I really didn’t want to write this article. Well, that’s not true, or I wouldn’t have written it. I didn’t want to discuss religion or politics in this blog. But with all that’s going on in the world, I felt the need to get this out there. The lack of tolerance or any effort to reach an understanding (let alone agreement) between political and social groups in this country has been leading to increasingly partisan bickering and dangerous rhetoric. The very people in government, regarless of party, who regularly make the loudest noises about their Christian faith have been failing at the most basic and foundational of Christian principles. Not only have they failed at reconciliation, but they haven’t even managed the bare minimum of showing tolerance for those with different beliefs, viewpoints, national origins, or lifestyles.
So it’s back to basics. And the woodshed. Hang on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
You’ve heard the old saying, your reach should always exceed your grasp? When you fail to get what you’re aiming at, you’ll still get something close to what you want. If the aim was acceptance but I wound up with tolerance, that’s okay. I’d much rather be tolerated than punched in the face. But tolerance is a long way from where we should be. And frankly, given the rhetoric we’re hearing these days, tolerance is the most some people in this country can hope for, and that’s slipping fast.
Unless you’re a sociopath or psychopath, you have empathy. It’s what makes society possible. Unfortunately, other mechanisms useful in the building of society can sabotage our use of empathy, primarily tribalism. At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, religion is a form of tribalism, one that is factionalizing this country along political and sociological lines… even though we live in a country founded on the ideal of unity from diversity.
If that isn’t reason enough for you to reconsider your actions, Christians are not called to tolerate anyone or anything, other than adversity. They are called to love. Paul puts love above all gifts, and Jesus calls us to love our enemy. And then there’s what God Himself put down in The Law about foriegners. I don’t think Donald Trump read that last bit.
It’s so clear and unambiguous, I don’t know what else to say. For all of you who want to pass anti-gay marriage or trans-gender laws because you’re genuinely concerned for the safety of loved ones, please read my previous article, Occam Wrong!
Tolerance ≠ Love
First, an object lesson. Imagine it’s your mother’s birthday. When she goes to hug and kiss you, hold her at arm’s length and tell her, “Mom, I tolerate you.” How do you think that will make her feel? Will she like it? Of course not. So why do you think non-believers (or anyone for that matter) would? Or has that even occurred to you?
Tolerance is passive. In engineering terms, tolerance expresses the operating conditions within which a part was designed to function, or the amount of stress it may take before failing.
We all have different tolerances. To heat. To sound. To cold. To hunger. To ideas. To different ways of speaking and thinking. It is only natural that we feel uncomfortable when our tolerances are tested by experiences or people outside our normal way of being or thinking. Unlike a machine part, when we are placed under stress, we can learn and grow rather than breaking. Just as physical exercise causes discomfort or pain but builds strength, intellectual and emotional discomfort, too, can build you up. Our response to this discomfort should be gratitude.
Love is active. Love is the act of making room in your heart for others. It means being kind, understanding, soothing hurts and healing wounds. It means giving up something of yourself for someone else, putting someone else first. No one ever said love was easy, or that it would always ‘feel’ good. You say you love God, then put your money where your mouth is.
Out The Abundance of the Heart, the Mouth Speaks (Luke 6:45)
Am I a judgmental person? Yes. And guess what? We’re supposed to be [1 John 4]. Without judgement, there can be no justice, no way to tell right from wrong, good from evil.
Let me clarify. I try not to judge based on a person’s outside… unless it is in the middle of the night and I’m out alone in the city. Neither do I look for someone to judge.
But if someone spouts lies1, hate, intolerant, selfish, fear, or irrational drivel [Isaiah 5:20], you bet I’m going to judge–their words [James 3] and their actions, and judge harshly. Of course, judge yourself first [Matthew 7: 1-5]. Always remember that both sweet and bitter water can not come from the same source [James 3:11]. If you support someone who claims to follow God, yet ignore all his bitter words, you do so not only at your own peril, but those at whom the hatred and intolerance is aimed. The people you’re supposed to be loving.
I am not big on name calling, my preference is to go after bad ideas, but if other people call you names, there may be very good reasons for it. Take a minute, or a week, or a month, for some deep personal introspection. Or better yet, ask them why. Don’t just listen. Hear. People’s natural reaction to love is not hate. I don’t deny that there are people who are prejudiced against any person of faith, but don’t return evil for evil [Romans 12:21].
Hate Is Not A Christian Value
There is nothing inherently wrong with feelings. Whether it is fear when being approached by an unfamiliar person, or attraction, or hunger, or sadness, or warmth, or confusion, or joy.
But hate isn’t a feeling. Like love, it’s active.
But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire [Matthew 5:22].
Do you think Jesus said this for no reason? That he had something against name calling? He didn’t. The point is that murder starts in the heart. Murder is the ultimate and literal act of dehumanization, of turning a person into a thing. Jesus is pointing out that name calling, categorizing, or objectifying someone is an act of violence. We can see that violence reflected in the current public discourse, and no side is innocent.It has escalated to physical violence, and who knows where it’ll end.
Of course you are not responsible for other people’s choices. But you can do your part. Put out the smouldering embers of hatred in your heart so that you don’t inflame hatred in others. Stop intollerant rhetoric. Stand against it, regardless of whose mouths it comes out of. The only side you should be on is the side of love.
Loving people, especially those who are fundamentally unlovable, can be very, very hard. And that’s okay. You may not be meant to be dealing with others on that level. But the least you can do is not hate.
I must point out the difference between attacking someone’s ideas, and attacking the person. It is a mistake to conflate the one with the other. I know it sucks when someone tells you that your faith is based on bullshit, how can that not feel like a personal attack? But it isn’t. Jesus not only told you to expect it, but to be happy for it. So suck it up. If you can’t meet reason with reason, then don’t engage in the debate.
A last thing to consider is that while you may justify your actions with scripture, as many groups do, it does not mean that they are justified, and the name racist or bigot may be well earned. On the other hand, acts of love never have to be justified2 and are even praised by non-believers.
Yours Is Not the Only Perspective
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some [1 Corinthians 9:19-22].
If you go to China and you don’t speak Chinese, would you blame the Chinese for not understanding you? Of course not. So why is it so many Christians think that they don’t have to learn how to communicate with non Christians? Just because we speak a common language doesn’t mean we all have a common experience to frame that language. Like an ill-prepared traveler, if you have not made an effort empathize and understand others, and wind up at odds with them, you have failed.
Do not be like Mike Huckabee. In his 2012 interview on the Daily Show, Jon flat asks him, “But do you get, at some level, where my dissatisfaction is coming from?” Huckabee’s response was:
No. I never will understand your dissatisfaction, Jon.
This should be shocking to you, or at least disturbing. It demonstrates such a complete failure of both empathy and intellect that it’s obvious to absolutely everyone. This reflects badly on all Christians, and on God. Like it or not, when you take on the name of Christ, you are his representative in this world, doubly so when you are a church leader. Mike Huckabee, if this is what you are preaching, you are leading your people into darkness. I would say shame on you, but shame is an insufficiently strong term. For the sake of your own soul and that of your followers, I beg you to repent.
If you feel like people are ganging up on Christians, this is just one of the many, many, many, many (I could many all day, but why bother? You already get it or you never will) reasons why. You can either keep playing the victim card, or you can actually follow scripture and figure things out.
Remember, we were not given a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. Not the power to persecute others, not the power to control other people’s lives. But power over fear, power over hate, power to choose to act with love and rationality rather than fear and personal failings. We’ve been given the power to learn and grow and change. To become more understanding, more generous, more welcoming, more loving.
So tolerate if that is the best you can do, but if you really want to make this country and world a better place, learn to love.
*Sam Harris, I hope you can forgive me for cribbing the title of your book for an article so flagarantly religious.
This is yet another thing which I can not believe I have to remind people of, but clearly I do. Lying is not acceptable. Regardless of what form it takes. Do not try to justify a lie by finding some kind of loophole or some tiny data point to support it. Deep down, you know it is a lie. There is no political party innocent of lying, and we’ve gotten far too permissive. Did Jesus lie? Does God lie? Tell me, who is known for lying? Who is called the Prince of Lies? The son can only do what the father shows him. Likewise you will know those who serve evil by their lies. If you excuse their lies, aren’t you also partaking in them? Think about it.
1. Well worth the listen.
2. Except, ironically, in the case of other believers. Remember, it wasn’t the non-believers who condemned Jesus for his acts of kindness (fellowshiping with sinners), not even Pilate found fault with him.