

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

No comments: