a rant on tolerance

by Zach Kincaid
Tolerance is king today. Coexist. Harmonize your habitat. Shake it, shake it, Salome... but not too much. We want to avoid filling platters with our own necks. And to avoid such ends, we exchange statements from "I know" to "I think I know." Why? Because the arch enemy of tolerance is arrogance, and who wants to be a bastard child to that cold word?

The triune manifesto of grace, love, and truth binds itself in divisive knots while tolerance alone forms enough space between apathy and indifference to string together a code. The code is a subjective attitude that is disguised in objectivity. Your world is yours and mine is mine, but I'll be objective about your subjectivity and you pass along the same to me... because we are all products of our own upbringings and our opinions stem from controls that are not our own, until we define them in our own circumference. Once they stick to your person, who am I to say my ideas are better than yours... that your ideas stick like disposed gum underneath some forgotten table waiting for a vulnerable hand to discover. Juicy Fruit. Yuck. Who am I to say that your dogma cannot hold a rightness that makes sense in your own head. Am I judge? Can I call down some mandate from heaven and proclaim that what is making me is not something or someone I made up with demands that you need to follow as well?

It doesn't help my criticism in being a member of a university and attending a church that sometimes mistakes piety as academic prowess and kisses tolerance with great affection. There is nothing "higher" about higher education these days because they've leveled everything like the snow in Withering Heights which makes a certain sameness to all the contours that once made landscape scape. And churches, like the one I attend, often soften Jesus to be something less than a bleeding Messiah who spoke into the world - all our worlds - with the very truths of God.

Churches have a variety of ways they get around the absolutes that Jesus speaks about. These are not new and the first of them is a plain lie spoken by a forked tongue of some three-points-to-happiness asshole pastor who mixes truth with some digestible batter that is only banter - drivel from the likes of Andy Stanley church malls.

Other ways are of a more reserved critique, the kind that forces a thinking cap to cover one's head (male and female alike). The Gospels get ripped apart and dissected like some frog in the hands of that bully in your junior high school biology class. The creature is hardly recognizable in the end and you're likely wearing his guts on your shoulder the rest of the day. Evangelism that calls for conversion is also taken to task either with words that make it less abrasive or chucking it altogether. And then, there's the Apostle Paul. He's liked less and less by academic Christian types - those who build out an NPR Jesus. Paul concludes too many issues as black and white, and everybody knows that tolerance has a favorite color in gray. Old and New Testaments often get a divorce. This is done by ways of making the Old speak to the New in metaphors alone or dismissing it wholesale in delivering any intrinsic value to one's faith. There are a great number of sensitivities, you see, that the Old Testament skips over for the sake of and in the defense of God's chosen people. Chosen? What do you mean? Chosen above and outside of other civilizations and peoples? That cannot be tolerated.

I should admit that I'm no ideologue for a narrow view of Scripture or God. That is to say, I don't set up camp with fundamentalists or even evangelicals exclusively. It may sound like that's the road I'm navigating toward, but it's not. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, right?) I grew up with some of that fare and I'm not a fan of it, at least not the ways it's developed - Southern Baptist making Scripture the fourth rung of the Trinity or Falwell's disciples embellishing politics with particular calls for morality or Dobson's whines for social behavior to mimic a strict code. I don't see much salvation in such maneuvering.

Rather, my latest beef is with a theological slack that is not a companion with traditional Christianity. It is a child of humanism and modernity gone post(al). It wants to love everyone to the point of stripping Jesus of not only his flesh and blood, but his bones as well. It sees Jesus as a dividing personality and someone it invites into its closet as a skeleton of old. Dead? Maybe, but not for remission of sins because how can we qualify sin? Risen? No, bury it. We'll have to explain magic clouds and the brouhaha of afterlife myths and that alarming idea of... HELL. It's not good. Instead, tack up general hope and talk about fixing the ills of society. Now that helps the, "if you have eyes, see; if ears, hear" message. It's solid and identifiable. We can set goals and meet them. We can see heaven as a place on earth (with or without Belinda Carlisle... preferably without).

A week or so ago, our church hosted a Muslim Fullbright scholar from Egypt. She was visiting the Mercer campus and the chaplain set up an interview to replace the normal "prayer meeting" that normally follows Wednesday night supper. I think shriveled up fried fish and broccoli casserole made the menu that night so Ramadan fasting felt just right. (I passed on the meal.)

Now, I love Muhammad. I especially like the tale of the big spider's web that hid him from all those cats that thought he went loony with his monotheism invasion of the giant black alien rock in Mecca. My other favorite is Joseph Smith, which is seemingly way out of order with Muhammad given his name and the Wild West gun fights and such, but they each had delightful revelations from God and his angels... one allowed for four wives and the other as many as your afterlife planet and contemporary wallet could afford. And neither carry that frivolous arrogance about Jesus as Son of God, only way, zeusified, all that baggage. There's not that distinction from other prophets so you are free and open to wander and have revelations that place you (and your penis, no doubt) at the center of the world, inside the cavities of the earth, where you uncover new ways to reach the heavens and experience God. It's so open and grace-filled compared to that ol' backwards Jesus who put on all the antics - supposedly even rising from the dead - to demonstrate some special status and make him the only get-up to the divine. Foolishness. Especially, as I've said, in today's world where tolerance is seen as the highest form of love, and love by way of truth is defamed as sinister and divisive... the stuff of knights with spandex and swords aimed at Jews and Muslims. That's the image of truth-wearing love -- code words for crusade times... And best yet, you don't have to make all these martyring plans if you strip Jesus down to the bone and tolerate everyone for the sake of this new Sinai... no objectivity, no subjection of death by what you believe, no love of one's neighbor the way Philip went about it. Screw Isaiah and conversion. Love ought not to attach itself to anything other than my soul to yours. No strings into the heavens and no strings to bounce back earth-filled blessings. It's a great thing. Imagine it... no heaven... no earth... all the people... harmony.

Hell? Bastard. You would bring that up. Satan? Damn it. Sin? Now what are you fishing for? That I need a particular something outside of my own psyche to fulfill the common guilt that humanity has always experienced? That I need some sacrifice like all peoples everywhere have performed since the onset of humanity - an aroma that beckons divinity to enter our space and enact some redemptive peace by way of flood control or harvest or clothing our nakedness? And on top of that, are you suggesting that there may be a right above and beyond my ideas of right that I can embrace as a guide to afterlife provisions and correct living as preparation for what will come? If you are Christian the last question is answered with a emphatic, YES.

So, that makes Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Unitarian-Universalism, Judaism, Sikhism, and all those systems in between, insufficient means to rally the divine. That's code for wrongness. Here's the couch: that doesn't mean that they aren't reflective of getting at the need for purity and hope, for peace and love. However, in the end, they are wrong and that's the thing that makes Christianity stick out like a sore thumb and the reason some of the intellectual-cats have cut off the thumb entirely.

In a world where tolerance of king, Christianity will increase its martyr count if we are honest with the means and ends of our faith - through a virgin comes the breath of God himself - fleshed out- to seek and save that which is lost. He invites all to lean in and hear the riddles of God and decide if they are true or simply tricks to help us cope or cross the ultimate bridge if we answer them correctly. Lewis says that Jesus is either a liar, lunatic, or lord. Christianity must proclaim him as lord and call out he alone as begotten of the father for the love of the world and for our salvation - the only way, truth, and life.