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On Religious Tolerance

Posted 08-19-2010 at 12:05 PM by EinsteinsGhost

A few months ago, the subject of sermon at the Irving Bible Church was about what are the pre-requisites to be a Christian. The pastor spoke of three criteria, two of them are easy and all Christians abide by: Believing in Jesus Christ and Accepting Him as the Son of God. It was the third, he said, is where most Christians fail. And that immediately reminded me of a quote by Mahatma Gandhi:

“Your Christians are unlike you Christ”

Jesus represented humility (Matthew 5:38) and demanded to love even your enemies (Matthew 5:43). He pointed at the hypocrisy in people judging others (Matthew 7:3, John 8:7). It is appalling, and sad, to look around and end up agreeing with the Mahatma, and with the pastor’s sermon. It is not surprising that non-Christians, and some Christians themselves, don’t look at the religion favorably. Claims don’t make for a religion, following what it preaches does. After all, Hitler claimed to be a Christian.
Perhaps it is that demagoguery using religion never went away from the USA, as it has prevailed in third world countries forever, but we see its influence on a greater scale today. Thanks to the way the people are connected. And that can be depressing at times.

The conversion of an old Burlington Coat Factory in Lower Manhattan to an Islamic Community Center, two blocks from the point where the once WTC stood has been the recent target of such demagoguery. To see that some of these leaders have had aspirations to acquire the highest office in the country, demonstrates the great weakness in our society. Are we better than third world countries dictated by fundamentalists? Are we better off comparing ourselves to them? Well, Mr. Newt Gingrich, what do you think? In your desire for publicity, you’re not really waging a war against Islam but against the very principles of religious tolerance that George Washington, John Adams, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson accepted and instituted into the law of the land.

In his letter to various religious congregations existing at the time in the United States, George Washington wrote (Aug 18, 1790):

“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.”

In an essay, “Monopolies, Perpetuities, Corporations, Ecclesiastical Endowments”, by James Madison (1810) the following remarks point at the dangers of religious establishments taking control:

"The doctrine that religious truth is to be tested by numbers, or that the major sects have a right to govern the minor."

The constitution was designed to protect the civil liberties of every individual and consequently, the minorities were protected from the majority. It is also why the wall of separation between the government and religion was instituted under Bill of Rights in the First Amendment.

Even as someone extremely intolerant of other religions such as Islam, Judaism and especially Roman Catholicism (see: Party of One), John Adams grew up to preach religious tolerance, and walked the talk from there on. Coincidentally, one instance deals with pretty much the same scenario. In 1778, James Warren wrote to John Adams about the fear Americans had that an alliance with Catholic France would endanger religion in the new United States. In his response, Adams logically refuted that fear and mentioned that in the new age where tolerance must rule, the fear was fit for ridicule rather than a serious argument.

Thomas Jefferson was no different. In fact, he went further and created The Jefferson Bible, to emphasize on moral philosophy of Jesus rather than a focus on the miracles and mysticism. And it isn’t a bit surprising that he was seen as an infidel by the Christian clergy of Philadelphia and came under attack during the Presidential campaign in 1800. The following are his words in response to the threats, duly engraved at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC:

"I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every from of tyranny over the mind of man. When they see the word "God" many Christians see this as "proof" of his Christianity without thinking that "God" can have many definitions ranging from nature to supernatural. Yet how many of them realize that this passage aimed at attacking the tyranny of the Christian clergy of Philadelphia, or that Jefferson's God was not the personal god of Christianity?”

Today, we see a world where a part of the populace wants to build upon the ideals that was one of the fundamental pillars upon which a great American society was envisioned by these great men who were, perhaps, well ahead of their time, and may be responsible for the envy that exists against America in countries dictated by fundamentalists. And then there are others, who are the fundamentalists and couldn’t care less about the principles. They existed then, as they do now. But hopefully, in far smaller numbers, if America has to survive and continue on the path it was founded on.
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