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 Describing the diversity of religious beliefs and actions

Our web site's policies

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We don't attack religious beliefs, but are often interpreted as doing just that:

We try to avoid attacking anyone's religious beliefs. But we get many angry Emails from readers complaining that we are doing precisely that. We hope that the following essay might clarify matters. It deals exclusively with Christianity, for two reasons:

bulletThat is the religious tradition of about 3 out of 4 North Americans, our target audience.
bulletEssentially all of the negative Emails that we receive in which the religion of the sender can be determined, are sent by conservative Christians.

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How we classify faith groups:

Some of our readers are distressed that we describe Mormons, Roman Catholics, United Church members and adherents of other faith groups as "Christians."  They feel that we are attacking their faith by recognizing as those individuals and groups which deviate from conservative Protestant Christianity. They often look upon Mormons as Gnostics, the Roman Catholic church as Pagans, the Jehovah's Witnesses as a cult, etc.

It is our policy to classify faith groups with the names that they use to describe themselves. For example, the Mormon leadership and laity devoutly, sincerely, and thoughtfully view themselves as Christians. So, we include them in that category. In a similar vein, we call those wishing to reduce a woman's choice in abortion "pro-life" rather than "anti-abortion." We call those promoting choice as "pro-choice" not "pro-abortion."

We are not attacking anyone's religious views; we are simply using a very inclusive definition of  "Christian" - a view similar to the government census. We are using each group's own terminology.

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Describing the full range of beliefs within Christianity

Christianity is not a monolithic, homogeneous religion. Different denominations teach a wide range of beliefs. Meanwhile, different members within denominations will often hold beliefs which are at variance from those of their own denomination. Our site contains discussions of  many controversial topics (e.g. the virgin birth, resurrection of Jesus, female ordination, criteria for salvation, etc.) By describing all opinions on a given topic, we end up describing many viewpoints that run counter to a given reader's view.

We are not attacking their religious beliefs; we are simply explaining that full range of beliefs that people hold to be true. For example, consider personal salvation. It is perhaps the most important religious topic to many conservative Christians. They commonly believe that those people who are not saved (whether they have considered and rejected trust in Jesus, or simply have never heard of the gospel message) are destined to spend eternity being tortured in Hell. In formulating a belief system on salvation:
bulletSome Christians stress passages from the synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke), and the letter of James which appear to teach that that people are saved by doing good works.
bulletMany conservative Christians follow many passages by St. Paul, who believed that one is saved by first believing in Jesus' resurrection.
bulletSome stress the some of writings of the author(s) of the Gospel of John who wrote that one is saved by believing that Jesus is the son of God.
bulletSome sincerely believe that, irrespective of whether one believes and trusts in Jesus, only members of their own faith group will be saved; all others will go to Hell.
bulletOne faith group believes that an individual has to be exposed to the gospel message in a certain way -- by a pair of teachers -- before that person can be saved and avoid Hell.
bulletPentecostals believe that one is saved by trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior. But a few believe that if God does not subsequently give that person the gift of speaking in tongues, then their salvation was not valid. Since the vast majority of Christians do not speak in tongues, those Pentecostals would consider almost all Christians to be unsaved.
bulletAnother faith group teaches that one has to be baptized before one can be saved.

Many of our readers will find some of these beliefs irritating and even interpret them as assaults by us on their faith. We are not attacking anyone's religion. We are simply the messengers - we are just reporting on the wide range of religious beliefs that people hold.

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Interpreting the Bible

When reviewing what the Bible has to say on Abortion, Creation vs. Evolution, the Death Penalty, Divorce, Homosexuality, Life after Death, Ordination of Women, Wicca/Witchcraft, Suicide, etc., we try to give both liberal and conservative interpretations of various Biblical passages. Some of our readers, who have been taught only a single approach to Biblical understanding, accuse us of intentionally inventing our own unique interpretations. We are accused of twisting the meaning of many verses. They denounce us as knowing the truth but of spreading lies in order to deceive our readers.

Trust us! We have almost no original ideas when it comes to the Bible. We are simply reporting what religious conservatives, religious liberals, and 1st century Christians wrote in their Biblical commentaries and handbooks.

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Theological beliefs, religious beliefs and religiously motivated action:

Our descriptions of faith groups cover three specific areas:

  1. Theological Beliefs: This includes a faith group's belief concerning the nature of Deity, of humanity and of the rest of the universe. For example:

    bulletMost Christian groups believe that the Godhead takes the form of a Trinity;
    bulletOther religions, like Islam and Judaism, teach the unity of God.
    bullet

    Some believe that there is no God, or two, or many.

    We make every effort to avoid criticizing such beliefs. To do so would be the worse type of intolerance.

  2. Religious Beliefs: These are typically beliefs that are secondary to a faith group's theological beliefs. They are not primary statements of faith. They are beliefs whose validity which can be tested. For example, religious organizations might teach that:

    bulletThe universe came into existence about 6,000 years ago.
    bulletThat some Native Americans are the descendents of Jews who emigrated to North America from the Middle East.
    bulletThat prayer is the most effective treatment for physical illness.
    bulletMental illness is caused by indwelling demonic spirits.

    Here, faith groups are leaving the area of purely theological belief and making medical and scientific statements about the world. They are often in conflict with medicine, geology, astronomy, archaeology, biology, etc. We do not criticize these beliefs. However, we do compare them with the findings of science and medicine so that people can evaluate which gives a more accurate picture of reality.

  3. Sometimes, religious and even theological beliefs become translated into actions. We do criticize some individual and organized actions when they hurt other people. When we criticize a religious group's actions to reduce individual freedom, we are sometimes accused of attacking that group's beliefs. We try to differentiate between the two with great care.

    An example might be useful. Many conservative Christians believe that homosexual behavior is a sin, it hated by God, and is chosen, learned behavior. Some believe that same-sex behavior should be re-criminalized. They believe that homosexual orientation can be changed through reparative therapy and prayer. We have no objection to them holding these beliefs. But when they take action to oppose the granting of equal rights to gays and lesbians in the area of employment, accommodation and marriage, we oppose those actions as hurtful. We uphold the fundamental principle of "liberty and justice for all" without exceptions based on gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, age, degree and type of disability, language, etc. We also promote the concept of personal privacy, in which each individual has the right to pursue their own happiness and creativity without government interference. Where this conflicts with actions promoted by religious groups, we feel that fundamental human rights should prevail.

Obviously, there are sometimes limits to personal freedom. Persons convicted of murder need to be isolated from the rest of society. Maximum speed laws on roads are needed to prevent chaos. Some restrictive laws are necessary in every society. But we feel that the practice of discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability etc. needs to be fought wherever it occurs - even if it happens religious institutions.

We do have strong personal beliefs:

bulletin favor of protection against employment discrimination for all groups, including gays and lesbians
bulletagainst individuals being automatically rejected for religious ordination on the basis of their gender, disability or sexual orientation
bulletagainst various religious freedom restoration acts, if they elevate religious freedom above other fundamental liberties
bulletagainst enforced religious prayer in public schools
bulletin favor of special interest groups in the public school system, including religious study clubs and homosexual support groups.
bulletand on a few hundred other topics.

When we describe any of these matters in our Web site, we try to be impartial, accurate and balanced. If we fail at this, we hope that our readers will correct us. We are easy to contact.

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Copyright 1997 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-MAR-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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