29 July 2013

Coexist: Religious Tolerance or Religious Pluralism?

More and more often, I see these coexist bumper stickers. Surely, you have seen them as well. They feature religious symbols ordered in such a way that they spell out "coexist". In case you are wondering, the letters represent Islam, Peace, Male/Female, Judaism, Wicca, Taoism/Confucianism, and Christianity.

On the one hand, the concept of co-existence is admirable. We live in a society where religious tolerance is increasingly under attack. Recent decisions--especially in the judicial and executive branches of the federal government--negatively affect religious freedom. A few days ago, I shared some thoughts from Francis Schaeffer about the purposes of First Amendment. One of these stated purposes is government is not to impede upon the free practice of religion. We should be in the habit of openly advocating for the free practice of religion in the United States. Of all places, the United States should be a safe haven for individuals to practice their religion, even if we happen to believe they are wrong (and vice versa).

On the other hand, I am not sure that is the intent of these bumper stickers, at least not the full intent. I suspect that the intent is to suggest that there is no such thing as an exclusive truth claim when it comes to God. In a relativistic, pluralistic society, whatever you hold to be true is true. What you believe is true for you and what I believe is true for me. We are expected not only to tolerate and respect the other person, but the other person's ideas as well, because for them, whatever they believe is truth.

But here's the rub--truth is not relative. Truth, objective truth, is what best explains reality as we know it. There are many different systems of thought, most don't fit with what we know about the universe. One does. In this regard, truth is exclusive and the idea promoted by these bumper stickers is patently false. We may both have ideas about what offers the best explanation, but either we are both wrong or only one of us is right. We cannot both be correct and hold opposing viewpoints.

Furthermore, individuals who put these bumper stickers on their cars are often champions of "tolerance" and peace, but what they fail to realize is how offensive these bumper stickers are to individuals of faith within certain traditions. For example, orthodox Christians hold strongly to the notion that Jesus is the Messiah and is the only way of salvation. Orthodox Jews hold strongly that Jesus was not the Messiah and therefore cannot be the way of salvation.

Rather than encouraging a culture of cheap and ineffective acceptance of all ideas as equally valid, why not encourage a respectful culture where every person can advocate for their ideas and face counterarguments? In this type of culture, people would be respected even if their ideas were not. We must return to a culture where we fight to know objective truth because in a society where everything is allowed as truth, it ends up that there is nothing is worth fighting for.

For more reading:
The Intolerance of Tolerance by DA Carson
Is Jesus the Only Way Stand to Reason

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