Tolerance and Charity
I've been interested in restudying the Renaissance lately. It was a period of time where so much changed in the world and with it brought forth enlightenment and freedom. It didn't come without upheavals and terrible events. That period of time also happens to overlap with the period of time when the Christian Reformation began with figures like Martin Luther.
I was doing some reading on a website that has been dedicated to commemorating the 500th anniversary of that reformation. Here is an excerpt from what I was reading:
"Despite the attention given to the 95 Theses, Martin Luther’s greatest contribution to the Protestant Reformation was another project: the translation of the Bible into the common German language, making it possible for laymen to learn the content of scripture. The New Testament was published in 1522 and the complete Bible (including the Apocrypha) in 1534. This was the event that made permanent the fracture between Protestants and Roman Catholicism. Once the language of the Bible could be read by the common man, the false traditions, hypocrisy and violation of Jesus’ teachings were exposed to view. Those who were most religious were unable to reconcile Catholic conduct with the Biblical canon, and soon the Bible was being translated into the commonly spoken languages of Dutch (1526), French (1530), Polish (1563), Spanish (1569), Czech (1549), and English (1526). Like a stone cut out of the mountain without hands, gathering energy and strength as it rolled forward, Martin Luther set events in motion that forever changed the history of Western Civilization.
Religious societies multiplied as different bodies placed greater emphasis on different facets of the Bible. Unfortunately, the example of persecution learned over a millennium and a half of Roman Catholic intolerance was not abandoned by the different Christian societies. Most of these daughters of Rome opposed, sanctioned and even violently persecuted those holding different religious views from the locally organized majority faith—thus the Protestants followed the unfortunate example of the church in Rome.
The early American colonialists fled to a new continent to escape persecution, but likewise proved to be intolerant of minority religious practices in their new land. By the time of the American Revolution the revolutionary political leaders had centuries of history to draw upon to deal with the question of how to address freedom of religion. The American Constitution, including the First Amendment, is the product of events set in motion by Martin Luther 500 years ago this year.
The influence of Luther’s life on the world cannot be overstated. He began a revolution that a half-millennium later still affects the world culturally, politically, religiously and educationally. He was far more than merely a religious figure. He is one of the few people who have literally changed the world."
As I was reading I was reminded again about the importance of tolerance. There is a quote that has really stuck with me on that topic. It was coincidentally said by the same person who's articles on this subject I happen to be reading. He said, " Tolerance requires disagreement. Insisting on agreement is not tolerance, but its opposite." - Denver C. Snuffer
This statement has resonated with me so much because it seems to be easy to lose sight of what tolerance really means. History inevitably repeats itself when we can't learn from the lessons of the past. No matter what we all believe or what strongly held convictions we strive to stand up for, I believe there is wisdom in learning to be tolerant. Being tolerant means we allow for and give room for others to disagree with us and to have the freedom to live according to the dictates of their own conscience. Of course there should be some limiting factors on that such as when people seek to cause others physical harm and injury. I believe that thoughts and beliefs should not be restricted or limited and should remain as free as possible. We cannot restrict thoughts and beliefs without eventually restricting everyone's freedom and ability to live the way they choose including our own. What good is preaching tolerance if we only apply it to those we agree with? That is not tolerance at all. There is a tenant or article of the mormon faith that I strongly believe in.
- "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."
All men should have that privilege as well as the privilege to believe and act in accordance to whatever their beliefs are even if that belief is that there is no God or that there are endless gods. I believe in a God who loved us and loves us enough still to allow us to choose for ourselves. Whatever any of us believe I think we should be careful not to trammel others or persecute them. I do not believe opposition is evil or that criticisms are necessarily evil. As a general rule I think it is better not to be critical of individuals and I try not to judge people because we judge based on outward things but we often don't know the reasons behind things and the intent of peoples hearts. I believe that is something best left to God to judge and I am grateful to not have that responsibility. On the other hand, I do believe we have an obligation and a responsibility to judge between truth & error and at times criticize ideas. Institutions seem to be inherently at risk when it comes to discouraging dissent and becoming intolerant to criticism. As history has shown this applies to all institutions including churches. I think dissent can be done and should be done without attacking people and disrespecting their right to live according to the dictates of their own conscience. It isn't something I am perfect at myself by any means but it is something I try to strive for. Speaking the truth for the truths sake alone is never evil. It takes courage to stand for whatever convictions we may have and many times that comes at a personal sacrifice and cost. I am grateful for figures like Martin Luther and all other figures in the past who had the fortitude to voice their dissent. I do not believe we are ever harmed by it when it is tempered with tolerance and charity.
There is also a line between voicing dissent and becoming a persecutor of others and then a hypocrite. This is something I have been continually reminded of and I think in many ways how we treat each other says more about us and our beliefs and matters more than those differences we might have. I believe there is wisdom in tolerance and that knowledge without wisdom can be reckless. We need both. We can have all the knowledge in the world but if we don't have charity, we are nothing. I believe charity is the bedrock of all other desirable, righteous and Christ like attributes.
1 Corinthians 13