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Good News and Bad News on Religious Tolerance

. . . but which is which?

MSNBC.com reports on a study of religious attitudes that shows that Americans are still very religious (92% believe in God, for example), but that they are much more tolerant of other faiths.

Among the more startling numbers in the survey, conducted last year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: 57 percent of evangelical church attendees said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life, in conflict with traditional evangelical teaching.

In all, 70 percent of Americans with a religious affiliation shared that view, and 68 percent said there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their own religion.

With those numbers, what can it possibly mean to be “evangelical” any more?

While I celebrate tolerance, I’m disturbed by the tendency to identify tolerance with weak beliefs. Unfortunately, that is what is happening. People become tolerant by becoming less committed. The article refers to this as “humility,” but it doesn’t seem so to me. Humility in one’s beliefs would require one to have some beliefs, but to admit that one might be mistaken and to be open to correction. The particular evidence for this is those who try to keep the label “evangelical” while altering the definition.

I would prefer a society made up of people with strong beliefs, who were willing to defend those beliefs, but were also determined to do so respectfully, and to respect–not agree with–the beliefs of others.

As one last note, let me add that I think this is the attitude that fosters hate speech codes. The tolerant in this sense are not really tolerant. Rather, they are tolerant of those who agree with them that their religious ideas don’t matter all that much. They are conformists, but they conform to a culture of apathy and indecision. Thus when they encounter someone who doesn’t fall within that culture, they feel justified in suppressing that person’s expression.

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