Tuesday, September 05, 2006

"Tolerance" in the Classical Sense

[Under the tag "Comment" I will, well, comment on things I've found interesting. I hope you'll find it interesting, too]

Since Monique and I live about ten miles away from campus, I get to drive back and forth on the busy Nashville roads. Since a lot of that time is spent sitting and waiting for lights to change, I've started downloading podcasts to keep me occupied and thinking. One of these podcasts is the weekly National Public Media offering: "Speaking of Faith".

I find SOF so interesting because its host, Krista Tippett, seems to be an honestly struggling agnostic/spiritualist/secularist. Obviously educated, she embodies the ideas and culture of today's academy towards religion: that is, she genuinely believes that religion is good and helpful and able to articulate truth that science cannot. For that reason, I'll call her a "positive pluralist." That definition is over against what we might call "negative pluralists" of the previous several generations in academia, or more commonly, "atheists."

So, the title link is to an interview Tippett did this week with Eboo Patel, Muslim founder of the Chicago Interfaith Youth Core. What I found so interesting, and worthy of sharing, was that Patel embodied the definition of tolerance that I have heard American evangelicals espousing since "tolerance" became a liberal buzzword (that meant embracing all religions/ideas/lifestyles as equally true or valid). Instead, I and other evangelicals believe that tolerance really means being able to work with people who you really disagree with without losing one's disagreement.

Patel's organization is about bringing teens from different faith traditions together, getting them involved in service projects (such as tutoring or construction work), and then bringing them together to reflect on how their religious traditions effect their service. So, a Muslim might say that the Koran asks Muslims to give alms as part of their religious obligation, while a Christian would point to the example of Christ, the early church, and justification by faith (and so not by works or social standing). In so doing, the teenagers are forced to reflect on their faith in a way that they wouldn't have had the same thing been brought up in youth group.

As a Christian who does not believe that tolerance means embracing all ideas as equally true but instead believes that tolerance means being able to work with people who you really disagree with, I find the space created by Patel's organization (at least as portrayed on SOF) fascinating. Could it be that what we have argued against the liberals for so long has finally been embodied by a Muslim? Interestingly enough, Patel credits the pro-life cooperation of Evangelical Christians with Roman Catholics as an important inspiration for his work. He says at one point in the interview, "I love Evangelical Christians."

So, if you have an hour to kill, listen to the interview online or download it to your desktop or IPod. I'll be interested to hear what other evangelicals have to say on the topic.

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