In conjunction with the release of the movie Denial, a movie based on a true story about a journalist who was taken to court for libel by a Holocaust denier, some Patheos bloggers were asked to tackle the following question:
Does faith prevent or propagate intolerance, and should someone have the right to deny the veracity and historicity of your faith tradition?
Before I came to faith in the resurrected Jesus the Messiah, I denied the veracity and historicity of the Bible. By the time I hit my mid-teens, I’d placed the Bible in the same category as Aesop’s fables and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. I believed the Bible was an ancient inspirational book filled with moral teaching and a lot of unverifiable bits of history.
I came to the Bible as a skeptic. When I started reading it out of curiosity, I discovered it was a far more complex and essential Book than I’d imagined. That reading began a shift in me that eventually led me to make a commitment to the Author who’d inspired human writers to tell his story. While there are many determined, educated apologists for the Christian faith debating people who once believed what I did, I am pretty sure no human could have changed my mind about what I believed back then by their debate skills. I was determined not to believe.
Instead, other forms of witness cracked my veneer: the joy, courage, and prayer of other believers made a way for a bit of light to pierce my soul. My Christian friends exhibited a grace-filled willingness to allow me not to believe as they did, while inviting me to consider the claims of Jesus for myself. Love, it turns out, is what real faith looks like. Not Hallmark sentiment, but laying-down-your-life, self-giving love of the kind described in the Bible.
I respect those who don’t believe as I do, because I can not compel them into belief. I can, however, love them and trust that God is at work in their lives as he was (and is) in mine.
Ideas have consequences. Faith is a potent force in this world, and leads to action based on that faith. We are seeing the consequences of toxic faith in the actions of ISIS and its partner organizations. History is a heartbreaking narrative of one group in power invalidating not only the faith, but the very lives of those who hold an alternative posture. 20th century history alone is replete with horror stories –
- Bosnia-Herzegovina: 1992-1995 – 200,000 Deaths
- Rwanda: 1994 – 800,000 Deaths
- Pol Pot in Cambodia: 1975-1979 – 2,000,000 Deaths
- Nazi Holocaust: 1938-1945 – 6,000,000 Deaths
- Rape of Nanking: 1937-1938 – 300,000 Deaths
- Stalin’s Forced Famine: 1932-1933 – 7,000,000 Deaths
- Armenians in Turkey: 1915-1918 – 1,500,000 Deaths
Every genocide listed above was rooted in a warped form of faith expressed by those in power. These people believed that a race or religion other than their own had no right to share oxygen on this planet. If it doesn’t look like love, it is alt-faith twisted into a vicious and dangerous fun-house mirror image of what’s beautiful and true.
I am a Jewish follower of the Jewish Jesus, and have been on the receiving end of anti-Semitism from those who’ve inherited a latent version of it from their families or learned it in their communities. I’ve also been on the receiving end – both in person and online (white supremacist trolls, I’m looking at you) of virulent, activist forms anti-Semitism from those who have embraced it with all the passion of a born-again convert.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. – 1 John 4:18
What these people are exercising is not faith. It is fear. It doesn’t read as fear to most of us, as it is so full of braggadocio and swagger, and a determination to dominate then annihiliate, whether by word or weapon. This kind of “faith” is a poverty of love that demonstrates a lack of trust in all but the exercise of power. Real faith honors others – even those with whom it disagrees – and seeks only their good.