Tag Archive: tolerance

“…for this reason I have been born, and for this reason I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” – Jesus, John 18:37cthe-truth-shall-make-you-free-1201069

“Follow truth, wherever it may lead.” – Thomas Jefferson (attrib.)

To establish the foundations of a reasonable trust in Christianity, we will start at the bottom of the study structure I outlined in my last post, and begin by talking about the nature and existence of truth. Although when in conversation with someone about the rationality of our beliefs it will not usually be required that you justify your understanding of truth, at times it will come up, and having thought through your foundational beliefs will serve you well in your defense. No Christian should fear fully investigating and seeking out truth, since, as Augustine puts it, “let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master.” Establishing and understanding the existence and definition of truth is also needed for following arguments to build upon.

Correspondence Theory of Truth

So what is truth? According to the correspondence theory of truth, it is an accurate description of reality; a proposition is true if and only if it corresponds to the way things actually are. This is really quite intuitive. “Jonathan Wood owns a cherry red Ferrari” is true if and only if I actually own a cherry red Ferrari (I don’t, more’s the pity). This theory seeks to explain the conditions under which a proposition would be true, not how or if we can know the truth value of that proposition. “There is a hot pink golf ball on the planet Pluto” has a truth value of true or false, even if it is impossible for anyone to know that truth value.[1]

This illustrates the meaning and difference between two important philosophical terms pertaining to truth and knowledge which we will come back to frequently. Ontology relates to existence or being, while epistemology relates to how we attain and justify knowledge. These are important to understand as different, as it is not uncommon to mistakenly think that because one may not know the truth value of a particular sentence, it therefore has no truth value.

Attacks on Truth – Tolerance and Pluralism

The modern usage of “tolerance” is nearly useless; it is used now to mean that one should not indicate that another person is wrong about their beliefs.  If a moral or philosophical rule cannot meet its own standards, there is a problem. This new definition of tolerance self-destructs if applied to itself: questioning if this is itself a correct belief, or if a person who rejects this kind of tolerance should be tolerated.  No, tolerance only applies when there is a disagreement: disagreement is required.  Without a disagreement, there is nothing to tolerate.  Therefore, a proper view of tolerance should be applied to people, not ideas.  People are tolerated when they disagree with others, but no idea is so sacrosanct that it should be immune from evaluation and critique.

Concerning “religious pluralism,” if in using this concept one refers to the right to choose one’s religion without coercion, this is a good thing.  However, in today’s culture, the term has come to mean much the same as “tolerance” in that one ought not make exclusive truth claims about religious beliefs.  It fails in the same way that the redefinition of “tolerance” fails: it decries exclusivism in religious beliefs, but is itself an exclusive belief about religion, namely that only inclusive religious beliefs are acceptable.

Moreover, it should be clear that even if one is to accept this view of religious tolerance and pluralism, it cannot survive more than the most superficial and patronizing treatment of religious beliefs.  One does not have to look far to see that almost all the most important core beliefs of the world religions are in conflict with most other religions’ views.  As examples, regarding the concept of God, is God personal, impersonal, monotheistic, polytheistic, dualistic?  Is mankind part of creation but different in kind, an evolved ape, an illusion along with the rest of “reality”?  What about afterlife, does man cease to exist on death, go to heaven or hell, merge with the impersonal spirit force, or reincarnate?[2]  All of these views could be wrong, but they cannot all be right.  We must investigate the truth of which, if any, of the world’s religious views (including atheism) is correct.

Next time, we’ll investigate the question, What is knowledge?

Comments, questions? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

[1] Cowan, Steven B., and James S. Spiegel.  The Love of Wisdom. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 36.

[2] Dean C. Halverson, ed., The Compact Guide to World Religions (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996), 15.

Amy Hall, of Stand to Reason, reports in her article “Cal State Universities Derecognize InterVarsity Clubs,”

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s requirement that leaders in their campus clubs be Christian has been declared unacceptable discrimination by the Cal State University system. The clubs were told they must cease enforcing their requirement that leaders hold Christian beliefs. InterVarsity declined, and after a one-year exemption period, the 23 university campuses in the Cal State system “derecognized” InterVarsity. This means the clubs no longer have free access to campus meeting rooms, nor can they receive student activity money, participate in student fairs, or use the university name in the name of their clubs.

Reread that first sentence: Intervarsity, a Christian campus ministry, is being derecognized by the Cal State University system because they won’t consider leadership applications from those who are not Christians.  This is deemed unacceptable discrimination.

Hall continues,

It seems obvious to me that a Christian club choosing Christian leaders is legitimate religious discrimination. It should seem equally obvious that kicking out any Christian group that doesn’t conform to the administration’s ideas of the right kind of theology is illegitimate religious discrimination, and yet there we are.

I suppose it’s possible that this ridiculous situation is merely the result of a bureaucratic inability to make a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate discrimination rather than a targeted strategy to remove religious groups from campuses. But if that were the case, wouldn’t they also “derecognize” every fraternity and sorority on campus? After all, those clubs discriminate on the basis of gender, something clearly frowned upon in the university, so if no distinction can be made between legitimate and illegitimate discrimination, that should be it for the Greek system. But surprise, surprise, fraternities and sororities are exempted from this new non-discrimination policy, making this situation look less like a poorly reasoned principled decision and more like an excuse to excise “the wrong kind” of religious groups.

(See the rest of this article at the STR blog here: http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2014/09/cal-state-universities-derecognize-intervarsity-clubs.html)

So how does one distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate discrimination? Or is discrimination always wrong?

Merriam-Webster defines discrimination in these ways:

: the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people

: the ability to recognize the difference between things that are of good quality and those that are not

: the ability to understand that one thing is different from another thing

By these definitions, clearly the first describes a morally negative condition, but the other two are not. Most often, when people use the word discrimination, they are using it in the sense of the first definition, and they forget the other definitions.  But I’m not just playing a word game here; even if we aren’t using the word as defined by the second or third definition, we still know and live by the concepts in a common-sense way. Let me give some examples of what I consider to be appropriate discrimination (and you probably will too).

When I committed myself to my wife in marriage, I began discriminating against every other person in the world by promising exclusive faithfulness to her.

If some life-threatening disaster occurred in which my family amid a larger group could be saved, yet I could only save a small group, I would discriminate in favor of my family.

If a Hollywood production decided to make a movie depicting the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., the casting crew would racially discriminate in favor of a black man to play the role of Dr. King.

Sororities and fraternities engage in appropriate discrimination when they disallow membership based on gender.

Religious clubs and other organizations discriminate in favor of members of the same religion when appointing leaders within that organization.

Of course, I saved for last the one that is the point of the discussion at hand. Is Intervarsity guilty of discrimination in their leadership appointment? Absolutely. Is it discrimination in which a group is unfairly treated differently than another group? Absolutely not. If Intervarsity dismissed from consideration for leadership in the student club applications based on gender, or body features (eye color, hair color, etc.), or ethnicity, then there would be grounds for a complaint of illicit discrimination. But of course that’s not what is happening here, is it? This student club, whose reason for existence is based on Christian beliefs and dedicated to the spread of the same, is being required to give equal weight in deciding the leadership to atheists, agnostics, muslims, hindus, whatever. If this was, say, a chess club, then that would make sense. Yet to assign in leadership of a religious club someone who may be completely opposed to that religion is to undermine the goals, effectiveness, and perhaps even the existence of the club itself.

I suppose it will be too much to expect consistency across the board with this ruling. We already see that sororities and fraternities have received an exemption from this anti-discrimination ruling, and appropriately so.

From the comments of Hall’s article mentioned above, “Tc” makes what I believe is an accurate observation:

I wonder.

Would the same rules apply to other groups?

Would Muslim groups be told that adhering to Islamic beliefs unacceptable?

Would a democrat group be told that it must allow itself to be open to republican leaders?

Would Holocaust deniers be able to appeal not bring selected a leadership position in a Jewish group?

Would feminist groups be required to accept male leadership who may have anti feminist ideas?

Would atheist groups be required to accept Young Earth Creationists as leaders?

Sadly, the answer is likely no.

Avoid Word Abuse!

The Faith of an Awesomely Tolerant Gentleman

Read again the phrase above. Do you feel confident that you even know what it likely means? I wish to submit a mild rant/lament/observation about the abuse of and change in use of words in the English language, as exemplified by this phrase.

As generations rise and fade into the next, new words are added into the lexicon of the language, and others fade from common use and knowledge. Others are redefined entirely. Since information and knowledge are best communicated over time through the written word, accuracy in word choices helps ensure that the author’s meaning can be known (postmodern language deconstructionists notwithstanding). So when words are redefined to a non-constructive purpose, they often lose their usefulness as meaning-carriers, and then must be scrutinized for what is really meant. Don’t get me wrong, context and authorial intent should always be important to charitable and honest individuals seeking to know the intended information being communicated by some writer; this is especially true the further removed in time a document is from the reader. Still, I feel a sense of loss when words change meaning with no enrichment to the language as a whole.

Using the first phrase above as an example, and taking the main words in reverse order, I’d like to explain further what I mean.2014-09-22 09.41.42

C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity describes the re-defining of the word “gentleman,” and indeed was the one who originally got me thinking along these lines:

The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone “a gentleman” you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not “a gentleman” you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said – so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully – “Ah but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?” They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man “a gentleman” in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is “a gentleman” becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to that object. (A ‘nice’ meal only means a meal the speaker likes.) A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.

Consider also the word tolerant. Defined by dictionary.com as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own,” this seems quite at odds with the way it is most often used today. More often it is used as if it meant if you have an opinion, practice, race, religion, nationality, etc. that differs with someone else’s, you must not say or imply that they are wrong. You must “accept” their views (another misused and abused word, there), and if you don’t, it is immoral and unloving for you to express that. Oddly, this turns out to be a usage of the word (I’m referring to tolerance again now) that is exactly the opposite of its original meaning. Besides, those who use tolerance in this way are not being tolerant, under this new definition, of those they disagree with. No, tolerance is not about agreement, it is fundamentally about disagreement and how one is to treat those with whom he disagrees. Without a disagreement, there can be no tolerance, and no need for it.

In my use of the word awesomely, I am referring to the overuse of superlatives. These are words such as excellent, magnificent, wonderful, marvelous, outstanding, etc; all are useful words with specific meanings. But can you (or even I) define these words distinctly from each other without using a dictionary? As with gentleman above, they all seem to be used anymore to express that “I like this.” Similarly, negatives are often used in this way, such as starvingdying (“I’m dying of heat!” “But it’s only 80 degrees”), addicted (as, “addicted to chocolate”) and hate (as in “I hate gassing up my car”). It seems to me that the overuse of superlatives and other such strong language is to give extra emotional weight to the words of the speaker to his audience. The trouble is, if we use the word awesome to describe our positive feelings about a sandwich we just ate, and then use the same word to describe God, it has made the concept rather tepid, has it not? And if we in one breath say “I hate gassing up my car” and in the next say something like “God hates sin,” we reduce the impact of the concept of hate, and make it something like an arbitrary taste or preference. As for words like starving, dying, and addicted, cavalier use of these words make light of those people who are facing actual starvation, addiction, and death.

Finally, the poor word faith. If any word needs to be taken in to an abuse shelter, this one certainly should have a place there too. Biblically, this word means something like “a reasoned trust” or “believing in what you can’t see based on the evidence of what you do see.” Unhappily, it seems that when people use the word faith now, all to often (even in the church) it has extra implied and unspoken words along with it, such as “leap of…” and “blind…,” and this causes a great deal of confusion about what true biblical faith really amounts to. It is for that reason that I agree with Greg Koukl that it may be time for Christians to jettison the word faith when speaking of the biblical concept, and instead use the idea of earned trust, as this word more accurately carries the meaning originally intended.

In what way can we reliably communicate with others the specific meaning of the information in our heads? The written or spoken word is the first, best, and most accurate tool we have available.  If we water down all our language so that words have no clear meaning, or worse, may be used equivocally to mean one meaning and its opposite, we have done violence to our ability to convey meaningful propositions and interpret the written or spoken words of others.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours? What other words have you come across that have been abused like these?

Flag of the United States (upside down)

From the article at the end, all of these happened in 2013:

  1. Florida Ministry Told To Choose Between Jesus And Helping The Poor
  2. Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: Obama’s IRS Was “Targeting and Attempting to Intimidate Us:”
  3. California Christians Found “Not Guilty” of Reading Bible Near Government Offices
  4. Colorado Baker Faces Year In Jail For Refusing To Make Cake For Gay Wedding
  5. Airforce Veteran Faces A Court Martial For Opposing Gay Marriage
  6.  Government Forces Churches To Get Permits For Baptisms
  7.  Florida Professor Demands Student Stomp On Jesus


coexistI recently had a friend express to me the hurt he felt that his Christian family did not accept his alternate religious beliefs.   He then went on to explain that his own religious views did not require everyone else to abandon their views in favor of his.  His consternation at the closed-mindedness of Christian proselytizing was clear.  The pain and distress experienced by my friend was real and evident, and I expressed my sincere sympathy with what they were going through.

So why can’t we all just get along?  I’m sure you’ve seen the “Coexist” bumper sticker before (see the image above): each of the letters are formed to represent a religious or other ideological view.  The implication is that these ideologies have not been doing a good job of peacefully coexisting, and that world would be better if we all just got along.  Is that a fair interpretation of the message being communicated here?  Isn’t this also the message expressed by my friend?

Still, though, the application of this is pretty unclear, isn’t it?  The devil’s in the details, as they say.  We can cry for peace all we wish, but it cannot be achieved through declaration or emotion alone.  There are two problematic assumptions I see with the “coexist” approach.  1. All paths are presumed to lead equally to God, and/or 2. Religion is considered a placebo.  But both of these assumptions are really condescending towards anyone who takes religion seriously, aren’t they?

Concerning “all paths lead equally to God,” most religions differ with every other religion (and I include atheism in this) over the big questions of life.  What happens to our consciousness upon death: reincarnation, absorption into the great spirit, heaven or hell, extinction?  What is the significance of mankind: God’s special creation, insignificant happenstance of evolution, insignificance of illusory existence? Who was Jesus: a deceiver, a lunatic, the son of God?  All religions could be false, but under no circumstances can they all be True (with a capital “T”).

In regards to religion as a placebo, I mean that it is an atheistic view which presumes from the outset that all other religious views are false, but that it has some positive psychological benefit for the believer, so it is OK for a person to believe.  At least, it is so long as they don’t take it so seriously that it starts to affect other people in any way.

In either of these cases, religion is reduced to an ice-cream parlor in which you choose your favorite flavor, mixing and matching components as it suits you, to pick what appeals to you, and in which it would be ridiculous for someone else to say your preference is wrong.  But is religion simply a matter of opinion, like ice cream flavors, or are does religion refer to absolute truths which are independent of our likes and preferences?  The only good reason to hold a religious (or any other) view is because it is objectively true, and accurately reflects reality, isn’t it?  This makes it rather important to thoroughly investigate and compare coherence, consistency, and completeness of the core claims of any religion being considered, and see if they accurately explain the world we in which we live.

At any rate, this view of religious tolerance self-destructs.  Reflecting back on the conversation with my friend, I wish I had asked him why, if trying to change others’ religious views was such a great moral crime, he was trying to change his Christian family and my religious views?  After all, Christianity is a missionary religion, and respectful persuasion is part of our core beliefs.