Monday, March 16, 2015

Intolerance Isn't Hateful

The other day I walked into a local restaurant without a shirt or shoes on, and, can you believe it, they refused to serve me. They said that my lack of clothing was uncouth and inappropriate.

Feeling dejected, I decided that I wanted to do something nice for someone in need, so I visited one of the local hospitals. I figured that, of all the good things I could do at a hospital, the greatest is to perform heart surgery on someone. People can die with bad hearts, and so I thought that helping someone stay alive was a good thing. But I couldn’t find anyone who would let me perform heart surgery on him. In fact, the hospital staff ushered me straight out of the building, saying something about me needing “a license to perform surgery on someone.”

After being kicked out of both a restaurant and hospital, I was feeling pretty unimportant and wanted to do something noteworthy, and I can’t think of anything more noteworthy than being the President of the United States. “People are starting to announce their intent to run, so now is as good of a time as any!” I thought. So I contacted the proper authorities to announce my intent, and, would you believe that they told me that I wasn’t eligible? Apparently you have to be at least thirty-five years old to run for President, and I’m only thirty-one.

“What a bunch of intolerant, hateful people,” I thought.

Obviously, this is written tongue-in-cheek, but the message, I think, is clear: Intolerance isn’t hateful. In our current culture, however, the moment a person expresses opposition towards something, that person is labeled “hateful.” But this is outlandishly illogical. If it is hateful to be against something, then it is also hateful to be against someone who is against something, because he, too, is against something. I’m not sure why this is so often overlooked, but it is, especially towards Christians who share what the Bible says about hot button issues like homosexuality.

Timothy Keller, in his book The Reason for God, discusses this very thing in a chapter he calls, “Christianity is a Straightjacket.” The chapter discusses the common mantra towards Christianity that “Christians believe that they have the absolute truth that everyone else has to believe—or else” (35). Keller writes, “Christianity looks like an enemy of social cohesion, cultural adaptability, and even authentic personhood” (37). He continues, “However, this objection is based on mistakes about the nature of truth, community, Christianity, and liberty itself” (37).

Keller offers a handful of arguments that show the logical fortitude, and loving motivation, of Christianity and its claims. He first discusses how “truth is unavoidable.” For example, a person who says, “There is no such thing as truth,” is making a truth claim, showcasing the inescapability of it. C.S. Lewis illustrates this beautifully in writing, “You cannot go on “explaining away” for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the garden beyond it is solid. How if you saw through the garden too? …. A wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see” (38).

Truth, therefore, is unavoidable. To deny it is to prove it.

Keller also discusses how community can’t be completely inclusive. He employs an example that illustrates both sides of the issue on the topic of homosexuality:

Imagine that one of the board members of the local LGBT community announces, “I’ve had a religious experience and now I believe homosexuality is a sin.” Imagine that a board member of the Alliance Against Same-Sex Marriage announces, “I discovered that my son is gay and I think he has the right to marry his partner.” No matter how personally gracious and flexible the members of each group are, the day will come when each group will have to say, “You must step off of the board because you don’t share a common commitment with us” (39-40).

The idea is that “Any community that does not hold its members accountable for specific beliefs and practices would have no corporate identity and would not really be a community at all” (40). To deny the exclusivity of a community is to deny the idea of community itself.

Keller finally discusses the concept of freedom. The allegation towards the Christian is that their faith “constrains one’s freedom to choose his own beliefs and practices” (46). It is thought that an enlightened human being is one who trusts in his or her own power of thinking. “The freedom to determine our own moral standards is considered a necessity” (46). But such a concept of freedom is misguided. “Freedom cannot be defined strictly … as the absence of confinement and constraint” (46). For example, if you have musical aptitude, giving yourself to practice for years and years (restricting yourself) can unleash the totality of your musical ability. The full potential of the freedom of your musical ability cannot be totally realized unless a restriction exists to allow it. “Constraints, then, liberate us,” Keller writes (47). “A fish, because it absorbs oxygen from water rather than air, is only free if it is restricted and limited to water. If we put it out on the grass, its freedom to move and even live is not enhanced, but destroyed. The fish dies if we do not honor the reality of its nature” (47).

Thus, true freedom necessitates restriction, and it’s not hateful to suggest, or to employ, restrictions, such as a license to perform heart surgery. It’s actually quite the opposite.

The Christian believes that the Bible offers the restrictions by which mankind must abide. This is a good thing, because the God who designed the universe and everything in it has left us with a testimony of how we ought to operate in his creation. The Bible’s eternal truths should not bend or break under the weight of culture’s temporary truths, but the other way around. In today’s world, it is not always easy to employ the boundaries of God’s Word, as any Christian knows too well, but it is necessary, because the moment we dismantle the restrictions of God’s Word in the name of freedom is the moment we forgo freedom altogether. When we remove or redefine the Bible, things like life (pro-choice abortion) and marriage (“same-sex marriage”) become anything and everything, and thus become nothing.

This is all to say that the Bible is the window through which we can see the garden, and if we make the garden transparent, then what’s the point to even having the garden to begin with?

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