Like you, I live in a violent world of conflicting religions, conflicting ideals, and ethnic and racial prejudices rooted in thousands of years of history. Clearly, people are intolerant of each other’s differences. But, why are these gaps between us so hard to bridge? Is the language of tolerance beyond translation?
As a young man, I made a point of trying to share the hope and beauty I saw in the Bible with others. So, when I encountered a local Minister willing to talk about it, I was delighted. Three minutes later he was furious and yelling at me because I had dared to suggest that Jesus did not use the King James Version of the Bible. I will never forget his final words to me, “This version was good enough for Jesus and the Apostles. It’s good enough for me!” Please set aside his historical error about translating and printing. My point is that Minister did not believe he was being intolerant. But, faced with the choice to evaluate and defend his belief or to lash out in anger; he chose anger.
I would see this pattern repeated many times in life. One teacher would explain to me the importance of the, “Bill of Rights.” The next teacher would ridicule me for my religious stand to not pledge myself to the flag of any nation. One employer would champion the value of diversity. The next employer would criticize me for refusing to participate in the company holiday celebration. One doctor would commend my spirituality and deep respect for life. The next doctor would condemn me for taking a religious stand against accepting a blood transfusion.
Never did anyone who ridiculed me for my beliefs ever believe they were being intolerant. They all sincerely believed I was wrong and needed correction. I believe teaching tolerance to the world is meaningless because the intolerant see the issues they face through their personal filter of right and wrong. Right and wrong is the language of spiritual values; not tolerance. This logic connects the problem of intolerance to the more fundamental issue of who has the right to decide what is right and wrong.
As old as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad, all people have faced the choice to decide for themselves what is right and wrong, or submit to God’s standards of right and wrong. I cannot claim Jehovah sets my standards of right and wrong without also acknowledging His authority as Judge rather than me. Alternately, I cannot reserve to myself the right to decide what is right and wrong and then deny that same right to my fellowman. Either way I choose, I lose the right to judge others. I believe this is true for everyone.
But, how does this help? This helps explain why tolerance is so difficult to attain when people hold to spiritual values that oppose one another. By translating the language of tolerance into the language of spiritual values, I believe more people will recognize what tolerance really means.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.