Our culture does preach tolerance as among the highest virtues. And yet it is intolerant of Christianity just as it lashes out at hypocrisy as the worst vice, and can be hypocritical in its own deductions based on the worldview that it assumes. But to be tolerant of something is not the same thing as believing something that is tolerated to be true. Rightly understood, the willingness to coexist with counter-perspectives is the best use of the term. Yet a person generally uses tolerance to condemn any absolute strain in a person's belief system, and while they condemn that, they obviously borrow some hierarchy of ethics of their own in order to criticize that which runs afoul of their own thinking.
The anomaly is it is logically impossible to live by the entailments of relativism. Even Bertrand Russell concluded this. He said, "Even though I don't believe in God, I have to live as though a God actually exists." Though they tell you that rationally you cannot come to an absolute, they try to smuggle in empirical data or existential data because rationally it is indefensible. So the fact is that they are living beyond their logical means, and their own logic would actually drive their philosophy into silence. For example, consider the logical consequences of Eastern mysticism's argument that reality is an illusion. There is very clearly an inability to live by the logical outworking of their own presuppositions. The Christian faith has the built-in reality that it can be constantly attacked and cannot come back with the same type of vociferous reaction. It's the same kind of principle in democracy. Democracy gives you the privilege of freedom and that freedom is sacred. As God has fashioned us, He gave us the freedoms, reminding us that if we violated the law, there would be some necessary consequences. So they take advantage of the familiarity of the situation, knowing that there will not be a counter-response as other religions are culturally protected. There is another very important thing here, and that is the 1960s decade and the writings of certain philosophers and academicians. Professor Jay Parini, a professor of English from Middlebury College, said after the Vietnam War, a lot of students didn't just crawl back into their library cubicles, but stepped into academic positions. Now they have tenure and the work of reshaping the universities has begun in earnest. Anytime someone affirms morality, it doesn't matter whether they are religiously minded or politically minded, this culture will attack them. Because if you can take away those who deny your right to interpret morality anyway you want, you are then utterly free in any sense.
What we need to realize here is that these are different religions. They are not saying the same thing. Consider the woman at the well and the woman with the alabaster ointment who came to Jesus washing His feet with her hair. I don't know if we realize what a cultural crossing of a line that was, especially since she was in the home of a Pharisee. It is interesting to me that Jesus commended her and then said wherever the gospel is preached, there shall also be told what this woman has done to me. It's a fascinating testimony to what Jesus meant by the notion of forgiveness and the acceptance of every human being as of intrinsic worth, not in any way to be vitiated by gender. So the truth of the Christian claim and the teachings of Jesus Christ are so different. Gautama Buddha left his wife on the day that his son was born, enraging his father-in-law. You see a completely different value placed on things like marriage. Marital responsibility, fidelity, commitment, the place of the individual human being regardless of gender and appearance-to think that all of these religions teach the same thing is really to be dishonest with these religions.
There is no way a Buddhist will say that his or her faith is the same thing as that of the Muslim. There is no way a Muslim will say that his or her faith is the same as that of a follower of Jesus Christ, who believes that Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead. Muslims deny the resurrection of Jesus. They deny the crucifixion of Jesus-that He actually died on the cross. So they are not saying the same thing, no more than conflicting political theories are saying the same thing at their core. The foundational vision that they have is at points of tension and some of them are points of contradictions. Religions are mutually exclusive in their core fundamental beliefs. So the question of truth reemerges. How do you measure it? It should be done with academic integrity. It should be done with the gentleness of spirit and the recognition that there are mutually exclusive truth claims here. My approach is often that each religion or worldview must consider the four questions of life on origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. The answers to these questions frame a person's worldview, and the worldview that is most coherent and consistent is one in which every assertion on these four questions correspond with reality and when those assertions are systematized, there is a coherent worldview. I believe the greatest search in the human heart today is for meaning and coherence, and the reason we are mangled in our day-to-day living is because we are mangled in belief at the core. As Chesterton said, we have become a culture with its feet firmly planted in midair. There is no grounding to the belief.
When people make such statements as, "All believers believe the same thing;" it is the ultimate disrespect of a religious worldview to say we are all saying the same thing. What if we turned to such a person and said, "Actually, you are saying the same thing that Hitler has said. There's really no difference between you, Hitler, and Nietzsche; you are all really saying the same thing." Why is it that people who hold that all-encompassing worldview do not like to be lumped in with contrary positions, but they want religions to be so watered down to say the same thing? It is a complete disrespect for the religions of the world and in the name of tolerance is intolerant of them.
Regarding the charge that Christians are judgmental, I frequently encounter that accusation in open forums. I invariably counter by saying, where does Jesus say, "Judge not lest ye be judged?" and almost no one has been able to pinpoint where he said it. What Jesus says prior is "When you abide in my word, you are my disciples, then ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." "Judge not lest ye be judged," of course, comes from the Sermon on the Mount, in the context of praying, fasting, and then He talks about judging. He says don't pray out in public in order to show off. Do not fast in order that you get the approval of men. What He is really saying is not whether you pray or whether you fast or whether you judge, but how you pray, fast, and judge. Then Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John to judge rightly and not to just stop judging, but to stop judging by appearances. God tells us in the Old Testament so clearly to walk not on the counsel of the ungodly. How do you know that unless you make your judgments? Thus Jesus is saying to remember that the same measurement by which you measure others, you also will be measured. He is warning against duplicitous judgment that holds up one standard for another and not for yourself. In fact, after that verse, He went on to say, "Why are you worried about the speck in your brother's eye when you've not dealt with the beam in your own?" So first, it is a reminder to us that we have a standard by which we are to live and that we must judge ourselves by too. Second, I've often said to students, "So you believe the New Testament when Jesus said 'Judge not lest ye be judged.' Do you then believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be and He was right in what He said?" So to use a text while denying the very context of the person and authority is again defying logic. They misread the context and ironically deny the very text that they are using to attack Christians. It is impossible to live without making judgments. What God is telling us is to judge rightly and not duplicitously.
Related to this subject is your question about how Christians can be more effective in persuading a relativist culture that their affirmation of certain biblical prescriptions, such as those against homosexual behavior, are compatible with a loving religion. How does one hate the sin and love the sinner? Well, it is a very critical issue in our times and I think it was George Will years ago who made the comment, "Any stigma can lick a good dogma." and what has happened is they stigmatize the Christian religion as intolerant and on the basis of that, they can lash out. The answer is not as elusive as the skeptic often makes it out to be. Anybody who has been a father or a mother knows the distinction between the two. You see your son or your daughter go in a path that you utterly despise. It is the wrong way. But you never ever stop loving that son or daughter. You are always there to reach out when they need you and when they come, you do not heap it upon their heads. You are there to celebrate with the fatted calf, as it were, and the robe, the return of the prodigal son. I think it is critical that we understand that the liberal who castigates the conservative and decries the possibility of loving the sinner and hating the sin is the same liberal who gets into ad hominem arguments all the time and attacks the person. I've seen it on many a debate floor. They go for the person. They attack the person when what they should be doing is attacking the idea. You see, there is such a thing as egalitarianism and elitism. In God's economy, egalitarianism is about people. We are all equal before Him. Elitism is an idea. Some ideas are wrong and need to be dealt with. What happens in the counter-cultural worldview is they make people elitist and all ideas egalitarian, making them equal, and that's where the problem lies. I think we need to recognize that we dare not celebrate certain lifestyles. We must look at certain ideas and lifestyles we cannot accept; we condemn the lifestyle or at least do not celebrate that lifestyle with people. We can accept the person as a fellow human being without celebrating their belief. I've said everyone has a right to believe but not everything believed is right. It needs to be done and it can be done. Our Lord Himself showed the way.
2. Do you believe, as many of America's founding fathers did, that faith (Judeo-Christian values and principles) and freedom are inseparable? That is, if we fully abandon our faith tradition, which is foundational to our liberties, will our liberties diminish and eventually evaporate? If so, how can we return to our faith tradition with such a pluralistic cultural mix in America today? Is a full-blown revival necessary?
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