Why We Christians Are So Intolerant

I’m going to have to admit this; the secular worries about Christian intolerance are true. You see, we were taught to be perfectionists. It is not even slightly possible to achieve this, but Jesus looked us straight in the eyes and said, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

Anything that even slightly strays from this insanely-high bar, we are to reject. It’s not that Christians have to feel bad about themselves all the time, or judge other people constantly, we just have to keep a grand ideal in mind. There will one day be a perfected version of this life, and we are not to glory in the unfinished or twisted elements of this version. We love all that is good in it, but have a burning desire to right its wrongs.

We can seem at peace with our own failures and those of the world around us, but only at the level of understanding their inevitability and our own limitations. At a deeper level, we hate these imperfections though and the pain they cause. We cannot tolerate or be accepting of them. We want to cure diseases, end injustice, befriend the lonely, and fix anything in our path that does not live up to this perfect ideal.

This is causing us to be a little out of step with the rest of the culture though. When others say that the deaf, transgendered, mentally-handicapped, or even the same-sex attracted person is perfect just the way they are, we should recoil. That is NOT how they should be!

They should have been born with a clearly-assigned gender, and with working eyes and ears! We want them to see, hear, walk, and think like we believe their perfected body one day will. And we should do everything we can to help them overcome these things if there are ways to, or at least bare their burdens with our support. We must love our neighbor, but we do this while acknowledging they are not yet the perfected versions of themselves.

We will walk with them, help them, and lament with them, but one thing we can’t do is say that their burdens are good. With advances in science, we should rejoice that human ingenuity makes us able to cooperate with God in overcoming much of this! Watch this woman hear for the first-time and tell me we should be tolerant, instead of dissatisfied and proactive.

Often we can’t help somebody eliminate certain pains and imperfections on this earth, but we shouldn’t pretend like hearing and thinking clearly is the equivalent of not, or that having sexual and gender confusion is the same as not.

When Jesus walked the earth, did he tell the blind man, “Go and continue not to see, because it is what makes you special.”? Did he tell the woman who was about to be stoned to death, “I accept your lifestyle choice.”? No! While he loved these people and accepted them, he wanted them to be the perfected versions of themselves. The things that can be changed, we should change, and suggest to others to do the same like Jesus did with the adulterous woman. Things that are imperfect but without immediate solutions, should be handled even more gently, but not accepted as good. We should wrestle with the brokenness of life, not apathetically tolerate it.

Cancer is an abomination. So is a broken-family. So is anything that the honest conscience would mend while thinking about the truly perfect version of reality. We all have the ability to imagine this reality. Some people’s versions of the perfect world have also been twisted but we all yearn for it. It’s utopia; the new heaven and the new earth.

This vision makes certain demands of us, and one of those is to be intolerant of the present fallen-state of the earth. We cannot just accept the imperfect version of something as the equal of the ideal. The most notable example of this right now is homosexuality. This is a topic which causes extreme emotion, mostly because the person with same-sex attraction truly wants to be accepted. And they should be. If many admit that all other part of our being can go awry though, why is it harder to admit with sexuality?

It may be because sexuality is so tied up in moral issues, so admitting brokenness in this area can seem the equivalent of saying they are sinful to the core. When a blind man wants to come to church, there is no controversy, because there is no demanded acceptance of his blindness as equal to sight. We all know that if his eyes could be healed, giving him the ability to drive, run, play sports, and see a beautiful woman, he would do it in a second. This makes the Christian feel sympathy for him because he wants the good but cannot have it.

The gay pride movement though, almost uniquely, takes pride in their divergence from the ideal, leading to hard choices for the Christian. It feels very mean-spirited to disagree with them and tell them there is something amiss in their sexuality. It is harder in the modern-age because often they see their sexuality as a major part of their identity. We shouldn’t mock them, exclude them, or in any other way increase the pain surrounding this burden, but we can’t pretend it isn’t a burden either. Our minds can simply not wrap themselves around an assertion that hearing laughter, symphonies, and all the cacophony of our existence, is the same as not hearing it.

Likewise, we cannot accept this act as being the ideal sexual act. The beauty and mystery of the sexual act is not just based on pleasure, or even love. It is also what that pleasure and love create; new life. If the perfected purpose of sexuality seems to point to a life-creating love, how can the homosexual act be part of the ideal world? To be forced to ignore the fact that those “reproductive organs” are meant to reproduce new human life, would be to abandon this key Christian hope and accept the world as it is.

The rebuttal from the gay community tends to be, “So what? Who are we hurting? Worry about yourself!” You are not hurting me. That’s true. And I really can’t imagine the trials that those with same-sex attraction go through, but I just can’t agree with you that what you are drawn to do is the ideal. The creation of life is a key purpose of reproductive systems and the sexual act, just as the eye is meant to see and the ears to hear.

Modern biology has shown the mind-blowing science behind the meeting of the sperm and the egg, conception, and the development of new life. It is a brilliant reality. It’s inconvenient to the gay pride movement, but this purpose is very evident. A sexuality that is deprived of this life-creating potential is one that is lacking in a major part of the act’s significance.

I have seen many-a-Christian get tripped-up trying to argue on this. To the Christian, it often just comes off as a common-sense that they can’t explain. They may feel like one who is talking to someone who cannot walk but argues “What’s wrong with being crippled? I’m not bothering you? Worry about yourself!”

Our response can only be, that’s true, but it is not life in its full brilliance. It’s a tragedy that we haven’t found a way to express this while making it clear we are on their side and we love them just like anyone else. We yearn for the day when any pain, dysfunction, death, and disease will be eliminated from our bodies, and this desire is something that has made the Christian West advance civilization by leaps and bounds. If we didn’t have an almost insane desire to perfect the world through Christian love, we wouldn’t have improved it to this level.

The Muslim world’s “Inshallah”, or  God-willing, can end-up being a fatalist shrug of submission to whatever happens. The Buddhist focus on being one with everything while not becoming attached to anything, will not motivate you to fix the world either. You have to be very attached to something to really be motivated to fix it. You can trace the beginning of modern medicine, science, human rights, and freedom to the Christian West’s quest to right the wrongs of a world they love.

The Christian view is that this world was on-track to perfection while we were in relationship with God, but now is far from that plan. Maybe God was going to use these intelligent and creative beings to bring the world to its full potential before we chose to stop and celebrate the unfinished version of his plan.

Christ re-introduced humanity to this grand vision though. He introduced a new law that only requires that we love God, neighbor and self. He is inviting us to love the Creator and his creation enough to participate in finishing his masterpiece. It often can seem very far away.

If Beethoven really loved a symphony, could he leave even one note out of place? We must love the artwork of the universe the same; hating its imperfections and wanting them righted. We often can see very clearly which notes are out of place, and we should wait in frustrated anticipation for their righting. We should also not make life harder on those who put the notes in the wrong places though, because with the bar set as high as perfection, you’ve missed a few as well.

Often, nobody is at fault. You can’t blame a blind, deaf, or same-sex attracted person for the state they were born in. Nor can you blame someone with genetic dispositions towards alcoholism or anger, but apathetic tolerance is not the answer. The answer is to lament what’s broken, fix what can be, rejoice when it is, and pray the rest will be perfected in time. This work will not be completed until the second-coming of Christ, but when walking among us, he said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at-hand.” The redemption of the world is well on its way. It is already here, but not quite yet.


Posted on April 16, 2012, in Religion. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. This is amazing! Chesterton-like in its ability to approach a “difficult” topic with thoughtfulness, logic and balance. Thank you. S.J. Miller

  2. While I disagree with 99.9% of what you’ve written it is thoughtful in a way. You have misrepresented Buddhism though. Buddhism says that you must not get attached to material possessions, NOT that you must not get attached to anything. Something I’m sure Christians would agree with. Buddhism acknowledges the connection that all living beings have in this world. Interdependence is core to understanding the world. So the motivation to help others ‘fix’ themselves and to make the world a peaceful place is because we as individuals are not islands, we get on in this world with everyone else.

    The reasons you give for Christians being intolerant are weak at best. Why don’t they concentrate more on themselves and making their life perfect rather than looking at another person and seeing their flaws? I’ve had countless discussions with ‘Christians’ where I knew much more about the bible than they, but they were strongly against something because they think they know it is in the bible.

    A lot of close people in my life are Christian, I was raised in the church but these are not my beliefs. In fact they never were. I left my church because my paster judged others ways too much and was too intolerant. Christians should first look to cleaning their own house before looking at others and saying they need to change to reach an idea that frankly can never be realised. Everyone should strive to be better of course but that is a personal journey.

    • Thanks for writing! Well, I think it is hard for me to respond in a way because I can’t tell if you think helping others is good or bad. When describing Buddhism you say,

      “Buddhism acknowledges the connection that all living beings have in this world. Interdependence is core to understanding the world. So the motivation to help others ‘fix’ themselves and to make the world a peaceful place is because we as individuals are not islands, we get on in this world with everyone else.”

      But then the very next sentence you say about Christians, “The reasons you give for Christians being intolerant are weak at best. Why don’t they concentrate more on themselves and making their life perfect rather than looking at another person and seeing their flaws?” So are we islands then?

      First of all, Buddhists in the traditional sense do not tend to do as you say. They believe that the cause of pain is attachment because eventually when that attachment is broken, we suffer. This applies to relationships too. I read recently about a man whose son had died and he was grieving and asked his Buddhist mentor for advice. The man was told, You are suffering because you were too attached to your son, so the dissattachment is causing pain. He was told NOT to attach himself so strongly to people in the future. Christians would say attach yourself and take the joy and the pain as inevitable parts of life.

      Also, my point was less that I wanted to force anybody to attain this ideal, but more that Christians should always be dissatisfied by the pain and imperfection in this world and should seek to help when possible. It wasn’t about judging entire people (which Jesus said not to do), leave that to him.

  3. No problem, found you via another blog. I’m always up for seeing another point of view. I of course think that helping is great when the person who is being help has requested it. What is missing from my sentence about Christians concentrating on themselves is the word first – that they should first get their house in order before looking to others and their flaws.

    I’m not so sure that the one story you read about this one guy reflects how most Buddhists view relationships. Buddhism takes the ‘middle way’ view of things. I’m not saying the story or the advice you read isn’t true but it was an extreme interpretation/example of Buddhism and most lay Buddhists (not monks etc) DO in fact interpret attachment the way I’ve said. Yes we suffer from attachments to relationships but to avoid them doesn’t make sense either as well as being near impossible to do. The best advice there is to understand the cycle of life and death and while it is painful to lose a loved one it is inevitable. That man got bad advice.

    It is great that you aren’t so much about the judging but it is hard to say that about a lot of your fellow Christians.

  4. Well, I think people from any belief system judge others, whether they like to think so or not. You just judged Christians generally a little bit. Muslims judge non-Muslims as Kuffar, etc. Atheists, man, some of them are really judgmental in my experience.

    I agree on not forcing my help on others though. Not sure why you thought I wanted to do that exactly but I agree if nobody is asking, I generally will let people figure out things for themselves. I disagree a bit with the “they should get their house in order before looking to others and their flaws” deal though. I don’t think anybody ever really has their house completely in order. We are all “wounded healers” in this world to some extent, limping along ourselves while hopefully feeling compassion for others who are doing the same. If you meant people shouldn’t have a holier than thou, condescending attitude while being charitable, then I definitely agree, but if we had to wait until we were perfect, nobody would ever get helped.

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