Careful, Intolerance Ahead

intolerantWe live in a culture that thrives on disrespect. For the last decade or so, reality TV has educated us on how to kick someone off the island, drop game show contestants through a trap door, and shame wannabe stars by insulting and humiliating them on a national stage. We can easily blame Hollywood producers or talent show judges, but in reality Hollywood only gives the crowd what they crave. Lions only appear in the Coliseum because people demand lions.

All of this leads to an incredibly self-centric ethic; we are happiest when we vicariously triumph over other aspirants, albeit from the sanitized safety of our living room. We have blinders on and all we tend to see is our way, our wants, and our worldview. We think everyone would benefit if only they saw things our way.

Which brings me to how people are perceived by others when they do not share their faith, or lack thereof. For example, Christians are often criticized by non-Christians as being closed minded, bigoted, and uncharitable. If we Christians would just practice what we profess, non-Christians charge, the world would somehow be more loving, accepting, and tolerant. For some reason, they think that the God in whom they do not believe is somehow the embodiment of love, although they do not think God’s people are very loving.

Of course, it is relatively easy to find a Christian straw man to knock down and critics do not suffer from lack of opportunity. They may point a finger at the Rev. Pat Robertson who famously suggested that earthquakes in Haiti were due to Haiti’s historical link with voodoo. Or, perhaps it is misguided activists from a church in Kansas protesting at soldiers’ funerals. Mix in a few snake handlers and shoutin’ fundamentalists and you have the perfect recipe for hate mongering and caustic criticism. However, the caricature of hateful Christians is largely a statistical artifact. Yes, there are hateful Christians but there are also hateful non-Christians. But the good news is that hateful people are a minority on both sides.

What non-Christians may not realize is that they suffer from the same disease as those whom they criticize. Non-Christians want Christians to be more accepting, even affirming, of non-Christian practices. They want Christians to be OK with drinking, gambling, alternate lifestyles, and a general disregard for moral values, but non-believers are not very comfortable accepting persons of faith.

Why not ask non-Christians to be accepting of abstinence, temperance, family values, and regular church attendance? Is it more harmful to society to be a drinker or non-drinker? I’ve never seen a tragic story in the newspaper lamenting the fact that another traffic fatality was due to a sober driver. We don’t give tickets for driving under the non-influence. Abortion doesn’t save a life and gambling doesn’t bring families closer together. If we are concerned about reducing harm, perhaps we should focus on reducing harmful behavior.

But, we realize in our heart that it is not about reducing harm, it is about personal liberty. People, in general, do what they want to do and do not want others telling them they are wrong. To be “intolerant” of socially liberal ideas seems worse than being an axe murderer.

If one reverses the order, one can see that those who espouse tolerance are themselves intolerant. Non-Christians want acceptance and affirmation of their choices but are not willing to return the favor. Christians can’t pray at high school ballgames because it might “offend” one non-Christian in the audience, but when is the last time a movie theatre cancelled the showing of an R rated movie because a Christian in the audience might be offended? When have we heard for a general call for society to accept women wearing modest clothing or for rock-n-roll enthusiasts to embrace their inner gospel singer? The sick are criticizing the physician and we Christians are all too willing to accept the distorted portrayals and embrace the martyr attitude.

Christian, wake up and stand up! It may be true when non-Christians accuse Christians of letting their faith influence their actions (or at least I hope it is true). However, non-Christians are equally guilty of letting their non-faith influence their own behavior. Non-Christians have become the thing they hate the most – intolerant. Non-Christians routinely let their non-faith influence decisions on whom they hire, promote, do business with, and so on. How is this any more virtuous than the Christian whom they criticize.

Of course, the rhetorical answer is, “it isn’t.”

Greg L. Lowhorn