The Intolerance of the Tolerant
"We must acknowledge them for who they are in all their integrity, with their conscientiously held beliefs; we must welcome them and respect them as who they are and walk reverently on what is their holy ground, taking off our shoes, metaphorically and literally. We must hold to our particular and peculiar beliefs tenaciously, not pretending that all religions are the same, for they are patently not the same. We must be ready to learn from one another, not claiming that we alone possess all truth and that somehow we have a corner on God." - Desmond Tutu
I respect all efforts of inclusivity and tolerance. But something I've noticed is that some of the most exclusive and intolerant people are the ones who are also the most vocal about tolerance and inclusivity.
I remember watching an old episode of Oprah in my "apologetics" class with Dr. Dennis Okholm. The topic of the episode was religion and spirituality. There were some pretty strange things being said on the show, I don't remember all of it, but I do remember that a woman from the audience stood up and declared her position as an atheist. Oprah, without missing a beat, asked "well, do you believe in love?" The woman replied, "yes." And Oprah triumphantly said, "well, then you're not an atheist... love is God." At another point in the episode a Christian stood up to argue her position saying that Jesus is God and not some other vague notion of spirituality. The woman was immediately attacked by Oprah and her buddies on stage for being too "closed minded." Oprah, in her proclaimed inclusivity and openness, wouldn't let an atheist be an atheist and judged a Christian for being a Christian... all this in the name of tolerance. The incredible irony of that episode has stuck with me over the years.
When we try to make everyone agree, we have a tendency to disagree in unhealthy ways. When we try to force all religions to say the same thing, when we try to say that all of them are right, we actually take none of them seriously in their own integrity. Sure, we've definitely got things in common, and it's nice to focus on those, but the fact is that every religion is particular and distinct from the others in fundamentally important ways. We've all got different things to say, some which conflict, and we're all making different claims about the world and about the divine. If we are really going to be inclusive and tolerant, we've got to come to terms with this reality and conduct ourselves accordingly.
We should not be afraid of difference. I fear that we've become quite cynical about difference, perhaps because we've seen so much division and violence over it. But we must not fear our neighbors in all their particularity. As Desmond Tutu puts it, "We must be ready to learn from one another, not claiming that we alone possess all truth and that somehow we have a corner on God."
I believe that my opinion is correct, if I didn't I'd just get a new one. But I also believe that we can learn a lot from one another. Christians can learn from Muslims, Buddhists can learn from Hindus, Jewish people can learn from atheists. But first we've got to take each other seriously for what we are actually saying without trying to force all to fit the same mold.