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Religious Tolerance logo

Thought provoking questions that
we have received, with our responses

Part 12:

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This topic continues from the previous essay

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Interesting Emails discussed in this essay:

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Should we tolerate falsehoods?

Incoming Email: "Your metaphysical errors are of graver a deficiency than any electronic errors. Religious tolerance? Should one tolerate falsehood? You'd probably say yes."

Our response: Yes. We should tolerate falsehood.

According to the Times News Service, Dominus Iesus -- the recent Encyclical by the Pope -- implies that "Churches such as the Church of England, where the apostolic succession of bishops from the time of St. Peter is disputed by Rome, and churches without bishops, are not considered 'proper' churches." That is, the Catholic Church considers non-Catholic religious groups to be false.

Many conservative Protestant denominations believe that Roman Catholicism, liberal Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc are false religions. Some fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians even consider some of these religious to be forms of Satanism.

According to many Muslims and Jews, Christianity is a false polytheistic religion that is does not recognize the single, indivisible nature of Allah or Yahweh.

It seems that most people consider their own denomination or tradition within their own wing of their own religion to hold the fullness of truth, and consider all the other denominations, traditions, wings, sects, and religions to be false.

Not tolerating other religions leads directly towards the situations during past decades in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Cyprus, Nigeria, Sudan, Middle East, Iraq/Iran, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia, etc. This is the path that ends up at the gas ovens of Nazi Germany, to ground zero where the World Trade Center once stood, and the blood-stained sands where ISIS beheaded innocent people.

So, we recommend religious tolerance. We should allow persons of other religions to coexist in freedom without oppression or discrimination, even if their beliefs seem quite strange to us. In that way, we can expect them to allow us to coexist, even if our beliefs are quite strange to them. Again, the alternative leads to genocide.

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Why doesn't this web site take a stand on abortion?

Incoming Email: "I was doing research on abortion and stumbled on your website. Why don't you decide whether you're for or against it and go with it."

Our response: I think that you misunderstand the nature of our web site.

Unlike about 99.9% of the religious web sites on the Internet, we do not promote one point of view. We are a multi-faith group with diverse beliefs concerning deity, humanity and the rest of the universe. Members of our group have diverse personal beliefs about women's abortion access. We try to explain all points of view accurately, clearly, and concisely.

On topics related to Bible passages, we explain at least the conservative and liberal Christian position. Sometimes, we toss in the beliefs of the early Christian church from the 1st and 2nd century CE. Often the three belief systems are quite different. Where groups like the Southern Baptists, Catholic Church, Episcopalians, etc. have different beliefs, we often explain these as well.

On topics related to homosexuality, we explain the beliefs of religious conservatives; we also explain the beliefs of the LGBT community, human sexuality researchers, therapists, and religious liberals.

We are not promoting our own beliefs here. We are acting as reporters, explaining the beliefs of others.

There are literally tens of thousands of pro-life sites out there which promote restriction or elimination of access to abortion services. Many are not particularly accurate. There are many hundreds of pro-choice web sites who are keen to preserve access to abortion. Many of them are not particularly accurate either. We feel that there is a need for a web site to present all sides to each topic. We hope that people will find the information on this web site helpful while making their own decisions.

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How can a Christian disbelieve any major part of the Bible?

Incoming Email: "...explain to me how a  Christian would discount anything in the Bible. I don't mean picking and choosing parables as literals but not believing something to be the foundation of humanity."

Our response: We get a lot of questions of this type. Most are related to the visitor's definition of the word "Christian."

Suppose we temporarily assign a new meaning to the term "Christian" than the one you may be used to -- just for the purposes of this dialog. Suppose we define "Christian" as anyone who sincerely, devoutly, prayerfully, seriously, and thoughtfully believes themselves to be a follower of Christ and his teachings. This term "Christian" would then include Fundamentalist Protestants, other Evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, liberal Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox followers, Mormons, Unificationists, Christian Scientists, a small percentage of Unitarian Universalists, etc.

A major difference among these various groups relates to the nature of the Bible, The following is a gross over-simplification, but may give you some idea of the dynamics involved.

  • Those in the most conservative wing of Christianity tend to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that it was written by authors who were inspired by God, and that the original, autograph copies, as written by the authors, are inerrant.

  • Those in the liberal wing of Christianity tend to believe that the Bible was written by a variety of authors each of whom promoted their own belief systems. Since it was written over an approximately 1,000 year interval, it shows a gradual transformation in Hebrew and Christian beliefs.

    The writers lived in a pre-scientific age. Thus their knowledge of cosmology, human sexuality, how languages developed, what causes rainbows, how species developed, etc. were quite primitive. So their writings on these topics are typically wrong. Their writings also reflected the customs of the time, which accepted human slavery; genocide; the execution of witches, gays, people who picked up sticks on Saturday, and non-virgin brides; torture and raping of prisoners; polygyny -- a variety of polygamy with one husband and more than one wife; the oppression of women; xenophobia; religious intolerance; dictatorships; theocracies; sexism; homophobia, the transfer of sin and its punishment from the guilty to the innocent; and other practices which are abhorrent -- or becoming abhorrent -- in today's culture. Most feel that although these practices were clearly not the will of God -- then or now -- they appear in the Bible because the authors honestly believed that God supported them. They sincerely, devoutly and thoughtfully felt that they were describing the will of God.

The Bible contains hundreds of inconsistencies. For example, the synoptic gospels -- Mark, Matthew and Luke -- clearly teach that there are two ways to reach heaven: by treating other people kindly and with love, or by emulating Jesus' lifestyle of a poverty stricken itinerant preacher. The Gospel of John clearly teaches that one goes to heaven if you accept Jesus to be the Son of God. The writings of Paul clearly state that one goes to heaven if you recognize Jesus' resurrection.

For another example, many passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) clearly teach that the universe has many gods. They are described in anthropomorphic terms -- deities who are large, extremely powerful, human like creatures with bodies.  It is only the later prophets who made the transition to consider Yahweh as the only God, and to accept the belief that God is a spirit.

  • Religious conservatives tend to pick certain texts as definitive -- Paul's writings on salvation and the description of God as spirit in the above two cases. Those passages which disagree are usually interpreted symbolically. Sometimes passages can only be harmonized by really stretching their interpretation to an extreme. But conservatives do this because they believe strongly in the overriding principle of biblical inerrancy.

  • Religious liberals generally accept that the Bible shows an evolution in religious and spiritual thought. Thus, they have no problem with different and conflicting paths to salvation and different concepts of God. They would be surprised if the Bible was internally totally consistent.

In conclusion:

  • In general:
    • Conservative Christians generally believe the Bible to be true on all matters such as theology, morality, spirituality, astronomy, geology, biology, cosmology, etc. You cannot pick and choose what passages to believe and which to reject.

    • Liberal Christians generally believe that the Bible is helpful in spiritual and moral matters. However, we have to reject parts of it as not representing the will of God. We have to reject other parts because they established laws that are abhorrent by today's moral standards. This is what one would expect since the books were written by authors who lived in a pre-scientific era and who were tainted by primitive lifestyles and culture.

  • Since the visitor asked about homosexuality:
    • Religious conservatives tend to concentrate on the half dozen or so "clobber" passages which they interpret as condemning certain types of same-sex behavior and generalize those passages to refer to all same-sex activity, whether performed by two men or two women, who are involved either in a one-night stand or a committed relationship.

    • Religious liberals frequently believe that we can safely ignore biblical passages on homosexuality as we do those on human slavery, executing non-virgin brides, etc. They are simply relics from an earlier age that are:
      • Invalidated by current scientific knowledge, and/or
      • Immoral by today's different moral and ethical standards.

      Also, they might point out that their interpretation of the "clobber" passages do not refer to homosexual activity generally, and certainly not to same-sex behavior within a committed relationship. Rather they refer to very specific behaviors:

      • homosexual rape (Genesis 19)
      • homosexual ritual sex in Pagan temples (two passages in Leviticus)
      • homosexual prostitution (many places in the Old Testament)
      • men molesting boys (1 Corinthians)
      • heterosexuals engaged in homosexual behavior (Romans)
      • men engaging in bestiality (inter-species sex) with angels (Jude)

      Many view the Bible as silent on sexual activity within committed relationships. This includes relationships between two men or two women who have been married in a civil or religious ceremonY in one of the  areas of the world that allow this, including:

      • 13 countries: Holland, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand. England and Wales, Scotland, etc.

      • 19 states and the District of Columbia in the United States.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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Site navigation: Home page > Comments > Questions > here

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Copyright © 2003 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-APR-11
Latest update and review: 2014-OCT-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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