Monday, October 27, 2008

Not All Differences Should Be Tolerated

Normally it's an arrogance to assume your own culture is superior to that of another.

However there are exceptions.

I should explain...

Recently I've been giving thought to the recent tragic death of Gayle Williams - a charity worker who was based in Afghanistan. The Taleban took her life because they believed she was spreading Christianity.

Militants have been targeting Christians in the country for some time, but what makes this especially tragic is that they are so blind to the good in others (probably wilfully blind), that they can't see beyond their hatred of what is different.

It doesn't matter that Serve Afghanistan is committed to helping disabled people in Afghan communities... all they could see was that this lady was different because of her beliefs... and for some crazed reason... that was justifiable enough reason in their sight to kill.

And that ladies and gentlemen is why I believe in this respect, our culture IS superior. We would not tolerate the killing of anyone on the basis of their belief... we find the very idea disgusting. We have seen what racial/cultural intolerance can do when left unchecked... how many millions died in the last century because of the ideals of a few insane people? These thoughts are not far from us as we prepare to commemorate the price paid to rid the western world of such tyranny, over 60 years ago.

Some people say we have no right sharing our differences with others in their own country and should respect the local culture without trying to impact upon it... yes, there is a valid point there... to a certain extent.

Except for one thing - nobody has a right to restrict an idea or a philosophy by an imaginary line around a patch of land. Every human being has the right to decide to believe as they will... it's not something that governments or militias should have any say in whatsoever.

I have a friend who is currently doing aid work in another south-east Asian country, and she lives under the shadow of being exposed to these potential dangers every day. So naturally this is a concern for me.

Some countries such as North Korea even take unspeakably revolting steps to prevent access to positions of faith that differ to that of the State... or punish their own people for daring to believe differently... and this is unacceptable.

It's a far cry from the kind of comfy world that we in the West are used to, where our governments responses to other cultures is to accommodate and assimilate (sometimes at the expense of what we might perceive our own heritage to be).

Personally I think everyone on the planet should be allowed to propagate their own beliefs and opinions so long as they don't conduct a "negative campaign", that is to say... adopt the tactic of attacking another person's culture. I certainly don't think the Early Church did that. I believe it's primary tactic was to emphasise the merits of living in Christ.

I know some may be reading this and thinking that those who are "foolish" enough to subscribe to a belief system can't complain when someone with a strong disagreement comes along with an objection... and to them I say, take the log out of your own eye - that's your own prejudice telling you that...and the sooner you wise up to it, the better off you'll be. This isn't something that is restricted to religion, faith and belief.

How many things - be they sublime or ridiculous, are people prepared to hurt or kill others over?

One of the darker aspects of human nature, is that when we are gathered in sufficient number, there is a temptation to view the smaller different groups with disdain, disgust and even hostility.

But we are better than this... we don't have to accept this stupid animalistic side to our natures... we are something better and nobler - all of us... and if half the world needs waking up to that, maybe that's something we need to look at.

But not through the crosshairs of a weapons periscope, or down the barrel of a gun.


  1. I don't think it has anything to do with our 'animalistic nature' since we are not animals. We were created in Gods image which is now seriously marred by Sin.

    The root cause is surely that sin, by its very nature, puts self at the centre of everything. For those deceived by moral relativism and those deceived into believing or choosing to believe that there is any other way than surrendering your life to Christ, taking a life for that belief seems perfectly rational.

    I know that is simplistic but at its root the selfishness at the heart of sin really is the root of all the worlds problems. Including the fanatics who would take a life because the person happens to believe something that is the antithesis of their own world view.

  2. Andrew, I understand your point, but I think you misunderstand mine.

    I of course accept that the sinful nature is at the heart of what is wrong. However, I also believe that the law of our fallen nature is itself expressed in the animal kingdom. The law of the jungle is pretty much "survival of the fittest". Our mutual "friend" Richard Dawkins named one of his books "The Selfish Gene". I do believe that being fallen makes us self-centric rather than God-centric. This nature is by it's very essence the diametric opposite to "love the Lord your God and love your neighbour as yourself... and love your enemies."

    Now because we were made in God's image, because he breathed directly into our beings to give us life as a race, we have our free will and sentient awareness and this sets us apart from the animals. We can choose by our own conscious thought... to discard the very things that lower beings are compelled to obey.

    I occasionally find that some people seem to live shadows of even a human existence... choosing to pretty much be animalistic... literally just living for primal, baser things.

    And whether we accept that in the past and even in some corners of the world in the present age, that people who killed/kill in the name of our God were indeed Christians or deceived by exploiting leaders whose own apparent faith when held up to the lens of history, was questionable... we must accept that they still killed.

    The hard fact, the bitter pill to swallow is that whatever the belief in the inner core of their heart... some of those murderous fanatics that we talk of... have ascribed their actions (wrongly) to a faith in our God.

    I think you are wrong to say that these people are doing this because what we believe is the antithesis of what they believe (unless of course you are talking about the heart's unseen desires and not what people consciously choose to believe). The fact is that people will do this simply because something is "different" whether or not it is opposite. Different is enough for them.

    One of my issues is that no man truly owns any part of this Earth... so how can any man have the arrogance to assume he has the right to hinder the spread of any idea or belief?

    There are many ideas and philosophies I find revolting... but I don't believe persecution of those ideas helps at all. We need to deconstruct lies with God's truth.

    If the Church had maintained treatment of gnosticism in the manner in which God's word prescribed, then heresies such as gnosticism would have died long ago... but it had to forget God's way and use man's military controlling way... and now instead, modern conspiracy theorists believe the Church was trying to hide something and have sowed the seeds for a renaissance of the great heresies.

    One of my beliefs is even simpler than what you are saying is simple: that fundamentally, we should not tolerate any group who think it is ok to kill another human being for simply thinking differently to them... it is simply not acceptable... and any group who actually thinks it is ok:

    IS barbaric
    IS undeveloped
    IS less civilised.

  3. The people I was referring to was the Fundamentalists who killed in the name of Islam a lady who was a Christian.

    Of course largely people fear anything different and a subset of those who fear difference act on it by attempting to remove that difference by killing.

    However I think the Taleban's rational and desire to kill Christians goes much deeper than fear of difference. It is bound up in religion/politics and the desire for power and control. However Christianity and Islam are the antithesis of each other no matter what the PC brigade would have us believe. Of course I am not saying all Muslims want to kill non Muslims because this is obviuously not true. But our theology is totaly different and in opposition.

    I also agree that much death and suffering has been handed out by the 'Christian' church in the name of our God. However none of it, in my view, represents true Biblical Christianity and they have/will be held accountable.

    Ultimately we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. But, at the same time, rightly stand up for justice when people murder in the name of any cause including freedom of Choice, ie: Abortion and any religious/ideological view that cannot tolerate an opposing view.

    I don't and didn't disagree with your main points at all. But question if we are better than this as you described. A persons sinful/depraved nature without rebirth in Christ is in control and the Inherent Dignity of being made in Gods image is not free to be expressed. Human nature is destined to destuction apart from Christ until His return.

  4. Anonymous6:49 am

    An interesting discussion.

    Freedom of belief and opinion can become a tricky issue outside of a Western context, not merely because some people make the (unwise) decision to propagate their beliefs through what you call "negative campaigns."

    I am living in India right now, which is a great place to contemplate these issues. It has a lot of the same problems as other countries, but a democratic outlook and politic which allows them to be addressed a little more actively and publicly.

    India is often given a high persecution index by organizations like Voice of the Martyrs, because of occasional instances of violence against Christians (that the government doesn't do enough to stop) and the anti-conversion laws it has recently added to the books. Of course, when it comes down to it, it is much, much easier to be a Christian in India than, say, Afghanistan.

    Hindus are afraid of Christianity, and it's not just because of negative campaigning. It's because even positive campaigning, even the propagation of a highly syncritistic Gospel, is understood as a threat to the traditional Hindu culture and belief. This is because of the resource imbalance. Christians are accused of (and sometimes do) manipulate the poor and uneducated into conversion by means of making it requisite for the receipt of social services or funds. (This is called rice Christianity, this practice is highly frowned upon these days, by almost everyone.)

    But even when Christians don't use such questionable strategies, Christianity can't escape its stigmatization as the religion of the rich foreigners. So to convert bears connotations of rejecting one's culture and community--even if this is not the intended message. And because right now there are so many rich Christians in the world, there are a lot of social advantages to conversion. Imagine how frustrating this would seem if you were a poor Hindu!

    The situation is similar in Muslim countries. To an Arab Muslim living in the Middle East, Christianity has little or nothing to do with what we believe about Jesus Christ, it has everything to do with the way that they see us to live and act in the world. Thus to them, what they see as heretical ideas are inextricably related with the loose moral standards they see exported in our media. They live in a sort of animalistic fear (that is sometimes warranted) of the capacity of our culture to completely annihilate theirs, and they respond in desperation (that isn't always logical.)

    The fact that what we believe is different provides a convenient excuse, and a fuel of symbols for these fears. But it's not primarily anger over theological differences. I believe that if I were to do secular volunteer work in the Middle East, or even if I were to convert to Islam first and do it under a Muslim umbrella, I would be in just as much danger as if I were doing culturally sensitive Christian missions work. Because of the color of my skin and my country of origin, I would be perceived as a symbolic incarnation of the unwelcome moral and social pressures of powerful foreign influence.

    This is not to say that killing Western aid workers is acceptable or excusable. But it is at least a little understandable, and it points to a deep healing that needs to happen in our cultural relationships. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to do this, and I don't think anyone else does, either. What can we do when even our most compassionate philanthropy is interpreted as another arm of imperialism?

    May God have mercy on us!

  5. Nick I agree with you! I totally agree!


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