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June 09, 2005

On religious tolerance.

From The Christian Century:

In apparent response to reports that American guards at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Qur'an down a toilet, the Danieltown Baptist Church in North Carolina posted a sign which reads: "The Koran Needs to Be Flushed!" The pastor acknowledged that the sign was controversial but defended it, saying, "We just have to stand up for what's right." The pastor eventually removed the sign, explaining that he didn't realize how highly Muslims regarded the Qur'an. (www.thedigitalcourier.com)

This is the age-old quandary. If you believe that your religion is the only way to God (for example, we Baptists generally believe that Jesus is "the way, the truth and the life."), does that by definition justify attacks on other religions, which are then, also by definition, false?

It's easy to say no when we consider the 9/11 attacks. We the victims cried out "how could any religion justify murder?"

Yet the only basic difference between the 9/11 attacks and the sign at Danieltown Baptist Church is that one attack was physical, the other verbal (well, written). Both proceed from the basic tenet that since our religion is right, and the only way to God, we have the right to try to eliminate (or flush) those who practice false religions. When God is involved, the implication is that any means justify the ends. This is why any fundamentalism is dangerous: it carries the implied authorization of God.

That said, is it watering down your faith if you believe, for instance, that Jesus is the only way to God, but you are content to simply promote and share your own faith without feeling the need to tear down the faiths of those who differ from you? Does holding a firm, exclusive religious belief compel you into opposition to other, differing beliefs?

Of course, my answer is no, but a solid logical argument can be made on either side.

NOTE: I am aware that about half of the folks who read this blog are Christians, the other half hold no religion to speak of. If you comment, be respectful.

Posted by Dan at June 9, 2005 01:14 PM

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I would submit that I believe the Baptists have the best "position" on Divinity and what it takes to get to heaven. After searching for some years for "truth", it all boiled down to who I thought had it closest to the truth. I believe firmly that it is only through Jesus that we can one day see the glory of God. Some people say that Allah, Buddah, Mohammed, Jesus and Jehovah are all the same thing. I've heard "We're all praying to the same God."

Well, I don't believe that. I believe that we are to honor, worship, and acknowledge the one TRUE God, and HE is in three forms: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is Jehovah, Jesus Christ Himself, or Elohim (plural word used in Genesis to represent God's trinity...hmmm). He is not Allah, the man upstairs or the Big Guy. I hold Him in a little higher esteem than that!

After serving for three years now at a Baptist church, I've found that tolerance is very random in religion. Christians are asked to tolerate blatant acts of disobedience, yet are called judgemental when we apply the very principals we believe to be truth. Then Baptists act so ridiculously inconsistent in their own life choices and actions that nobody can possibly take this "religion thing" seriously. At one time I thought that Baptists might be the only ones in Heaven.....but now I'm not sure all of them are going!

Here's what I know to be true. If I live my life as consistently and as humbly as Christ did, I will never falter. Unfortuantely, I am not capable of living as such. So, what transpires is this life that is called Christianity. Based on those who call themselves Christians, then live like hell, the Christian life is suspect at best. It's sad, and sometimes depressing, but it doesn't mean it isn't what we're supposed to strive for; to be like Christ.

Posted by: doug at June 9, 2005 03:15 PM

I would identify myself as agnostic (just to put that out there). But I respect that people have their beliefs and I recognize the importance that it holds for many people. I think you touched on an important point, though. EVERYONE who has faith believes that they are the ones who are right. THere needs to be a mutial respect, and responsiblity, for that matter. If what you believe really is the truth, then there is no need to flush or discredit another's religion. You will be one rewarded, in whatever way your religion dictates. In other words, chill out and let the creator do the judging.

Posted by: Beck at June 9, 2005 03:16 PM

If you were to find an Arabic translation of the Christian Bible, every place that we read "God" would say "Allah" -- because "Allah" is simply "God" in Arabic - like "Salaam" is "Peace." God is God no matter what the language, and Islam is our younger sibling in the Judeo/Christian religions -- Christians, Muslims, and Jews worship the same God, but have different opinions about the divinity of Jesus. In fact, Muslims revere Jesus just as they do Moses and Abraham - they think we've missed the boat by worshipping Jesus, because only God is God -- they don't worship Mohammed as divine.
In my opinon, mainstream Islam does a much better job of respecting us than we do them. They know a whole lot more about what we believe than we do about them. Unfortunately, the voice of mainstream Islam is drowned out by their fundamentalists -- just like with us Christians.

Posted by: chava at June 9, 2005 04:34 PM

To equate that that a sign that reads "Flush the Koran" is an attack just as the killing thousands of innocent people on 9/11 is too simplistic. They are not the same. That is like saying a cold I may have is an illness just as a person who has Ebloa and is going to die in 15 days has an illness. The same could be said for crime with one person who fails to yield and a serial murder and pedophile are both "criminals". It is an insult to the folks who died on that day.

If the sign is the same as the 9/11 attack, maybe someone should have explained that to the murderers who killed the innocent people on our soil? They could have saved the time and trouble by just making a sign that said "America is the great Satan" or something.

The sign does not lead people in North Carolinia to fly planes and kill people in Mecca or any other Muslum city. The folks who claim to love free speech are the ones who cry the most and try to stop it. If they want to have a sign that reads that way, who cares? The people who think they are crazy will stay away and the folks who agree with that mode of thought will rush in.

What other countries in the world could you have a sign like that with such a message? Few. I find it funny that this suposed great majority of mainstream Islam is being drowned out by the minority funndamentalists. The majority must be very, very, quiet and the minority must be loud. Many Islamic countries have majorities that would love to kill all the folks in Isreal, the United States, or any one else who does not agree with them.

I think we should look at the folks who have been dealing for years with both the peaceful and loving "majority" and "minority" people who practice Islam, the Isrealites. They understand that the "attacks by signs" are nothing when you see innocent people being killed by more "traditional Islamic attacks." Tolerence only works when both sides do not attack physically.

Does holding a firm, exclusive religious belief compel me into opposition to other, differing beliefs? As for me, it depends on what the definition of opposition means. If opposition means speaking out and explaining my beliefs when called to do so, yes I am compelled. But I do it in a country where I say thank you to the generations of men and women who have given their lives and continue to make sacrifices today. I also don't insult the strong military that provides me the freedom to do so. I think Jack said it best in a Few Good Men, "I'd rather they say thank you and be on their way." If opposition means to physically attack someone who is of a different belief, Christian, Islamic, or other, then my answer is no.

Anybody can strongly disagree about any subject here in the United States, even religion. There is no shame in disagreement, even strong disagreement.

Posted by: Jim at June 9, 2005 07:07 PM

I'm proud of everyone! Good points all around and for a change, I agree with Doug, if you can imagine.

One point, Jim: You said "I find it funny that this supposed great majority of mainstream Islam is being drowned out by the minority funndamentalists." I would submit that in the eyes of Joe Unchurched in America, the great majority of mainstream Christianity is being drowned out by in the press by the minority fundamentalists, as well. Shouting louder than everybody else and drawing attention is a key to fundamentalism in any form.

Seize you in a couple days if you kids can sneak down! Tell Doug and Slackbladder they are more than welcome.

Posted by: Dan at June 9, 2005 08:35 PM


I would also compliment you on pointing to the false analogy. I jumped right from the N.C. sign to 9/11 and everybody let me do it. Similar, but by no means equal.

Posted by: Dan at June 9, 2005 08:38 PM


False analogy, yes, but I thought you kind of pointed that out yourself. As you wrote, there's a big difference between saying something and a physical act, particularly when that act is murder.

And might I say that, from the point of view of myself, that you are exactly right that I tend to see the actions of fundamentalists more than I do your average, run of the mill majority Christian. They scream loudest, they get the headlines, and it's particularly true in politics.

On the issue itself, I think I'm pretty much in agreement with you, Dan. I don't personally think that there's any real reason to tear down other religions. It doesn't sit well with me. As an example--and this isn't perfect, but there is a similarity--I'm a vegetarian. And I do feel pretty strongly about that, though I'm not crazy about it. And I'm not Vegan, but I don't eat any meat, including fish and chicken. It's something that's important to me--it's a belief, in a sense. But I don't care if other people eat meat. I don't yell at other people about it, I don't make snide comments, anything like that. Hell, I don't say anything when people eat meat in front of me. It's not my place to bitch at a person about their decisions--that's generally what I think. It's how I try to live my life.

Tearing down other religions doesn't sit well with me, but I can understand the impulse to do it, as well, especially if you believe it's your job to spread what you believe to be the truth.

And, hell, I would be really lying if I tried to say I never had complained about certain religions. Lord knows I have. But I also wear leather shoes and I'm often happy to point out my own hypocrisies and personal inconsistencies. :)

Posted by: Joel Caris at June 10, 2005 03:34 AM

i agree that the two attacks cannot be equated. but for fuck's sake, is there anything more juvenile than that sign? i mean, aren't we supposed to be better than our terrorist enemies? i'm not a christian, but sometimes when i see the way christianity is shooting itself in the PR foot i just slap my forehead.

Posted by: beth at June 10, 2005 03:23 PM

you know, Dan, I think you got it right the first time. Last night at Mass, the Gospel reading was the one where Jesus talks about murdering people in your heart with anger being just as bad as outright killing them. Sounded a lot like what you said, I thought.

Posted by: chava at June 10, 2005 07:40 PM

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