Meaningless Words

12 11 2008

In college, when a friend of mine signed my yearbook he commented that he thought that words to me were like play things.  There are few truer statements to explain my nature.  I enjoy the written word and the writing of words.  With that comes a particularity with the way in which words are used.  I attempt to apply this particularity equally to myself as to others, though as you might realize to critique one’s own words is a far more challenging task.

This particularity makes listening to the radio and watching television sometimes rather infuriating (not just for myself, but also for my poor wife who has to suffer through my critiques).  I have observed in the past that the word ‘”tolerance” is no longer used in relation to its proper meaning.  Dictionary.com defines tolerance this way:

A fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.

Notice that in order to tolerate something one must find that opinion, practice, or religion to differ from ones own.  In common usage today, the concept of tolerance no longer allows for the assertion that those whose opinions differ from your own are in fact wrong. Boy would Elijah have been called a bigot for what he said and did with respect to the prophets of Baal (see 1 Kings 18).

Elijah not only set out to demonstrate the power of God but to demonstrate the powerlessness of Baal.  Today that would earn him the label of intolerant or perhaps even religious bigot, because how dare he imply (not the what he did was a subtle as to be implying) that others religious convictions are somehow untrue.  This way of thinking is highly inconsistent and fundamentally intellectually dishonest.  How can one hold something to be true while not believing those things that contract that belief to be false.  That is the nature of reality.  The law of non-contradiction states:

Two antithetical propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. X cannot be non-X.

This is sometimes dismissed as Western logic, but the idea that logic is regional rather than universal is another example of intellectual dishonesty.

In the past week I have heard it claimed that not only are Christians not to include their religious convictions with regard to their views on Prop 8 and homosexuality, but also with regard to embryonic stem cell research.  This is highly illogical and in fact fails to tolerate the religious.  We are called upon my some in society to be so tolerant as to forgo our own belief system so as to avoid making any statement of disagreement with them on a religious basis.  Who is violating tolerance here?

Luther’s Two Kingdom’s come in handy in understanding how to approach political activity as a member of the church while not attaching the church directly to political action. In the kingdom of the left-hand the Christian is a citizen of temporal authorities (our US government).  As such that person ought to abide by the laws of the land and take part in political activities just like any other citizen.  The church as an institution is not to exert authority in this kingdom.  The kingdom of the right-hand is the sphere of the church, where her authority is justly applied.  Christians are citizens in both kingdoms.  It has been argued that Luther’s Two Kingdom’s laid the ground work for Hitler to construct a godless government, but that grossly misunderstands the full impact of Luther’s thinking.  While the church institutionally is not to act in the left-hand kingdom, Christians are.

Christian are not asked to forgo the convictions learned in the right-hand kingdom when they take political action in the left-hand kingdom.  That means that the Christian is in fact called to vote according to the guidance of the Bible and not to “leave their religion out of it.”  Luther held that God was to be at work in both kingdoms, just in different ways.  Christians are to lead according to God’s will in both kingdoms, again in different ways.  As a Christian leader in government one cannot compel obedience to a faith that all citizens do not accept.  However, that Christian leader is called up remain personally obedient and to work within the system to encourage God’s kingdom to come, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.

When we as Christians, especially Lutheran Christians, keep these Two Kingdoms in mind and distinguished properly, we not only are able to fully embody tolerance, we are in fact a better model of tolerance that our “opponents” in the “culture wars”.


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