Tolerance embraces proselytizing

Michael Gerson makes some excellent points about the Brit Hume controversy, particularly that religious freedom and religious toleration require accepting people’s rights to try to make converts:

The American idea of religious liberty does not forbid proselytization; it presupposes it. Free, autonomous individuals not only have the right to hold whatever beliefs they wish, they also have the right to change those beliefs and to persuade others to change as well. Just as there is no political liberty without the right to change one's convictions and publicly argue for them, there is no religious liberty without the possibility of conversion and persuasion.

Proselytization, admittedly, is fraught with complications. We object to the practice when an unequal power relationship is involved — a boss pressuring an employee. We are offended by brainwashing. Coercion and trickery violate the whole idea of free religious choice based on open discussion.

But none of this was present in Hume's appeal to Woods. A semi-retired broadcaster holds no unfair advantage over a multimillionaire athlete. Hume was engaged in persuasion.

“Persuasion, by contrast,” argues political and social ethics professor Jean Bethke Elshtain, “begins with the presupposition that you are a moral agent, a being whose dignity no one is permitted to deny or to strip from you, and, from that stance of mutual respect, one offers arguments, or invites your participation, your sharing, in a community.”

The root of the anger against Hume is his religious exclusivity — the belief, in Shuster's words, that “my faith is the right one.” For this reason, according to Shales, Hume has “dissed about half a billion Buddhists on the planet.”

But this supposed defense of other religious traditions betrays an unfamiliarity with religion itself. Religious faiths — Christian, Buddhist, Zoroastrian — generally make claims about the nature of reality that conflict with the claims of other faiths. Attacking Christian religious exclusivity is to attack nearly every vital religious tradition. It is not a scandal to believers that others hold differing beliefs. It is only a scandal to those offended by all belief. Though I am not a Buddhist or a Muslim, I am not “dissed” when a Muslim or a Buddhist advocates his views in public.

Hume’s critics hold a strange view of pluralism. For religion to be tolerated, it must be privatized — not, apparently, just in governmental settings but also on television networks. We must have not only a secular state but also a secular public discourse. And so tolerance, conveniently, is defined as shutting up people with whom secularists disagree. Many commentators have been offering Woods advice in his travails. But religious advice, apparently and uniquely, should be forbidden. In a discussion of sex, morality and betrayed vows, wouldn't religious issues naturally arise? How is our public discourse improved by narrowing it — removing references to the most essential element in countless lives?

True tolerance consists in engaging deep disagreements respectfully — through persuasion — not in banning certain categories of argument and belief from public debate.

via Michael Gerson – Brit Hume’s Tiger Woods remarks shine light on true intolerance – washingtonpost.com.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Jonathan

    The separation of church and broadcast media is treated by media zealots as though it is written into the Constitutional penumbra. It is as if left leaning media thereby want to make believe that they are themselves “objective.”

  • Jonathan

    The separation of church and broadcast media is treated by media zealots as though it is written into the Constitutional penumbra. It is as if left leaning media thereby want to make believe that they are themselves “objective.”

  • John C

    I wonder what would have been the public response if Hume advised Woods to turn to Islam.
    Will Hume or Gerson offer advice to the wife of Northern Ireland’s First Minister after her affair with a teenager?
    Up until the 1950′s Australia was riven by sectarianism. It was largely banished from the public square during the 1960′s and those ancient tribal rivalries and animosities receded.

  • John C

    I wonder what would have been the public response if Hume advised Woods to turn to Islam.
    Will Hume or Gerson offer advice to the wife of Northern Ireland’s First Minister after her affair with a teenager?
    Up until the 1950′s Australia was riven by sectarianism. It was largely banished from the public square during the 1960′s and those ancient tribal rivalries and animosities receded.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Gerson, a Post writer, made a gutsy move in criticizing Tom Shales, the Post media critic as follows:

    Shales, of course, is engaged in proselytism of his own — for a secular fundamentalism that trivializes and banishes all other faiths. He distributes the sacrament of the sneer.
    Who in this picture is more intolerant?

    This “sacrament of the sneer” is indeed the holiest one of the secular fundamentalist religion.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Gerson, a Post writer, made a gutsy move in criticizing Tom Shales, the Post media critic as follows:

    Shales, of course, is engaged in proselytism of his own — for a secular fundamentalism that trivializes and banishes all other faiths. He distributes the sacrament of the sneer.
    Who in this picture is more intolerant?

    This “sacrament of the sneer” is indeed the holiest one of the secular fundamentalist religion.

  • Gregory DeVore

    John @2- It sounds like we need to pray for a resurgence of Christianity in Australia. I think Dr. Veith has some relatives there perhaps he has some insight into the spiritual state of that nation. Veith is right, Hume is being attacked because the secularists hate the Reformation whose cardinal doctrine is Justfication by faith alone. Thankfully, in America, we still have a country where we are free to express our faith in the public square.

  • Gregory DeVore

    John @2- It sounds like we need to pray for a resurgence of Christianity in Australia. I think Dr. Veith has some relatives there perhaps he has some insight into the spiritual state of that nation. Veith is right, Hume is being attacked because the secularists hate the Reformation whose cardinal doctrine is Justfication by faith alone. Thankfully, in America, we still have a country where we are free to express our faith in the public square.

  • DonS

    John C @ 2: To answer your question, I would have registered my strong disagreement with his opinion. But, I would not have questioned his right to express it in that forum. Nor would I have challenged the propriety of a religious opinion being expressed during a talk show.

  • DonS

    John C @ 2: To answer your question, I would have registered my strong disagreement with his opinion. But, I would not have questioned his right to express it in that forum. Nor would I have challenged the propriety of a religious opinion being expressed during a talk show.

  • fws

    what am i missing here.

    polite tolerance of opposite views has been long missing in public discourse.

    hume was criticized not banned.

    and only now have I read an interview with him in christianity today that confirms in my mind completely that Hume is orthodox.

    soundbites don´t lend themselves to that sort of confirmation.

    how is any of the talk of any stripe swirling around this a bad thing? ok buddism is not so threatening to the unwashed masses.

    That is not new news, and it could have just a little to do with christians making “christianity” being anything about morality.

    NEWS FLASH:

    That word “christian” is no meaningful label for anything about works (aka morality). it is only about faith. period.

  • fws

    what am i missing here.

    polite tolerance of opposite views has been long missing in public discourse.

    hume was criticized not banned.

    and only now have I read an interview with him in christianity today that confirms in my mind completely that Hume is orthodox.

    soundbites don´t lend themselves to that sort of confirmation.

    how is any of the talk of any stripe swirling around this a bad thing? ok buddism is not so threatening to the unwashed masses.

    That is not new news, and it could have just a little to do with christians making “christianity” being anything about morality.

    NEWS FLASH:

    That word “christian” is no meaningful label for anything about works (aka morality). it is only about faith. period.

  • J

    This is plainly more about defending a Fox News commentator than it is about defending the allegedly threatened free speech of American evangelicals. Go check out the sales figures for Joel Osteen’s and Tim LaHaye’s books.
    Now Gerson takes his place on the list of hysterics who treat the merest criticism of Fox News as a concerted effort to “silence” all Christians. Give us all a break.
    Where were such voices when the American invasion of Iraq resulted in the deaths of at least 1,960 Iraqi Christians? Cheering on the invasion, on Fox News.

  • J

    This is plainly more about defending a Fox News commentator than it is about defending the allegedly threatened free speech of American evangelicals. Go check out the sales figures for Joel Osteen’s and Tim LaHaye’s books.
    Now Gerson takes his place on the list of hysterics who treat the merest criticism of Fox News as a concerted effort to “silence” all Christians. Give us all a break.
    Where were such voices when the American invasion of Iraq resulted in the deaths of at least 1,960 Iraqi Christians? Cheering on the invasion, on Fox News.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD à la conservative

    Gerson’s comments are exactly what I would expect to find in a regular column in the liberally biased Washington ComPost. The MSM only pushes their side of things and doesn’t allow opposing viewpoints.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD à la conservative

    Gerson’s comments are exactly what I would expect to find in a regular column in the liberally biased Washington ComPost. The MSM only pushes their side of things and doesn’t allow opposing viewpoints.

  • Dan Kempin a la tODD

    What is your source for that?

  • Dan Kempin a la tODD

    What is your source for that?

  • DonS a la tODD

    tODD a la conservative @ 8: If you had done your homework and properly researched this matter in the Library of Congress before irresponsibly posting on this blog comment string, you would have known that the Post published a William F. Buckley column in February 1974. So, obviously, the Post is perfectly balanced and you are a paranoid far right loon.

  • DonS a la tODD

    tODD a la conservative @ 8: If you had done your homework and properly researched this matter in the Library of Congress before irresponsibly posting on this blog comment string, you would have known that the Post published a William F. Buckley column in February 1974. So, obviously, the Post is perfectly balanced and you are a paranoid far right loon.

  • DonS a la tODD

    Duh. That was lame. I meant to name a liberal columnist :-(

    Talk about ruining any shred of an effort at an already iffy joke, done much better by Dan.

  • DonS a la tODD

    Duh. That was lame. I meant to name a liberal columnist :-(

    Talk about ruining any shred of an effort at an already iffy joke, done much better by Dan.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Todd, thanks for letting us know that WAPO has become a hotbed of conservative opinion. We shall have to subscribe to it. That’s what you get for being such a perceptive observer of the media scene.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Todd, thanks for letting us know that WAPO has become a hotbed of conservative opinion. We shall have to subscribe to it. That’s what you get for being such a perceptive observer of the media scene.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don (@11), I’m pretty sure you meant to name a conservative columnist in the first place (@10). Why would “I” note to a conservative that a MSM source once published a liberal columnist?

    Obviously, the conservative’s claim would be (and often has been, cf. my point @8) that MSM sources only publish liberal viewpoints. So “my” reply (@10) should have been, as you originally wrote it, to cite that (allegedly) rare example of a conservative viewpoint that got published once.

    Which, of course, is what I try to do on this blog, every time an allegedly liberally-biased MSM source publishes an obviously conservative viewpoint. The fact that I can do this so frequently apparently has little impact on those making claims of liberal bias.

    Also, I would never write “blog comment string”, since I know what a comment thread is.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don (@11), I’m pretty sure you meant to name a conservative columnist in the first place (@10). Why would “I” note to a conservative that a MSM source once published a liberal columnist?

    Obviously, the conservative’s claim would be (and often has been, cf. my point @8) that MSM sources only publish liberal viewpoints. So “my” reply (@10) should have been, as you originally wrote it, to cite that (allegedly) rare example of a conservative viewpoint that got published once.

    Which, of course, is what I try to do on this blog, every time an allegedly liberally-biased MSM source publishes an obviously conservative viewpoint. The fact that I can do this so frequently apparently has little impact on those making claims of liberal bias.

    Also, I would never write “blog comment string”, since I know what a comment thread is.

  • DonS a la tODD

    tODD @ 13: I appreciate your analysis. I have no idea what I meant to do or say :-)

    As Dirty Harry once said “A man’s got to know his limitations”.

  • DonS a la tODD

    tODD @ 13: I appreciate your analysis. I have no idea what I meant to do or say :-)

    As Dirty Harry once said “A man’s got to know his limitations”.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don (@14), what is your source for that quote?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don (@14), what is your source for that quote?

  • John C

    Do we really need a religious cleric or moral philosopher on mainstream current affairs Don? Don’t you have Christian networks that do this already?
    Isn’t this the problem with Islam in the Middle East — that Islam touches all aspects of public life and eradicates behaviour and views that are not approved. I am not arguing that there is too little religion in Australia, Gregory. My argument is that too much religion in the public square is divisive.

  • John C

    Do we really need a religious cleric or moral philosopher on mainstream current affairs Don? Don’t you have Christian networks that do this already?
    Isn’t this the problem with Islam in the Middle East — that Islam touches all aspects of public life and eradicates behaviour and views that are not approved. I am not arguing that there is too little religion in Australia, Gregory. My argument is that too much religion in the public square is divisive.

  • Gregory DeVore

    John Hume was not talking about eliminating anyone.

  • Gregory DeVore

    John Hume was not talking about eliminating anyone.

  • Peter Leavitt

    In a liberal democracy it is important that religious people, whether Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, or whatever, be able to speak freely about the virtues of their religion. Unfortunately, as Gerson makes clear, the secular liberal fundamentalists with their assorted inerrant pieties attempt to stifle free religious discussion. Mostly, these humorless, puritan souls have no clue about the blessing of living in a free culture.

    Brit Hume brilliantly on Fox News violated liberal piety and spoke about the exceedingly salutary Christian tenet of forgiveness and redemption. How amusing it is that some Christians on this thread are tut tutting Hume.

  • Peter Leavitt

    In a liberal democracy it is important that religious people, whether Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, or whatever, be able to speak freely about the virtues of their religion. Unfortunately, as Gerson makes clear, the secular liberal fundamentalists with their assorted inerrant pieties attempt to stifle free religious discussion. Mostly, these humorless, puritan souls have no clue about the blessing of living in a free culture.

    Brit Hume brilliantly on Fox News violated liberal piety and spoke about the exceedingly salutary Christian tenet of forgiveness and redemption. How amusing it is that some Christians on this thread are tut tutting Hume.

  • Economist Doug

    I think this sort of thing demonstrates how insular the elite culture is.

    I work at a military installation and not a retirement, office party or other holiday event goes by without a spoken prayer that specifically mentions Christ.

    However as you go further up the food chain the prayers become more vague pointing to a nondescript deity

    Those higher in authority are most influenced by the elite viewpoint that Christ is shameful or embarrassing.

    I think we confirm the belief that we’re embarrassed of Christ, if we hide him. People would assume I was embarrassed of my wife if I refused to even speak her name at work.

    There is a type of proselytizing I find offensive. It’s when people point to Jesus as a lifestyle option instead of a person. They turn him into a consumer product (or status symbol) and they turn their testimony into an advertisement.

  • Economist Doug

    I think this sort of thing demonstrates how insular the elite culture is.

    I work at a military installation and not a retirement, office party or other holiday event goes by without a spoken prayer that specifically mentions Christ.

    However as you go further up the food chain the prayers become more vague pointing to a nondescript deity

    Those higher in authority are most influenced by the elite viewpoint that Christ is shameful or embarrassing.

    I think we confirm the belief that we’re embarrassed of Christ, if we hide him. People would assume I was embarrassed of my wife if I refused to even speak her name at work.

    There is a type of proselytizing I find offensive. It’s when people point to Jesus as a lifestyle option instead of a person. They turn him into a consumer product (or status symbol) and they turn their testimony into an advertisement.

  • John C

    Peter
    I think I would be less concerned about the role of religion in the public square if the US had the capacity to elect an athiest or Hindu as President. Religion is such a divisive element in your society I don’t think you can elect a Hindu President.

  • John C

    Peter
    I think I would be less concerned about the role of religion in the public square if the US had the capacity to elect an athiest or Hindu as President. Religion is such a divisive element in your society I don’t think you can elect a Hindu President.

  • Peter Leavitt

    John C, the point is that in America a person of any religion be welcomed to speak in the public square, including, as Brit Hume did, to honestly and movingly suggest that Tiger Woods could find forgiveness and redemption better through Christianity than Buddhism; i.e. in a pluralistic country religion, including proselytizing, ought not to be a forbidden subject.

    As to a Hindu president, if some able natural born Hindu-American wanted to run for president I’d consider him fairly, though admittedly some Americans, as with the case of Mitt Romney, will object to a candidate simply on religious grounds.
    Constitutionally, we have no religious test.

    Of course, the fundamentalist secularists object to Christians speaking about religion in the public square as they wish to establish their civil religion and worship of nature.

  • Peter Leavitt

    John C, the point is that in America a person of any religion be welcomed to speak in the public square, including, as Brit Hume did, to honestly and movingly suggest that Tiger Woods could find forgiveness and redemption better through Christianity than Buddhism; i.e. in a pluralistic country religion, including proselytizing, ought not to be a forbidden subject.

    As to a Hindu president, if some able natural born Hindu-American wanted to run for president I’d consider him fairly, though admittedly some Americans, as with the case of Mitt Romney, will object to a candidate simply on religious grounds.
    Constitutionally, we have no religious test.

    Of course, the fundamentalist secularists object to Christians speaking about religion in the public square as they wish to establish their civil religion and worship of nature.

  • CRB

    Here, in this article by Ann Coulter,
    one has to commend her use of Scripture
    and at the same time see how she shames
    preachers who no longer preach Christ and
    Him crucified!

  • CRB

    Here, in this article by Ann Coulter,
    one has to commend her use of Scripture
    and at the same time see how she shames
    preachers who no longer preach Christ and
    Him crucified!

  • CRB

    Oops, forgot the link: http://www.anncoulter.com/

  • CRB

    Oops, forgot the link: http://www.anncoulter.com/

  • Gregory DeVore

    John C, I would vote for a pro-life athiest or Hindu for president before I would vote for a pro-choice Christian.

  • Gregory DeVore

    John C, I would vote for a pro-life athiest or Hindu for president before I would vote for a pro-choice Christian.

  • John C

    Secularists are not necessarily pagans Peter but they do believe in the separation of church and state. Believe it or not some christians, perhaps the majority, are secularists. Many secularists believe that under GW Bush and the Fox network, fundamentalist Christians came too close to the centre of power. I wonder why a fox political analyst felt the need to frame an individuals marital problems in a way that suggests Christianity is superior to Buddhism.
    It looks as though the Fox network is not only the Republican network, it is also the Christian network.

  • John C

    Secularists are not necessarily pagans Peter but they do believe in the separation of church and state. Believe it or not some christians, perhaps the majority, are secularists. Many secularists believe that under GW Bush and the Fox network, fundamentalist Christians came too close to the centre of power. I wonder why a fox political analyst felt the need to frame an individuals marital problems in a way that suggests Christianity is superior to Buddhism.
    It looks as though the Fox network is not only the Republican network, it is also the Christian network.

  • Economist Doug

    There’s a difference between separation of church and state and being so ashamed of Christ that we fear speaking his name. In that sense Hume showed more integrity than many Christian public figures.

    The element of Brit Hume’s statement that irritates me is that he framed it as “Christianity vs Buddhism” and not “Christ for us”.

    It’s not as if Christianity and Buddhism are just differing religions offering different benefits. Christ claimed to be our redeemer and God, Buddha was a hippie who claimed to know how to end suffering.

  • Economist Doug

    There’s a difference between separation of church and state and being so ashamed of Christ that we fear speaking his name. In that sense Hume showed more integrity than many Christian public figures.

    The element of Brit Hume’s statement that irritates me is that he framed it as “Christianity vs Buddhism” and not “Christ for us”.

    It’s not as if Christianity and Buddhism are just differing religions offering different benefits. Christ claimed to be our redeemer and God, Buddha was a hippie who claimed to know how to end suffering.

  • John C

    Rick Scarborough is not afraid to speak of Christ. Rick served on Huckabee’s presidential campaign and will share the stage with Palin and Bachmann at the National Tea Party Convention.
    Rick now says he is not a Republican or a democrat: he is a “Christocrat” who will only support candidates who say “yes there is a god” and that the constitution is a godly document designed to guide the nation by Christian principles…………..
    There is not a lot of separation between church and state in the mind of Scarborough.
    There is not a lot of difference between the mullahs in the Middle East and the Christian right of the Republican party.As I said, religion is tribal and divisive — in politics it is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
    http://www.rightwingwatch.org

  • John C

    Rick Scarborough is not afraid to speak of Christ. Rick served on Huckabee’s presidential campaign and will share the stage with Palin and Bachmann at the National Tea Party Convention.
    Rick now says he is not a Republican or a democrat: he is a “Christocrat” who will only support candidates who say “yes there is a god” and that the constitution is a godly document designed to guide the nation by Christian principles…………..
    There is not a lot of separation between church and state in the mind of Scarborough.
    There is not a lot of difference between the mullahs in the Middle East and the Christian right of the Republican party.As I said, religion is tribal and divisive — in politics it is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
    http://www.rightwingwatch.org

  • John C

    Rick Scarborough is not afraid to speak Christ’s name.
    Rick was a member of Huckabee’s presidential campaign and will share the stage with Palin and Bachmann at the National Teabaggers Convention. Rick now says that he is not a republican or a democrat. He is a “Christocrat”

  • John C

    Rick Scarborough is not afraid to speak Christ’s name.
    Rick was a member of Huckabee’s presidential campaign and will share the stage with Palin and Bachmann at the National Teabaggers Convention. Rick now says that he is not a republican or a democrat. He is a “Christocrat”

  • John C

    He will only support candidates that say “yes there is a God” and realize that the constitution is a godly document designed to guide the nation on Christian principles.
    There is not much separation between church and state in the mind of Rick Scarborough. There is not much difference between the mullahs in the Middle East and the Christian Right of the Republican party.
    In politics, religion is the penultimate refuge of the scoundrel.
    video http://www.rightwingwatch.org

  • John C

    He will only support candidates that say “yes there is a God” and realize that the constitution is a godly document designed to guide the nation on Christian principles.
    There is not much separation between church and state in the mind of Rick Scarborough. There is not much difference between the mullahs in the Middle East and the Christian Right of the Republican party.
    In politics, religion is the penultimate refuge of the scoundrel.
    video http://www.rightwingwatch.org


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