Believing in Truth Is Not Intolerant

By Wayne Greeson

In the “Voices” column of the Arkansas Democrat (August 28, 1990) guest writer, Donald Reeves expounded the increasingly popular proposition that a Christian who believes that the faith is “the only true faith” is “exclusion-oriented,” “intolerant” and “the height of religious egotism.” To support this proposition, Mr. Reeves even attempted to enlist the teachings and example of Jesus as one who condemned, according to Reeves, “promoters of religious exclusion.”

Intolerance and bigotry towards others is offensive. However, Mr. Reeves’ faulty idea, that Christians who believe their faith is the only true faith is intolerant, is equally offensive. Toleration requires a fair and objective attitude towards others who are different, it does not require one to abandon what he believes to be truth, merely upon the ground that others hold opposing views. A good balance between the belief that one is right and a toleration of the beliefs of others is found in the ancient saying, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Our relativistic culture has redefined truth from “an absolute fact or reality” to “a relative viewpoint.” Thus, it finds itself in the absurd and contradictory position of asserting as true that one cannot know truth. Anyone who professes to “know truth” is labeled as “intolerant and “exclusion-oriented” and is not tolerated by society. Who is truly intolerant?

In light of this popular view, Allan Bloom observed in his book, The Closing of the American Mind, “The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistake and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.” “Thus what is advertised as a great opening is a great closing. No longer is there a hope that there are great wise men in other places and times who can reveal the truth about life. (pp. 26 34).

Unfortunately, the popular relativistic philosophy of society has infected many in matters of religion. Mr. Reeves is an good example of this. He professes to be a Christian while at the same time denying the explicit and exclusive claims of Jesus Christ to truth and the founder of the only true faith.

Truth is exclusive, it excludes all that deny and contradict it. Jesus not only claimed to have and to be the truth, but he also excluded all other ways, saviors or religions as means to gain God. Jesus claimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). Jesus further claimed that those who followed him would also know the truth (Jn. 8:32).

If one truly accepts Jesus’ claims then he will view his faith as “the only true faith,” as the apostle Paul taught, there is “one hope . . . one Lord, one faith” (Eph. 4:5). Likewise, he will reject the claims of all other religions and saviors, including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. (Acts 4:12). Yes, this makes a Christian exclusive, but certainly no more exclusive than Jesus was. Likewise, this makes Christians no more “intolerant” and “religious egoists” than the Lord they follow. Rather than redefining truth to encompass contradictory and conflicting religions, I suggest that Mr. Reeves reconsider his concept of intoleration and follow the advice of the apostle Paul, “Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).

Exclusion of others practiced by society

Intolerance linked to crisis

In the mix and maze of feelings and thoughts which accompany the critical evens in the Midwest, I have discovered a heretofore unnoticed frustration within myself.

It is “religious” frustration.

As I have watched the news reports and rad the newspaper accounts, I have become increasingly aware of the simple fact that my own Christian faith-culture has been very exclusion-oriented.

That is, we Christians have been so oriented to our own faith as being the only true faith that we have only played games with ecumenism and have missed the boat in creating healthy lines of communication with other faiths (Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, etc.) which might have offered some avenues of cultural communications on a global scale, even when policital communication seemed impossible.

Perhaps one hard truth we need to face is that our religious institutions are still ultimately racial-cultural institutions, and in the final analysis our religion simply promoted cultural exclusion rather than cultural inclusion.

What an anomaly for a faith that has supposedly grown out of the life and teachings of a man from Nazareth, whose most pronounced negative judgments were addressed to those who were promoters of religious exclusion!

Our traditional Christian insistence that God, the creator of the universe, is only available in our style and taste is the height of religous egotism and seems as rediculous as would seem the insistence that all others should wear our style of clothes or develop our tastes for food.

But we are religous egoists, personally and institutionally; and our egotism may contribute much to political egotism in a global setting that desparately needs both religious and political humanity.

So in conclusion, political crisis may in fact be indicative of religous crisis. And the real personal crisis for me may be whether or not I can be honest enough to admit that fact.

(Editor’s Note: Donald D. is pastor of First Presbyterian Churhc in Hot Springs and chaplain of the Arkansas Air National Guard, in which he holds the rank of lieutenant colonel.”

Reprinted from “Voices,” Arkansas Democrat (Tuesday, August 28, 1990).

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 22, pp. 685-686, 696
November 15, 1990