If you go on Facebook, watch TV news, and if you regularly keep up with daily events, I am sure you have either been disgusted by and/or paid little attention to the regular reports of religious bigotry of many stripes. Religious intolerance thrives on insisting one particular way, usually their way, is the only right way.
For those of us raised in one particular tradition, we imbibe with our mother’s milk what is right and proper, and that includes our moral standards and religious traditions. Those who are raised without traditional religious ethics receive their standards from neighborhoods, friends, schools, etc. It simply happens as we are socialized. We change or modify these understandings as we increase contact with alternate, modified, and/or expanded understandings. We all drink from similar wells of conduct and understandings. The wells, however, do not all have the same mix, and can poison as well as heal.
Our human nature wants us to be affirmed and supported in our values. One result of this is the insistence that we have the best, or, often, the only valid understanding. It is not human nature to grant other views as equal or as valid as our own understandings. We have to work to cede the possibility that another view may be valid. What a surprise.
RELIGIOUS FUELED CIVIC INTOLERANCE
Here is an example of how American values (the right way only) have been seriously challenged. Plural expressions of “right way only” come to mind. They may be simply presented as best ways, or more often as only ways. This is most common with ways to live (governance) and how we live out our religious beliefs. One example is to insist the way to order that national government which will deliver maximum benefits for the citizens is the American way. Americans believe, but have not fully lived out in present day America their belief, that the best way is the American way. We Americans are raised to know this is true. So we want it for everyone. When examples of failure are cited in implementing the American Way, the failing is laid off on with such platitudes as 1)they do not have the right institutions 2)values 3)opportunities, and so on. It is always their fault it failed. No possibility our belief in our way might be flawed. Remember, our Democratic Republic as developed in the USA was not around in significant ways prior to the “Great American Experience” in our national formation. When one person asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government had been fashioned, he answered “A Republic, Madam,if you can keep it.” We almost didn’t in 1861.
More common, and far more hurtful and dangerous are demands that “my way is the only way” to rightfully practice religion (or understand faith). The easiest way to understand their actions are found in the practices and demands of IS. This radical Sunni Islamic group openly states they expect their Caliphate to extend everywhere. Execution of those not subscribing to all their views is commonly documented, including fellow Sunni practitioners who hold less radical understandings. A different radical Islamic group stated that they wish every Muslim, especially coming to America, will extend the warfare (Jihad) practiced by IS to the streets and cities in the USA with every force of being they have.
I believe this is the starkest demonstration of religious and civic prejudice and intolerance today. Less powerful are Churches and believers acting equally in violence and intolerance. There are expectations of some religious groups in America which are simply intolerant. Consider how some Protestant, Evangelical, or fundamentalist Christians, for example, speak about, or demean Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and liturgical denominations.
The older liturgical churches, the historic Churches have members who return the intolerance. Very often, a member of either group will include fellow believers who are not in the correct group, and thus are consigned to hell.
Catholics, Orthodox, and some liturgical believers generally, though, have a different approach in dealing with the new churches. They simply ignore individuals that are in these Christian bodies. If questioned about their salvation, these Christians are not sure that those separated individual Christians are saved, and have doubts that they might get into heaven. Since, in their view, there are so few of them (compared to historic churches), they dismiss their understandings as odd and untrustworthy.
A view I have held for some time seems difficult for many others to embrace. I believe God honors all who are serious in believing in Him. Historically, every existing denomination has broadened its original understandings. Those responsible for offering the changes say they are simply determining what was originally intended. The original text which often can offer various interpretations. Church members have no choice except receive their denominational decisions as right ones. Usually expanded explanations do not lead to members leaving their church for a different one, but over time many disagree and leave.
Over the centuries, of course, such defections have produced an uncountable multitude of church groups. Much fewer in total adherents than the traditional Churches’ membership, these new church groups vastly outnumber the traditional historic churches. As with the old traditional churches, these new denominational churches also are fiercely loyal to their theologies. Except those, of course, who decide to start a purer church and leave . While God may shake his head over this situation, He also, I believe, accepts everyone who professes Jesus as Lord and believes God raised him from the dead, as Paul says in Romans.
I leave for another time about what can break this bond. Belief leads to works. We cannot separate the two. This Romans passage seems to be the simplest statement of what makes a Christian. It is a core principle. Every new Christian is expected to progress in living out his new faith, as are all Christians. A Christian who converts to Islam is required to deny God raised Jesus from the dead. Let’s work on first recognizing God’s love for each believer. One caution – to live out one’s faith, we must not get trapped on any single truth such as love. God’s truth is vast and ordained. Fortunately, God has given us an instruction manual, The Holy Bible. In order to move from baby food to adult fare, we need to recognize there are theological and practical divisions over beliefs. We can argue about details later.