Legal, Social, and Absolute Tolerance

Much of the day yesterday I contemplated what I would write today, and whether I would relate today’s post in any way to the fact that it is the 9th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. There is much controversy in the news surrounding this date because of the proposed Muslim center near Ground Zero and the “pastor” in Florida threatening to burn copies of the Qur’an. As all this swirled in my head, my thoughts kept returning to something I posted back in January. Ultimately, I decided to repost that entry, with this introduction and a few edits. (The chart below is new, too).

In recent news, I read a quote from the imam who is planning the Muslim center in New York (which I unfortunately can’t find now), but it was something to the effect that Muslims, Jews, and Christians all worship the same God, that there is really no difference between us. He quoted the beatitudes of Jesus as recorded in the Bible to say, “Blessed are the  peacemakers.” Although Muslims do not accept the Bible as accurate, he was willing to quote the words of Jesus from the Bible to suit his argument. He was, in essence, espousing the doctrine of relativism.

Relativism has become a popular doctrine in our society today. According to the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, relativism is “the doctrine that no ideas or beliefs are universally true but that all are, instead, ‘relative’ — that is, their validity depends on the circumstances in which they are applied.” We are told by society that we must be tolerant of other religious beliefs. And when they say “tolerant,” those who subscribe to the doctrine of relativism mean we must agree that the religious beliefs of others who believe differently than we do are equally true.

I am not one of those who subscribes to the doctrine of relativism. If two beliefs are directly contradictory, then they cannot both be true. If I believe a marble is white through and through, and you believe it is green through and through, only one of us can be right. If I believe the soul of a person lives one life here on earth, and then continues to exist in eternity either in Heaven (in the presence of God) or in Hell (without God); and you believe that the soul of a person is reincarnated into multiple new persons over many centuries until it finally reaches perfection; then we can’t both be right. I am willing to admit that I might be the one who is wrong, but I refuse to believe we can both be right.

In the case of Muslims and Christians, our beliefs are very different and contradictory. Although there are some things both believe, here is a comparison of what I see as the most striking and important differences between the two.

Christianity Islam
Jesus is God incarnate, called Immanuel (God with us) Jesus was just a prophet
Jesus died on the cross for our sins Jesus did not die on the cross
Jesus was resurrected on the third day Jesus was not resurrected
All who believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus are saved and go to Heaven when they die If a person serves God and obeys His will they will be saved and taken to live in Paradise forever
Believers are saved by grace and God receives all the glory for salvation Believers are saved by their deeds and good works and man receives the glory for salvation
The Bible is God’s Holy Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, through a diverse group of authors over thousands of years The Bible has been corrupted, and the Qur’an, given to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel, is God’s Holy Word

Islam is a very legalistic religion in which one earns their way to Paradise by observing the five pillars of Islam and being a good person. Christianity is a religion of unmerited grace and mercy based on a relationship with Jesus Christ. (There are, unfortunately, some Christian denominations that have lost sight of the grace of the Gospel and become almost as legalistic as Islam, but they do not represent the true core of the Christian belief that Christ died to pay our debt.)

It is illogical to me to say that both of these beliefs are right because they are directly contradictory. I am a Christian and believe in the basic tenets of Christianity, as set forth in the Apostles’ Creed. I have studied the Bible and had life experiences that have led me to this belief. I have also studied other world religions, though I have not read all of their holy books, but believe that I have found a true and lasting relationship with my Creator in Jesus Christ. I could be wrong. Maybe, just maybe, the Muslims (or the Buddhists, or the Hindus) have it right. I don’t think they do, because if they do then I, along with all of humanity, am doomed as “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. But unless we are honest about the differences between our beliefs, and are willing to explore those beliefs, how will we ever be sure? In the search for Truth, I find the doctrine of relativism neither rational nor helpful. It negates the need to fully understand and explore one’s own beliefs because it doesn’t matter if they are really the Truth; it is enough that my beliefs are true for me.

I also don’t believe one must be a relativist to be tolerant. I once read an interesting take on tolerance that I will try to summarize here. According to the author, there are three levels of tolerance:

1. Legal tolerance is the idea that every person has a legal right to believe whatever they choose and to not be discriminated against because of what they believe.

2. Social tolerance is the idea that one is morally obligated in a free society to treat others with respect and dignity regardless of their beliefs.

3. Absolute tolerance is relativism and is the idea that to be tolerant I must agree that whatever anyone believes is equally as true as what I believe, or at least that it is true for them.

I wholeheartedly subscribe to the idea of legal tolerance and believe it is the foundation of our great nation. I also completely agree that social tolerance is absolutely essential in any civil society and strive to put it into practice in my daily life. But absolute tolerance goes beyond what I can agree with. It is not necessary or helpful for a free, civil society to insist upon absolute tolerance. I also believe that absolute tolerance negates social tolerance, because to say that what I believe to be the Truth is not really the Truth, but only one of many truths, does not treat me with respect or dignity, whether I am Christian, Muslim, or something else.

You may agree with what I have stated in this blog as my beliefs, or you may disagree and believe something different. I will always uphold your legal right to believe as you choose and treat you with respect and dignity as a person regardless of whether we agree. I can gladly agree to disagree. But if what you believe directly contradicts what I believe about the nature of God and the means of salvation, please don’t ask me to accept that we are both right.

I am a Jesus Freak, and I don't care who knows it. I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and friend. My blood family is only part of the larger family of Christ that I belong to. I love to write, especially about my dear Savior.


11 Responses

    • JD, Thanks! God has given each of us different gifts to share His love and grace. Yours is clearly poetry, my is logical analysis and prose. In both He is glorified. Peace, Linda

  1. i think this answer the question that i have on my mind ever since. i am a baby Christian (see, even the term sounds inappropriate)and i have been respectful of each other’s belief. respectful — meaning that i don’t believe in religion but on one’s good thoughts and actions. while reading, i thought, ‘so this is who i am. a relativist, not a Christian’. in the end, i can say that i don’t practice Absolute tolerance because i believe that we can only be saved through the acceptance of Jesus Christ. if my declaration is conflicting and sounds confusing, maybe it is. admittedly i have so much to know and learn. and i am trying to grow that i may not attach that ‘baby’ label anymore. for all that have been said, what i really mean is’HELP’

    • bendedsppon, Thanks for the comment. We are all at different places in our journey with and understanding of God. It took me a long time to get to where I am now in my faith and my absolute trust in Jesus. It took reading the Bible, reading about other religions and about Christianity. As you may have guessed from my comments on your blog (which I love, by the way), I have been greatly influenced in my thinking by reading C.S. Lewis. God gave us all a brain and I think we have to use it to help understand Him, though we must also seek Him with our heart. There are still times, however, that I am confused about things and don’t understand our world. Some things I don’t ever want to truly understand, like hatred. But love I understand, and the love of God shown to us through Jesus life, death, and resurrection is the greatest thing of all. If you have specific questions about Christianity, I’d be happy to try to answer them. I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I can give you my perspective and how I arrived at it. 🙂 Peace, Linda

      • thank you Linda for this one!
        so good to know someone
        who has a deep knowledge
        and understanding
        of the things i have yet to understand.

  2. Linda . . .I thought this was great. I love how you think and reason, and this makes very good sense to me, in a way that respects others. God bless you! Thank you for doing something relevant to the day. And may He be with you as you answer any and all comments that may come. In Jesus name . . .deb

  3. I’m sure you know that a decent portion of the Bible, as well as the words of Jesus, are part of the Koran. As to the differences, there aren’t nearly as many compared to the differences between Christianity and Judaism.

    • K, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I am aware that there are similarities and differences both between Islam and Christianity and between Judaism and Christianity. That was my point, that a person should not negate the differences but look at them honestly in coming to a personal conclusion as to what is the Truth. The differences are significant and important to consider. They have, I believe, eternal consequences. But in considering the differences, we should all treat each other with respect. Peace, Linda

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