Christianity, Diversity, and Tolerance

A common myth surrounding Christianity, at least traditional Christianity, is that it is boring, monotonous, and composed of old white people. Even though Christianity is the most diverse faith in the world, somehow, it has gained the reputation of being ethnocentric; or to use a different phrase, Christianity (traditional Christianity) is intolerant.

However, as it is with most things in the modern world, perception does not match reality. Christianity, true Christianity, is and always has been a celebration of diversity, especially when compared to the modern secular system calling for “tolerance.” Christianity is special in that we are the united body of Christ, yet still diverse, which is a reflection of our God. The core of our faith, the Trinity, teaches that while God is one, God is many. God is one in essence, but three Persons. In turn, his Church is one unified body, but composed of different persons and nationalities. This is why there is no such thing as a Christian culture, because Christianity itself has no culture. Rather, just as Christ became incarnate within our world, so too do Christians become incarnate within their culture. Christ did not condemn human nature by taking it on, but instead He transformed it into something better. Likewise, Christians do not condemn culture, but instead transform it into something better.

Such a transformation requires true tolerance. True Christianity requires Christians to allow other ideas, other beliefs, and other religions to function within society. For one, we believe in significant human freedom, so we cannot restrict the choice of an individual (so long as the consequences of that choice don’t negatively impact the common good). If an individual chooses to engage in an illicit sexual activity with another consenting adult, while we can say it’s morally wrong, we cannot really do anything about it. While we disagree with Islam, we should allow Muslims to build their mosques because we support their right to be wrong. That is true tolerance; allowing beliefs and actions to occur even though you don’t necessarily agree with those beliefs and actions.

The modern secular world, however, is solely about unity and not diversity. While it may preach diversity, the reality is that all secular societies end up being monotone. The reason for this is that diversity is seen as disagreement, and disagreement is seen as intolerance. Take, for instance, Marilyn Sewell’s piece in the Huffington Post. In it she states that she cannot tolerate Christian fundamentalism because, “I believe those who teach it and preach it are doing great harm, and I in no way wish to be an ally.” In other words, because she cannot ally with the belief she therefore cannot tolerate it. That’s not tolerance, that’s bigotry. Yet, this is the direction of the modern world; if I don’t agree with you, then I can’t tolerate you. There is no allowance for differing opinions, not if we deem them to be dangerous even if we have no proof of the danger.

In considering how Christianity is truly multicultural, look to the teachings of V.S. Soloviev;

“Does Christianity abolish nationality? No, rather, it preserves it. Nationality is not abolished, but nationalism is. The bitter persecution and killing of Christ was the work not of the Hebrew nationality, for which Christ was its supreme flowering, but this was the work of a narrow and blind nationalism of such patriots as Caiaphas…The fruits of the English nationality we see in Shakespeare and Byron, in Berkely and in Newton; the fruits of English nationalism are worldwide robbery, the exploits of Warren Hastings and Lord Seymour, destruction and killing. The fruits of the great German nationality are Lessing and Goethe, Kant and Schelling, the fruit of German nationalism – is the forcible Germanization of neighbors from the times of the Teutonic knights right up to our own day. (Politics, Law, and Morality, p. 11)

Christianity recognizes the accomplishments of each nation (and race) and gives praise where praise is due. But it doesn’t seek the monotony of nationalism, the teaching that all groups should conform to one group.

The secular world is a new type of nationalism. When we think of nationalism we are tempted to think about Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy. We think of fascism along with nationalism, of neo-Nazis and, to an extent, the modern preachers of American exceptionalism. But there is another type of nationalism in the materialistic world that has gone unnoticed, and that’s the nationalism of ideas. Karl Marx would have undoubtedly hated Hitler’s physical nationalism, yet still taught conformity to Communism. Whereas Hitler believed all nations should be conformed to the Germany way of life, eradicating all cultural differences, the Communists believed in a worldwide revolution to overthrow the bourgeoisie and install a common culture around the world. Seeking a world without borders and a monolithic culture, is not a repudiation of nationalism, but a different type of nationalism.

This same type of nationalism is found within Sewell’s use of the word “tolerance” and even within secular society in general. Cultural differences and religious differences are hidden from the public view because they may be offensive to some. A Jew cannot place a menorah in the public square. A Christian cannot display the cross. A Muslim must fight to have a community center built in a major city. An atheist student struggles to form an atheist club at his high school. Black History Month is viewed as racist in and of itself for extolling what black people have contributed to society. Saying that people of European ancestry have helped progress the world is viewed as racist because it ignores all the harm Europeans have caused in the world. In the name of tolerance and multiculturalism, we have become intolerant of anything that offends us and anti-diversity in our practice. Christianity seeks to be tolerant – that is, we allow things to happen – of all things do not directly harm others. We may condemn the actions and beliefs, we may speak out against them, but when it comes to those who are not Christians, we simply let it occur (at least in traditional Christianity – historically some Christians have attempted to ruin human freedom and impose moral regulations, but this is in contradiction to the central Christian message).

True Christianity seeks out tolerance and diversity, but in the truest senses of the terms. We don’t seek to change one culture into another culture, but to redeem the culture through Christ. We don’t seek to eradicate beliefs and actions through legislation, but to tolerate them and let people make mistakes, so long as those mistakes don’t directly harm others. This runs in opposition to secularism, which ruins culture and removes all that makes us distinct and happy. True Christianity is not the lack of diversity, but the beginning of all that is diverse.