I have observed two kinds of tyranny in the media and public forum when it comes to moral, religious, or political conflict. The first kind is a tyranny of bigotry which takes firm held beliefs about politics, religion, ethics, etc., and attempts to coerce or shame others into agreement. It disregards the humanity and dignity of those with whom it disagrees. The second kind is a tyranny of tolerance. This tyranny regards “tolerance” as the highest (if not the only) virtue, and then attempts to coerce or shame others into a malleability of all other beliefs besides tolerance. It is as though anything but indifferent relativism is a hate crime.
The more globalized our public forum becomes, increasing our awareness of “otherness” in the world, the more we are faced with the challenge of how to be at peace with other people in a war of conflicting ideas. As Christians, it seems strange to parade “tolerance” as the most respect we can offer our fellow human beings. Christ commands much more. We are not called to “tolerate” other people, we are called to love them – even our enemies. We are not, however, called to tolerate their ideas, rather to respect to the utmost their free will to believe them.
The tyranny of bigotry leads to an utter misrepresentation of Christ. We would do well to remember St. Paul’s admonition to “Live in harmony with one another” and “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” We might recall that Christ warns us to “judge not” lest we ourselves be judged. God has made every human being in His own Image, and people are far more important than ideas. All the ideas in the world do not hold a candle to the eternal value of one human being in front of you with whom you deeply disagree.
On the other hand, I mean no judgment of the Coexist organization when I say that the Coexist bumper sticker has always upset me.* I think it misrepresents a fundamental reality about diversity – diverse people coexist, diverse ideas do not. Show me a bumper sticker with a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian, and a Buddhist holding hands and I would be happy to have that on my car, but to place the symbols of each of these religions and form the word “coexist” implies that there is some way in which these ideologies are all compatible. They’re not.
Christian Trinitarianism is offensive to the Monarchian monotheism of Judaism, the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is an abomination to Islam, and the eternal being and Divine distinction within the Holy Trinity is antithetical to the foundational tenets of Buddhism. All religions are not the same, they do not all lead to the same place, and they do not all encourage the same goal for humanity. When we disagree about religion, we do not disagree about trivialities.
This tolerant tyranny misrepresents both the truth and the love of God. We do not believe that God indifferently set the cosmos in motion and stepped out. God does not say “live and let live,” He says, “I am your Life.” Let us remember that in addition to calling us to peace, St. Paul also says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” We battle against every argument, every belief that is contrary to Christ, and battle we should! Only let us remember to venerate the Image of our Lord in every person with whom we fight in the war of ideas.
*From what I have read, the Coexist organization appears to be a laudable organization attempting to bring peace to communities around the world who desperately need it.