Be Tolerant (Or I'll Smack You Upside the Head)


I want a religion. You want one too? Let’s go religion shopping! It’ll be fun. Let’s imagine a shopping mall for religions. Here we’ll find the big religions as well as the little, boutique faiths. Some religions claim to be the “only way,” and others allow for many ways. Some believe that God is in all of us, and some believe humanity is so bad off that we must get help from God. Some say there is no such thing as sin, and others teach that sin is a central, critical issue. Some religions have a hell, and a lot of others don’t have anything so . . . so ugly as that. There are a lot of choices to make here. How will we decide?

I like to think that I have a lot of personal potential, and I like a lot of traditions. I don’t want to be in a snooty, “I’m-right-and-everyone-else-is-wrong” religion. And I sure don’t like the idea of hell, but I do have a sin problem . . . maybe I don’t want to go with any of the “standard” religions. Maybe I want to select things from several? Ah, here’s the perfect thing! Let’s go into the “Build-a-Religion Store.”

It’s really nice in here. People are friendly, and everyone is assembling a religion that is just right for him or her. Everybody seems quite enlightened. No one is evangelizing or pressuring people to believe in anything they don’t want to believe in. The sign on the back wall says it all: “To each his own.” But wait. There is something missing even here.

In actuality, down deep very few people want to believe something that they know is just made up. Each of these religions says that certain things are true and certain things are false, and most of them differ widely. How can everything all of them say be true?

Let’s stop our imagining for a moment and think about that. The key element of truth is that it is fact; it is unwavering. Truth just “is,” and it does not respond in any way to our desires. It is like a bridge over a fast-running river of water. If you want to cross over the river, you discover where the bridge is and you cross it. You can’t choose where you want the bridge to be. You must go to the bridge. You can’t make up where you want the bridge to be. You can’t decide it would “work better for you” if it were a half mile down river—I suppose you could, but it would not make the bridge move. It’s not a matter of what’s right for you but perhaps what’s wrong for me; the bridge really is not a half mile down river. It is only where it is! If you try to cross where there is no bridge, you will be swept away in the river. You can choose your favorite color or create your favorite sandwich, but you cannot choose what is true. You don’t make up truth; you discover it.

Because truth will not alter to accommodate our desires, the only reasonable alternative is to alter our desires. I know. I don’t really want to do that either. It doesn’t sound as fun or as easy. It sounds like work and as though it may involve some amount of disappointment. It sounds . . . hard. But let’s look at the bright side; dealing with truth and reality keeps us from drowning in falsehood.

As it turns out, the Build-a-Religion Store and even the Mall of Religions are not where I want to be at all. Aren’t we just pretending if we try to choose our own truth? We have seen that it simply doesn’t work!

Before we Christians submit to an admonishment to “be tolerant” of other religions, we’d better understand what is really being demanded of us. I was listening to a lecture given by J. P. Moreland that I found on About halfway through it, he defines two principles of tolerance. One he calls the “classic principle” of tolerance that has been held in Western culture for centuries.¹ By this definition, if I disagree with you on a given point of real importance, I tell you that you are wrong and I attempt to show you where you are wrong. Now, I do this with respect, and I treat you with dignity. I don’t refuse to serve you in my place of business or try to ban you from anything because we disagree. But because I disagree with you, I will debate you in a loving and friendly way to try to convince you of my position. I am willing to tolerate you disagreeing with me, but I do not just stand by and let you continue to drown in falsehood. That would actually be an extremely selfish and heartless thing to do.

The “contemporary principle” of tolerance, however, dictates that the very act of saying someone else is wrong is, in and of itself, intolerant.² By this standard, I am not supposed to mind what anyone thinks. If your ideas are wrong and harmful, I just smile and support you as you drown. The only exception to this kind of tolerance is that people who hold this view will attack anyone who does believe he or she is right and another person is wrong. If you believe the bridge is here, and I say, “The bridge is not here; it is a half mile up river,” there will be a fight. No discussion is allowed. No discourse is launched in an attempt to discover reality. The attitude is often, “Be tolerant, or I will smack you upside the head.”

Conversely, I would add that if we maintain the right to attempt to prove the other side is wrong, we must be open to the fact that there may be some issues in which we are wrong. This should not scare us. We as Christians should never fear truth. We want truth; we should love truth because all truth comes from God. Therefore, we should be willing to yield our position as we search for truth. And if we are wrong, we need to get it right. The sooner, the better.

As we have seen, spiritual shopping malls don’t work in the search for truth. There is truth and there is falsehood. There is morality and immorality. Christ is our Savior because without Him we are all doomed. That is reality. That is the bridge that has been built for us. There is no other bridge—no matter how strongly others believe there is. And I hope we Christians will care about our unbelieving friends enough to lovingly show them that they are wrong. It’s what Jesus would do.

  1. J. P. Moreland, “Relativism,” The Veritas Forum,, accessed January 22, 2008.
  2. Moreland, “Relativism,” accessed January 22, 2008.

About the author


David Carl

David Carl serves in Children’s Ministries as children’s pastor at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. He oversees the church’s Preschool, Elementary, and Preteen Ministries. For 12 years, Dave served on staff at Insight for Living Ministries, primarily as creator and creative director of Paws & Tales, a weekly children’s radio program.

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