Religious Tolerance or Intolerance


In September the documentary Jesus Camp hit select movie theaters, provoking a buzz from the Washington Post's best and brightest about how "we" should regard the kind of people the movie profiles. Jesus Camp focuses on a Pentecostal Bible summer camp for children, in Devil's Lake, North Dakota, who are encouraged to save the world for Christ. So the kind of people the Post and company are brooding over are those who believe: (1) that theirs is the true religion, (2) that those who don't accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior are headed for eternal hellfire, and (3) that it is therefore very important to preach the gospel.

A few weeks ago two rush-hour DJs on a local radio station were interviewing one of the filmmakers about what those Bible-thumping Christians with their rigid worldview were like on their own turf. One DJ who announced that he had "grown up in a somewhat similar religious environment" (because he had been taught in parochial school that Catholics had the true faith) appointed himself a kind of translator or intermediary who could interpret the Christian's way of thinking to the second, completely secularized DJ. The first had long since left behind Catholicism, of course, but he had a kind of relaxed superior toleration for those who remained stuck in terms of religious truth and falsehood.

The second, wholly secularized DJ wasn't having any of it. She couldn't see how the Jewish documentary filmmaker could have endured weeks associating with people under the impression that she was headed for hell. But mostly, the DJ couldn't get off the topic of how obnoxious it was when you were out eating or strolling through the park or waiting for someone in a train station to be accosted by someone who wanted to talk to you about Jesus.

Americans have a self-image that does not acknowledge how pushy, self-righteous and prone to offer unasked-for advice we really are. When you consider it, from childhood we are assaulted with advice on diet, "just say no," no drinking and driving, getting a good education. Ads, talk shows, news shows, and TV documentaries tell us who to vote for, what the news means. TV, movie, book and restaurant reviews tell you what to watch, read, and eat.

But, boy, those pushy in-your-face Christians are the limit.

Most people who give you a piece of their mind are well-intentioned. They believe (and they may be right) that they are in possession of the truth about something. They have the answer to your health, the election, saving for your retirement, investing in real estate, recycling, global warming – and you need to know about it. Some of these "truths" are trivial, some may affect your life or health, and some may affect THE FUTURE OF LIFE AS WE KNOW IT ON PLANET EARTH.

Why then in this bustling marketplace where ideas are hawked by true believers of every kind are Christian evangelizers offered an almost uniquely cold shoulder?

Okay. A lot of them are perhaps not as good at the art of persuasion and evaluating human psychology as we'd like. Catholics may have noticed that the kind of Christians who ring your doorbell or come up to you in train stations will look dubiously on your claim, as a Catholic, to be journeying heavenward. Still, most of them are more polite than, say, representatives of PETA, and they are seeking to save your immortal soul. They may not always call at a convenient time, or pick up on subtle cues to disengage, but why does the strongly-opinionated DJ on the rush-hour rock station find it so obnoxious that Christians seek to share their Good News?

Maybe because she is not nearly as tolerant and accepting and open to diverse views as she thinks.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage