Woltersdorff on 9/11, secularism and religious tolerance

Nick Woltersdorff, former Calvin College and Yale Divinity School professor gave a fascinating 10 year retrospective on 9/11.

This second little segment I found enormously correct, insightful and helpful.

Religious difference and responses:

1. Other religions are interesting… all paths lead to God… no one is better than the other.

I think W. is dead on correct on this. I hear a lot of people attempting this around me but I never find it honest. Those who like to do so usually find some religions, often those with “fundamentalist” labels on them to be inferior than the religion they subscribe to. They wish to gut the traditional religions and construct a least-common-denominator religion from them but that of course simply begs the question because their newly constructed religion as all the knotty particularities (despite much protestation) of the religions they are replacing.

W. here says that doesn’t really work and I think he’s right.

2. Indifference to religious differences. This isn’t tolerance and it isn’t “all religions are the same” either. It’s kind of a pragmatic “shelving” of the issue, but I think in the end is neglect.

3. Tolerance says that I think my religions IS superior. I prefer it to the other religions. I think in fact that I am right and they are wrong (I think this is the most honest approach) but I need to find within my religion the path to tolerating the religions of others around me. Tolerance asks religious adherents to look within the capacities of that religion to accomplish this. W then begins to speak from a Christian point of view.

Now I’m going to wander from Nick’s script.

If you recognize the truth of the point that W. makes in this it impacts a lot of one’s posture towards other religions. On one hand, anyone who believes themselves to be right on various important subjects (religion, politics, etc.) there is within us a sense of obligation to that rightness to influence others towards it. To believe one self right on an important matter and to not advocate for that matter is to hate your neighbor, give up on this planet and give up on “the right” altogether. This is why we write, vote, educate, participate. I don’t think its honest to do any of this without confessing that in fact we are all proselytizing on ranges of subjects, beliefs and values. I think there is something deeply human about this.

Part of what Christianity has to contribute on this is the command of its master to “love your enemies like yourself.” In my experience Christians quickly relegate this command to a level of advanced Christianity that should only be expected of exceptional saints. Regular people who have jobs, families, watch sports and indulge in pet sins can slide by without it. I think loving enemies is part of Christianity 101 even though it requires a lifetime to practice.

Love of enemies requires us to not park at point 1. Point 1 simply isn’t honest.

Love of enemies requires us to not park at point 2. Love is a desiring the good. Point 2 is at best a benign neglect that doesn’t appreciate that value demands desire. The good should be desired because it is good. To neglect the good is a form of coldly despising it which is not just.

Love of enemies requires a kind of tolerance. A tolerance that recognizes the value in the other and desires good for one’s neighbor. There are various goods in a complex relational economy so it is not a simple thing but the goal of it is clear.

The Christian story is that of a tolerant creator who seeks the good of his creatures while tolerating their stewardship of his creation. Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the tares is all about tolerance. pvk

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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