Religious Tolerance & The Truth

In reading Beyond Opinion, I found the chapter by I’Ching Thomas to be quite insightful regarding the state of religious tolerance in the world and our need to be equipped with the truth.  I’Ching grew up in Malaysia in a Buddhist family, but she is now a leading Christian apologist in Singapore.  These are some of the remarks she makes in her chapter entitled Cross-Cultural Challenges:

“Having grown up in an ethnically and religiously diverse society like Malaysia, Kaye is used to living besides neighbors who have very different ideas about performing their religious duties.  Besides, for as long as she could remember, she has always been told that she should be tolerant of other people’s beliefs, as everyone has the right to practice religion in his or her own way.  Furthermore, she believes that all religions have similar teachings on how to be an ethical person and everyone has the right to choose what works for him or her, and this is usually predetermined according to a person’s ethnicity…Though Kaye was clearly persuaded by the credibility and the truth of the gospel, she saw no compelling reason to embrace Christianity since the most important thing [in her mind] is not which religion one espouses but that one lives a morally upright life.  She feels that as long as she is sincere about her beliefs, there is no need to convert to another religion, as every culture and ethnicity has its prescribed religion” (pp 219-220).

Thomas’ story about her encounter with Kaye resonates within me as I have heard similar things from the mouths of people who grew up in a “western” culture as well.  empty headWhile I agree with “religious tolerance” as it is defined by respecting other people’s faiths, I do not agree with the popular redefining of the term to mean a complete suspension of all evaluation and judgment regarding a person’s religion.  The politically correct version calls upon us to stop thinking and become religiously intolerant to anyone who dares to evaluate truth claims in arguably the most important area of a person’s life.  Thomas links this “call for religious stupidity” (my term, not hers) to the push for inappropriate religious pluralism:

“[The] phrase religious pluralism is also used to refer to the view that truth about God and salvation can be attained through any of the varied world religions.  It is alleged that all religions are equal with regard to truth and soteriological effectiveness (“all road to God lead to salvation”)… It is obvious that this…poses a challenge for us Christians who believe that it is only through Jesus, the Son of God, that we can be redeemed and attain salvation.  It is not uncommon that we are accused of being arrogant and wrong because who hold to such a particularistic view of truth and, further, are regarded as intolerant within this understanding of pluralism…pluralists assume that this evaluation of other belief systems is really no more than the conclusion of the Christians’ subjective and limited perspective… Consequently, we are exhorted to cease from making any claims to objective truth and to be tolerant and accepting of all traditions and their belief systems…In fact, discussions that are seen as attempts to proselytize are considered inappropriate, and are even illegal in some contexts” (p 221).

When faced with these attitudes what do we do?  I have found that allowing ourselves to be shamed into quietness and conformity is not the answer.  This is especially true when a person takes a step back to realize that every worldview concerning religion is intolerant and exclusive.  The very charge that Christians should “be tolerant” by those who hold to religious pluralism is hypocritical because they are being intolerant to the Christian worldview.  I’Ching Thomas emphasizes this with these provoking words:

“It is simply impossible for any educated person not to make at least some implicit value judgments about religion in general as well as religious traditions in particular.  Besides, a person who claims indifference and who subscribes to an ambivalent view of religion cannot avoid making at least some implicit value judgments about religious beliefs.  For in making such a claim to indifference, he implicitly accepts at least one value judgment – namely, that participation in religious traditions is not worthy of one’s commitment… The issue is no longer whether we should make judgments about other religions, but rather, on what grounds we should do so” (p 222).

The grounds that we evaluate religious an irreligious faith traditions must be one that transcends personal experience and culture, but on truth.  It is on these grounds that the Christian faith has prevailed under scrutiny throughout history.  It has truth claims that call for more than just intellectual satisfaction but morally demand action.  Again, here are some of Thomas’ excellent thoughts:

“[When] we assert that the Christian message is true, it is not true because it works.  Rather, the reason it works is because it is true. Truth is true even if no one believes it, and falsehood is false even if everyone believes it.  The truth of a belief or claim is not dependent on its popularity or on the believer’s culture, sincerity, or preference.  Something is true only if it corresponds with reality.  Thus, if we claim that the central beliefs of Christianity are indeed true, then we have a moral obligation to share this good news with others, regardless of their culture or tradition.  We are to boldly but sensitively challenge our friends from other religious traditions and worldviews to seriously examine their beliefs against the truth claims of Christianity…

The truth value of the gospel is both personal and universal.  It is universal in that it is objectively true for all people, regardless of where they are located.  Fundamentally, the Christian faith is grounded in the fact that the Creator of the heavens and earth has revealed truth about himself and humankind.  Moreover, this truth, which is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ, needs to be both believed and acted upon if human beings are to be restored to a proper relationship with God.  The universality of the Christian gospel lies in the fact that all humankind, irrespective of ethnicity, culture, or religion, are sinners.  All are in need of redemption by God’s grace.  And God desires the salvation of  all through a particular person, Jesus Christ, the absolutely unique incarnation of God, who took upon himself the sins of the world.  Therefore, the justification for such an exclusive view of God requires more than our personal experience with Jesus…

The mandate to evangelize and make disciples of all nations should always be approached with the attitude of compassion and authenticity. This requires evangelism that is undergirded with apologetics and dressed in love and humility” (pp 224-226).


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