Well, this was a head-scratcher.
You may have seen the latest survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Versions of the story ran in most major newspapers on Tuesday.
The survey finds that a majority of those who are affiliated with a religion do not believe their religion is the only way to salvation.
Now, there’s nothing extraordinary about that in and of itself. After all, this idea of polytheism has been circulating since antiquity.
What is surprising is that the survey indicates that 57 percent of those who described themselves as evangelical Christians hold that view.
At this point, I add my own data: 57 percent of those who describe themselves as evangelical Christians aren’t.
Now I know this is going to seem like a harsh assessment. It may even sound mean-spirited, disrespectful, I realize.
That sort of thinking simply does not conform with the Cult of Tolerance, which is apparently the god of this age.
But sometimes intolerance is the only real choice.
The fact is, we demand intolerance in many important areas of our lives.
For example, it is intolerant that 2 +2 = 4. There are pre-schoolers out there for whom a tolerant view of the equation would allow for the answer to be 5 or 7 and 34. A child who adds 2 and 2 and gets 5 is no less sincere and honorable than the child that arrives at 4.
And while it may bruise a child’s ego to be told that his addition is faulty, it is better for him to suffer that shame than continue in error. Common sense tells us that much.
No doubt, it is harsh when the doctor arrives with a grim prognosis, but no one is his right mind would expect the doctor to tell his patient he has the flu when the doctor knows the patient has cancer. It is better, in this case, not to spare the truth to in order to spare one’s feelings.
So what do you think? Is it intolerant to claim that the only way to God is through the Christian faith? Before we get to that, I think it's important to recognize the true nature of tolerance.
Genuine tolerance, the sort that should be advocated, is simply this: Impose your beliefs on no one; share them on anyone who inquires. That is what I have tried to do. It is consistent with my faith while being generous to those outside my faith.
During the darkest days of my recent journey, I've been most comforted by people of other faiths. People like Ann Rosenberg and Lowell Cohn, both Jewish, have been so kind and sharing that I know that I will never be able to repay the debt of gratitude I owe them.
So, even though my faith differs from theirs, I do not believe that either would suggest that I am intolerant.
But when it comes to Christians, I can speak with certainty on this point, although I am only a layman.. To wit: A Christian simply cannot hold the view that there are other paths that lead to God outside the Christian faith.
Rather than take my word for it, better to go to the authority on this subject. So what did Jesus have to say on the matter?
“I am the way, the Truth and the Life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.’’ (John 14:6, emphasis is mine)
There is nothing ambiguous in that statment, no grounds on which to arrive at a diffferent interpretation that would open the door for the validity of other faith systems.
Notice, Jesus did not say, “I am one way, one truth and one life. Some men cometh unto the Father by me.’’
The implications are obvious: The person who believes that salvation can come from a source other than Christ contradicts Christ himself and, by extension, cannot seriously consider himself a Christian. I don’t know what that person is, quite frankly.
Like I said, it’s a head-scratcher.
And it should be a wake-up call to the clergy.
These days, you will hear a lot of ministers lamenting the demise of Christian ideals in the public arena. But I wonder if that angst isn't misdirected in light of the Pew survey. Seems to me those ideals are as scarce in the church house and the home as they are in the schools and court house.
Which, do you think, represents a greater threat to the faith?