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Monday, March 11, 2013

No Place For Religious Intolerance

I recently have had the misfortune of watching what I thought was going to be an entertaining movie about the paranormal. I was not far into the movie when I realized that it was a thinly disguised mockery of a viewpoint that many Christians hold to be true about the spirit universe. Specifically, that all spirit activity is caused by demons. Now if you read my book, you will see that I think this particular belief is oversimplified and over generalized, but certainly must be respected and its assumptions evaluated in deliverance ministry. The real question here deals with the role (if any) of religious intolerance in the paranormal.

What Is Tolerance?
Tolerance is often confused with other religious or philosophic issues, which really do not apply or that add to its meaning. In modern humanistic society, to tolerate something is to agree that it is correct or truthful. So for many, tolerance simply means that one must capitulate truth or one must not strongly disagree with or disapprove of another’s beliefs or practices. In this definition, anyone who holds to the idea of an absolute truth, or who evaluates and expresses value judgments based on concepts such as right or wrong, is considered to be intolerant.

In modern society, tolerance is also confused with respect. That is, to be tolerant is to respect another. Actually, the two attitudes are substantially different. I can disrespect people I tolerate, or I can refuse to tolerate the behavior of people I do respect.

Because of this kind of confusion in the definition and understanding of tolerance and intolerance, Christians are often accused of being intolerant because they reject other gods and stand for the truth of Christ.

Biblical Tolerance
To get a better idea of what Christian tolerance is all about, we can look to the Book of Romans (ESV) starting with the 14th chapter:
1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”

12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.

In this Scripture portion, Paul gives us some really important principles concerning tolerance and intolerance. First, Paul never says that the truth of an issue must be ignored or that conflict will not take place as we discuss the differences in opinion that folk hold about the truth.  In other words, Paul does not tell us to abdicate speaking the “truth in love” just to placate the emotions of another person who disagrees with us. Nor does Paul suggest that we shilly-shally around discussions about issues important to us.

Secondly, what Paul does recommend is that we attack the issues and not the people who hold a differing opinion.  Nor should we purposely offend someone just because we can do so by mocking their beliefs or practices. Paul attitudinally defines intolerance as both holding people in contempt for what they believe and mocking or ridiculing their practices.  Once these attitudes have matured the door is open to behavioral intolerance. Behavioral intolerance takes place when people who hold a differing opinion are forced to adopt a belief system contrary to what they hold  to be true. Often intolerance results in punishment, or even death for those who remain true to their own opinion.

Thirdly, Paul indicates that tolerance is void of judgment because God is the only true judge. Instead, he suggests that we give grace to those in disagreement, and try to understand their position  by developing empathy for them as people who need the love of God.  To become intolerant is to reject love, and none of us can afford to be without love, regardless of what we believe.

In the Paranormal
By virtue of the topic of study, the paranormal should be wide open to discussion and debate of all types.  As a Christian, I have no fear that my faith or my Biblical knowledge of the spirit universe will be found lacking in any way, but I also know that because I stand for the truth of Christ I will be accused of being intolerant.

Yet, some of the most intolerant people I have ever come into contact with are those accusing me of being intolerant because I strongly disagree with their interpretation of the spirit universe.  Often they mock and degrade my beliefs somehow thinking that they have to right to do so because they think that I am the intolerant one.

Anyone who joins either a paranormal investigation team or deliverance ministry should closely examine their level of tolerance and follow the advice of Paul. Speak the truth but do so in the love of Christ for those who need him.

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