Is it intolerant and bigoted to say some religions are wrong?
As was recently demonstrated in a senate confirmation hearing, some people assume the answer to that question is yes.
Senators Bernie Sanders and Chris Van Hollen argued that Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, was unfit for that position, in part, because he wrote a blog post that said Muslims “stand condemned” because of their rejection of Jesus.
Sanders said “the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”
Van Hollen said he, like Vought, was a Christian “but part of being a Christian, in my view, is recognizing that there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God.”
For his part, Vought tried to place those comments in the context of a theological discussion. He also clarified, “As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of their religious beliefs.”
By their statements, Sanders and Van Hollen are expressing their support for a modern understanding of tolerance. In this manner, being tolerant means you cannot make exclusive religious claims. It is hateful to Muslims to say they will not spend eternity with God because of their beliefs.
Claiming exclusivity, speaking as if your perspective alone is true, is, by this definition, intolerant and unacceptable today.
But take a closer look at what Sanders and Van Hollen said. By their own standards they are being intolerant.
Sanders is claiming that he knows better than a Muslim what is offensive and hateful toward them, even though he’s not Muslim.
He should ask Muslim Americans what they find more offensive: a Christian claiming they are condemned if Christianity is true or claiming both they and Christians worship the same God.
Do they believe an evangelical Christian who has never observed the Five Pillars of Islam is in a right, obedient relationship with God?
Van Hollen said from his perspective, Christianity recognizes that there are many ways people can pursue God.
If he’s arguing that Christianity teaches there are many legitimate ways to reach God, then 1) he might want to talk to Jesus about that 2) he’s still making an exclusive truth claim.
He’s saying his version of Christianity is more true or more right than Vought. He’s saying Vought is wrong about God and salvation.
Would that be just as bigoted and intolerant as he and Sanders are claiming Vought’s statement is?
Saying, “All roads lead to God” may make someone feel more tolerant, but it is just as intolerant as any other religious claim. Saying that is also saying, “Anyone who says only one road leads to God is wrong.”
The “tolerant” religious inclusivist has made themselves feel morally and intellectually superior, but that demonstrates the faulty nature behind those claims. You’re still telling those who disagree with you that they are wrong.
In essence, Sanders and Van Hollen are telling billions of religious individuals around the world they are wrong about faith and salvation and the senators are right.
And they are asserting that only those who hold their specific religious beliefs are worthy of holding public office. That’s quite an inflated view about your religious opinions, no?
You are telling 54% of the American population they are wrong about faith and salvation and because of that mistaken religious belief they are ineligible to serve in politics. Who’s intolerant now?
Whether all roads lead to God is a different discussion, but, even if Sanders and Van Hollen don’t want to admit it, all roads do lead to exclusion.
Vought is saying to Muslims, “I disagree with you theologically, but I’ll protect your rights.”
Sanders and Van Hollen are saying to Vought, “I disagree with you theologically, therefore I don’t believe your rights are worth protecting.”
Which one of those is actually intolerant?