Thursday, May 05, 2005

Religious Intolerance?

Two items of interest:

1. The new Pope Benedict XVI issued a document years ago called "Dominus Iesus," in which he said that Catholicism was superior to other forms of Christianity. This is now seen as controversial in many circles.

2. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has said "I believe that the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel. And indeed, I believe that the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office." This too is seen as controversial.

Other examples can easily be found. It is seen as controversial if someone asserts that his own religion is true and that other religions are false in any respect.

This leads me to believe that many people are deeply confused and unable to think clearly. Everyone believes that some religious beliefs are false; it is simply impossible to believe otherwise.

For one thing, the world offers many religious beliefs that are contradictory. It is not possible to affirm the truth of all of them simultaneously. If the Pope really does represent Christ's authority on earth, then the Baptists are wrong for failing to recognize his authority. If the Pope does not represent Christ's authority as the Catholic Church claims, then he is a staggering impostor who deserves to be exposed and criticized at every opportunity.

The same holds true for any number of religious beliefs. If reincarnation doesn't happen, Hinduism is false on that point. If it does happen, Hinduism is true and other religions are missing something extraordinary. If Mohammed was really sent from God, Islam is true; if not, Islam is based on a false premise.

And so on: Religions make a wide variety of factual claims, and they can't all be true. It should be absolutely unsurprising that a Catholic thinks that the Baptists are missing something, and vice versa.

2. Some might respond, "Ah, but I have a great deal of epistemic humility. I think that my own religious beliefs might be true, but I could be entirely wrong. Thus, I recognize that all religions offer some truth and that it is not my place to issue claims of superiority."

But that claim itself amounts to saying that most religious people in the world have a false belief, namely, that their own religious beliefs are truer than the alternatives. Thus, the epistemic skeptic cannot avoid the conclusion that other people's religious beliefs are often in error. Even those who purport to be humble skeptics necessarily think that most religions are wrong in claiming to have a true picture of God.

It is very strange that something everyone does should be deemed a faux pas.


Blogger Doc said...

I was just thinking about this subject yesterday. We are told that the different religions of the world are just different paths to God and whichever path speaks to you, follow it. But those "paths" are fundamentally contradictory. A cornerstone of the Jewish/Christian/Islamic faiths is monotheism. Hinduism posits many gods, polytheism. These cannot be reconciled. There is one god or there is not. All of the above is not an answer. Buddhism, as I understand it, has no god so it cannot be reconciled to religions which have one or more.

The only way one can start to reconcile the different religions is to take the god out of the religion, and reduce themn to a bunch of feel good moral teachings about loving one another and "can't we all just get along" sentiments. You reconcile the religions by making them non-religious.

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may be more of a question of manners in society today. Everyone does it, surely, but was it truly necessary to do it in public, where you might scare the horses or heretics?

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, indeed. This is something I've long thought as well - I'd be really very concerned if the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic church thought that other religions were just as good, but he'd chosen this one because he thought some of the accoutrements of the faith were more congenial, or as a result of path dependence. But I have noticed far more reluctance on the part of people to say what they mean on things like this - I was talking to some evangelical preachers once who refused to expressly admit they thought catholicism was wrong. If not, then why was I supposed to convert?

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Short version of the old joke:

Who's behind the wall?

The fill-in-the-blank, they like to think they're the only ones up here.

Sandy P

12:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone thinks that his team is Number One.

>The new Pope Benedict XVI issued a document years ago called "Dominus Iesus," in which he said that Catholicism was superior to other forms of Christianity. This is now seen as controversial in many circles.

10:51 PM  
Blogger Stuart Buck said...

Yes, of course. Everyone believes that other religions are wrong in some respect. If you are non-religious, then you yourself believe that religious people have erred in the most basic way: by believing in religion. There's no logical way around this. It's no answer to claim that religion is just a matter of personal taste: In one sense it is, but religions also make very definite factual claims that can't all be right.

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For certain faiths, including most forms of Christianity and Islam, there is a premise that non-belief or wrong belief leads to eternal damnation. A moral obligation thus arises to impose right belief; or to prevent the teaching of wrong belief; or at the very least, to oppose any obstruction of right belief. For instance, Saudi Arabia forcibly suppresses Christianity, denying millions even the opportunity to escape damnation; should Christians pursued the armed liberation of that country?

But that way lies madness.

Rich Rostrom

5:04 PM  
Blogger anon said...

There is a difference between holding a judgment and being intolerant. I agree with you 100% that we all must make judgments about what is right, true, good, beautiful, etc. and that "true realativism" is truly impossible.

However, just because one holds a belief about what is right doesn't mean that one has to be an intolerant jerk about it. In the end, I think that is what most people are really objecting to, even when they can't articulate why the "dominus iesus" or Mohler's statement bothers them.

It's one thing to believe X, to believe you are right about X and that the other guy is wrong about non-X. It's an entirely different proposition to say that the other guy is stupid, or ridiculous or morally-bankrupt for believing not-X. [Okay, maybe sometimes it's reasonable to believe those things about the other guy] but when there is a true lack of consensus on the issue, tolerance towards others believes seems necessary.

I've always been partial to Whitehead's definition of tolerance, and since I've rambled on far too long for a comment anyway, I'll just end by quoting him:

"The duty of tolerance is our finite homage to the abundance of inexhaustible novelty which is awaiting the future, and to the complexity of accomplished fact which exceeds our stretch of insight."

11:13 PM  
Blogger ScurvyOaks said...

First off, I'll play Stuart and quote Chesterton: "Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions."

That said, I don't run around criticizing the Pope at every opportunity, although I do reject the notion that he is the Vicar of Christ. The reason I don't often call the Bishop of Rome an imposter is that, time and again, Scripture calls on Christians to love each other, live in unity, and not put arguments about doctrine (especially disputable matters) ahead of the work of the kingdom. The members of the universal church have a great common cause -- to serve the one Lord whom we worship and to proclaim His Gospel.

So I don't consider it uncivilized or contoversial to affirm the truth of certain theological propositions and deny the truth of conflicting ones. (For the record, I affirm the doctrines of grace, aka Calvinism.) But with respect to a fairly wide range of orthodox Christian beliefs (including a lot of diversity on eccelesiology, where the Bible doesn't provide a lot of rules), there are better ways for me to spend my time and energy than in criticizing what my brother or sister in Christ believes.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Shauna said...

Maybe I am missing something here. But are you actually suggesting as reasonable that one person could say to another "My religion is true and yours is not."

Well, perhaps the tactful person doesn't just go around saying it, but yes, that is exactly what the religious person must do, at least as the opportunity arises. Here lies the problem with the relativism in society's current thinking. In order to be seen as an adherent to the doctrine of toleration, one must not hold a firm and inviolable belief, rather you are supposed to say..what is true for you, isn't necessisarily true for me. The thing is two people can both be wrong about opposite things, but they cannot both be right, at least in matters of faith. For instance monotheism and polytheism could both be wrong, but they cannot both be correct.

My religion, Christianity, tells me that "Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no man comes to the Father (God) but by Him."

In order for me to be true to my religion, I could not say to someone, well I think this is true, but I am pretty sure you can also get to heaven by a differnt path; it really doesn't matter as long as you're a good person. This would make my Christianity meaningless. On the other hand, I am not going to deliberately seek out people and attempt to find opportunities to insult them either. This would do nothing to further God's purposes.

It also says that I have a responsibility to "always be ready to give an answer to those who ask the reason for the hope that is within me." It doesn't mean beat people over the head with the bible, because that does no good, and Jesus instructs us not to do that anyway.

But to have a religion, that one could not affirm is true to another person is no religion at all, or perhaps it would be more aptly said that I had no real belief in that religion at all.

6:55 AM  

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