The Source of Christian Tolerance

Today the discussion of a recent syndicated column continues with another letter to editor. This letter by Dottie Stalter was published under the heading, “God's message: ‘Peaceful compromise.’”

This is in response to the letter titled "Christians: Hypocrites are everywhere."

I agree that it is wrong and hypocritical to speak to anyone in a way that is unkind and derogatory. People can go to the extreme, hence not walking in the light of peace.

Always a freethinker, proud of my rational beliefs, but driven and enamored to critical inquiry of the Bible, I soon discovered that God did get it right the first time. Being "born again" is to appreciate and understand God's grace and love.

Knowing this as Christians, we should all be humble as we walk in his light. God's message is all about peaceful compromise. I don't agree that a Christian school should remove a Christian symbol - the cross - permanently from its chapel as Gene Nichol, president of William and Mary College, recently did.

Removing it temporarily to accommodate other religious events was an example of peaceful compromise. I agree with columnist Shaunti Feldhahn that removing it permanently is an insult to most Christians. This is what prompted Feldhahn's recent column.

There should be no shame in embracing and celebrating our Founding Fathers' principles, whom, I might add, were freethinkers and proud of their rational beliefs.

My response to this letter is mixed. There is nothing I find really objectionable about it, but the author rambles somewhat and relies on muddled logic to support her conclusions.

While I generally support peaceful compromise in civic discourse, I grow weary of hearing people claim to know the message of an ineffable deity, especially when it flatly contradicts the source documents and historical interpretation of the position it purports to represent.

First, there is almost no talk of compromise in the Old Testament. Joshua didn't compromise as he supposedly conquered Canaan, by God's own order, burning town after town, slaughtering man, woman, child and beast. The primary purpose of law of Moses was to maintain a strong distinction between the chosen people and the gentiles. Again and again the prophets railed against compromises and accommodations made by the Jews and consistently blamed Israel's defeats and the Babylonian captivity on lack of zealotry in maintaining their own identity. Where was there any compromise?

Second, there is little talk of compromise in the New Testament. There are indeed certain passages about rendering unto Caesar and such, but there are also passages about hating one's own family, selling all of one's possessions, and about shaking the dust off of one's feet when a town doesn't welcome you. And of course Jesus himself was the absolute antithesis of tolerant toward anyone who didn't accept him as absolute master. Rather he condemned all of those to the eternal fires of hell. Where was the message of compromise?

Third, Christendom wasn't especially tolerant until recent centuries, not coincidentally precisely when it ceased to be Christendom. There were persecutions of Jews and of Christian heretics, bloody wars between Christian sects, and multiple crusades against the infidel Muslims. There was slavery and the subjugation of women. Where was there any compromise? Eventually moral values became more tolerant, but it wasn't because of any message from God.

Let me make myself very clear: It's very good that most Christians are quite tolerant today of most people different from themselves. (If only Islam would undergo such an enlightenment!) I simply object to the claim that their religion makes them tolerant when the truth is the reverse: with their tolerant values, they have changed their religion to make it more tolerant. They are reluctant to acknowledge that their moral standards have changed for the better over time, in accordance to the moral Zeitgeist, because it invalidates their claim to have an immutable message from God and thus their hope for an afterlife.

Let us treat each other with compassion and respect. Let us do it not because an invisible being supposedly said so, but because it's the right thing to do.


No comments: