Intolerable Tolerance

by

One of my seminary professors had a true story that he would tell in order to illustrate the false humility of postmodern relativism. While he was a professor at a state university, he had a student who was an evangelical Christian. One Sunday, this student was visiting a liberal church in the downtown area of a big city. The pastor, who had embraced relativism with enthusiasm, was preaching a sermon that began with the statement “all religious beliefs are true,” and it went downhill from there. Minute by minute, the preacher told the congregation that all faiths were equally valid and that salvation was available to all, no matter what his or her belief system was. The student who was visiting the church could not take such nonsense and got up to leave as the pastor was bringing his sermon to a conclusion. As the student was leaving, the pastor called out to him. Desiring to use the young man to illustrate his point, he asked the student what his religious beliefs were. The student turned and said “Sir, I believe you are preaching another gospel, and that you are in danger of going to hell.” Needless to say, the pastor was incensed at the student and began mocking and berating him. So much for all religious beliefs being equally valid.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard “It does not matter what you believe, as long as you believe it.” “All paths lead to salvation.” “No one who is sincere will be left out of the kingdom.” The pastor in the above story clearly held this view, and it is the prevailing sentiment in American culture. It is yet another example of the postmodern emphasis on the relativity of truth. All sincere beliefs are true, no matter if they contradict the beliefs of another.

These ideas are promoted in the guise of tolerance: “We cannot judge another person.” “We must accept anything another person believes.” “We cannot tell them they might be wrong because to do so would be intolerant.”

But it is laughable to suggest that these ideas are tolerant. As the story above demonstrates, all religious beliefs are tolerated, as long as they do not claim any exclusivity for themselves. As soon as someone holds to a religious belief that claims exclusivity, that person’s belief is no longer accepted. The moment someone claims truth or universality for their belief system, that person loses all credibility in our culture.

When people say “it does not matter what you believe, as long as you believe it,” they are displaying false humility. They do not really hold to this statement. They certainly do not accept it in “non-religious” settings. No one lives their life consistently believing that the only thing that matters is sincerity. If they did, they would encourage others to drink poison if those others sincerely believed it was not poison. They would tell others to go ahead and run red lights if those others sincerely believed a red light meant go. They would not make fun of scientists who held to intelligent design as opposed to Darwinian theory if it really did not matter what a person believes.

No, to say “it does not matter what you believe, as long as you believe it,” applies only to religious matters. But as we have seen, even that idea applies only to certain religious beliefs. Tolerance only goes so far.

This statement is the height of arrogance. Mankind will do whatever it can to avoid the claims of an exclusive God. They will ignore the logic they use in “non-religious” areas of life and attempt to violate the law of non-contradiction by assuming that the contradictory beliefs of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists, et al. are all mutually compatible. But when they denounce the exclusive claims of Christianity for the sake of tolerance, they embrace the law of noncontradiction in order to uphold their real allegiance to the god of religious relativism. For them it is exclusively true that all religious beliefs are true. If this were not so, they would not hate us for claiming otherwise.

It is easy to see how the god of religious relativism permeates the secular culture. For example, we often hear the claim that Islam is a religion of peace, while judges who claim that there exists a universal natural law by which all societies should be governed are immediately held suspect. Less readily apparent, however, is that the god of religious relativism is making inroads into the church. Since Vatican II, some Roman Catholics teach that sincere belief is adequate to get into heaven. Even some “evangelical” churches are filled with people who think unbelievers who have not heard of Christ will be going to heaven.

Our age is filled with those who would try to downplay the laws of reason. We encounter people everyday who live their religious lives as if the law of noncontradiction does not matter. But the God of Scripture is an exclusive God; there is none other beside Him. And Jesus is the only way to Him (John 14:6). But when the culture embraces postmodern relativism, these claims are set aside. And if the church does the same, she too will deny her Lord.

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