May 4th, 2006

Crying Man

The Myth of Secular Tolerance

I recently read The Myth of Secular Tolerance (PDF) from Cambridge Papers. I really enjoyed reading it. It was well written, concise, and made some very good points.

This is the article summary from the paper:

The resurgence of religious violence at the start of the twenty-first century has reinforced the myth of secular tolerance—the notion that whereas religious believers are instinctively intolerant, tolerance comes naturally to the secular mind. This paper challenges the myth. It suggests that secular people are not immune from the temptation to persecute and vilify others, and argues that the Christian Gospel fostered the rise of religious toleration.

People are so fond of blaming religion for wars, oppression and violence, particularly in light of 9/11 and the associations between George Bush and Christians in the United States. Certainly, Christians do have a lot to be ashamed of in our history, and much to repent of right now. However, the article quite rightly points out that just because someone doesn’t believe in religion, this doesn’t make them more naturally inclined towards tolerance. The author includes this quote from John Gray:

The role of humanist thought in shaping the past century’s worst regimes is easily demonstrable, but it is passed over, or denied, by those who harp on about the crimes of religion. Yet the mass murders of the 20th century were not perpetrated by some latter-day version of the Spanish Inquisition. They were done by atheist regimes in the service of Enlightenment ideas of progress. Stalin and Mao were not believers in original sin. Even Hitler, who despised Enlightenment values of equality and freedom, shared the Enlightenment faith that a new world could be created by human will. Each of these tyrants imagined that the human condition could be transformed through the use of science.

Perhaps, however, I simply enjoyed the article because I feel like my faith has been under attack recently. Some of my friends have decided to turn their backs on God, and others have serious doubts. I try to remind them of how much God loves them while my heart breaks at what they’re going through, and I feel slightly hypocritical. How can I tell them God loves them when they feel so awful? And yet, I am convinced that the only answers and the only hope are found in Christ. Where else have we to go?

Or perhaps I simply enjoyed the article because I recently started reading The Da Vinci Code, and stumbled across a TV program called something like ‘Who wrote the NT?’. Both question (well, more like poo all over, but that wouldn't be polite to say) the authenticity of the New Testament, which just happens to be the basis for nearly all that I believe about life, the universe and everything. Perhaps it's just nice to read something that supports what I believe, as opposed to stuff which attempts to undermine my faith.