Tolerance is impossible…

To insist that all religions are right, that all the roads are going to the same place, is actually silly… We’d have to be intellectually intolerant.

Hitler, for example, believed he was on a divine mission… Nazism really had very religious roots, and yet the world by consensus has decided that it’s not valid. As soon as you send judgment on that particular religion, then you’re already denying your original principle.

Theological tolerance of religions is absolutely impossible for anybody. When you say to me, “You mustn’t try to convert people to your religion, as if your religion is superior,” what you’re really saying is, “I want you to abandon your inferior view of religious truth and take my superior view”… [saying] that your view of religious truth— that all religion is relative— is superior to my religious truth— that some religious truths are absolute. And so you’re doing the very thing you say I shouldn’t do… What you’re immediately saying is “Your road doesn’t go the same place. You’re actually saying, “My view of religion is superior to your view of religion.”

So to say all religions are relative is a religion… To say you can’t judge between religions is to judge between religions. To say you can’t determine right and wrong beliefs is a determination of right and wrong beliefs… To insist that no religious truth is superior (and by doing that insist that your religious truth is superior) is completely inconsistent.

-Tim Keller from “Authentic Christianity”


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

One thought on “Tolerance is impossible…

  1. we get caught in our own perspectives. sometimes that’s in seeing things in a black and white mentality, such as the post enlightenment, western view of dichotomy. either this or this. religion, true or false, for example.

    it’s simply a bad question.

    but in addressing that view, the oddity in this blog isn’t the one to marvel at. what is, is the psychology of the author. he seems to say there’s a true religion or there’s relativism, we cannot just claim something is true because that entails relativism and therefore, i claim my religion is true and absolute.

    that’s not how any of this works.

    we can’t talk about truth, only justification, and it seems to me we compare descriptions encompassing facts and ask which is most reasonable to believe, if any.

    in the case of religions, the idea there is one religion which is true is a completely unjustified belief exactly because it entails only a fiat of truth. compared to the criticism here which would entail facts of the matter, there is indeed a justified view. call that superior if you’d like, because any perfectly rational person seeks beliefs that are only the most justified things to believe.

    and what’s more justified? an incomprehensible deity by definition, comprehended exactly like we comprehend objects in the world, or the view (fr herbert mccabe, norman geisler, a.j. ayer, george smith, etc) that because god is ineffable, “we have no concept of god. what we think and say about god doesn’t god for the god we try to name”; exactly the same comment in the tao about the tao (the conclusion there, that thinking otherwise is “tragic”).

    what’s more justified? a universalistic theory of atonement which actually mirrors jesus’ universalistic message and life (which had zero to do “one way only”) … or a theory of atonement that is 1,500 years late and is morally repugnant and rejected by the whole of christian theology, save the anomoly of the calvinist? abelard, or calvin?

    these are not undecidable things. indeed, you have decided, but the difference it would seem here is that you have done so by say so.

    tolerance isn’t just possible. tolerance is the christian mandate. to be intolerant is to say you yourself know god, know the truth. i’m sorry, but you don’t and even more clear is how little you’ve exposed yourself to formal theological or philosophical study. all, while demanding in certitude that “i know!”

    is there a right religion? it’s a bad question because we cannot know given the single fact that we cannot purport to know anything about transcendent beings that are then by definition, unknowable.

    all one can ask is “does this mean something to me and is it worth believing”.

    and until the enlightenment, this was the christian question and faith wasn’t a membership by ascent to a particular belief-set. it was answering with a yes, then being faithful in its application.


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