Are atheists more tolerant than religious people? Are Christians intolerant of other faiths?
On a site called Hubpages, a person that calls themselves “kittythedreamer” asked the following question:
Why is it that Christians believe that Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Native Americans, etc. are all wrong in their beliefs?
It generated quite a bit of discussion.
This question makes a lot of sense in our culture. We find Christians, indeed all those who take their faith seriously, as judgmental. When we accept that there is no God, as many in our culture have; tend to also abandon the idea that there is a universal purpose and meaning–we are uncomfortable with, or reject, the idea of objective truth. We’d rather create our own truth.
That’s why Christians baffle people like kittythedreamer (“kitty”). Christians have this old fashioned idea that truth is objective, rather than subjective. We believe that some things are true, or moral, or good, or just, whether we like it or not. It follows then that some things are false, immoral, evil, unjust.
In our culture, saying someone’s views are wrong is the same as telling them that they have the wrong favourite ice cream.
“kitty” is right; Christians do say others are wrong. They do so because when they claim that some things are true, they can’t also accept the opposing idea as also true. To do so requires a mental dexterity possessed only by those who don’t believe in objective truth–those who create their own meaning.
But “kitty” is wrong in another way. Christians do not believe that other religions are wrong, at least not entirely so. We believe other religions are right in some very important ways. Here’s a list of some of the ways that other religions are right:
- We’ve already covered the first one. All, or very nearly all, of the world’s religions believe that truth resides outside of the individual. They don’t entirely agree on what that truth is, but it’s external. External often means universal–that means it’s true for everyone, everywhere, for all time. One of the things that humans are supposed to do is conform themselves to that external truth. So rather than thinking everybody is wrong, Christians believe that, in this respect, that these religions are right.
- Another thing that nearly all religions believe is that behind the natural world there is a mystical and/or spiritual reality.
- Most of the religions of the world, past and present, believe in transcendent gods or a God. Christians believe that, in this respect, all those religions are right.
- Most religions believe that God or the gods is/are occasionally active in the lives of humans. Christians believe that, in this respect, all those religions are right.
- Many religions believe that God is interested in human flourishing. Christians believe it and any other religion that believes it too are considered to be right.
- All religions believe that human beings must contend with evil in their lives. Christians believe this and they agree with any religion that believes it too.
- Many religions believe that other religions possess truth. Some are closer to “The Truth” than others.
Obviously, Christians don’t believe that other religions are wrong. There is tremendous agreement among religious adherents. This is not to say that the differences aren’t significant, but the points at which all, or most, religions agree might give one pause.
So who is more open-minded? Does the atheist say, “You are all correct”?
Atheists usually say of religious believers, “You are all wrong!”
I know it feels like there is a lot of conflict between Christians and others in our society. Not all of it can be reduced to closed mindedness and bigotry–some of it has to do with the fact that people of faith look to a source of truth outside themselves. Their claims might not be true, but it must be admitted that the idea that all meaning is necessarily internal also has some significant drawbacks that make it hard to believe.
This is where the dialogue should begin, not with kitty’s question.