Written by Victor Stanley Jr.
The following statement is put forth by a friend or acquaintance: “My biggest problem with Christianity is, for one, that Christians seem so intolerant and judgmental, and secondly, their sexual ethic seems to suppress basic human desires and our freedom to live fulfilled lives.” The question now raised is this, what response can be offered by the Christian who truly wants to engage the person who holds these views as well as the culture that shapes them? One can imagine that numerous responses are possible yet not all are plausible, some responses are consistent yet incoherent, and still other responses are coherent yet do not correspond to reality. Thus, the attempt must be made to offer a response that is plausible, consistent, coherent, and that corresponds to reality.
The aforementioned statement is neither rare nor shocking, in fact, it is a commonly voiced grievance against Christianity. It is a position that is often stated everywhere from the lecture halls and student unions at universities, to the rhetoric put forth by talking heads in the media, and even at backyard cookouts at a neighbor or family member’s house. In order to really tackle the issues raised by the statement it must be analyzed so that the core concerns it is getting at can be addressed rather than the peripheral socio-cultural challenges that may or may not be related to those concerns. This means discussion of gay marriage or genetic predispositions should be tabled as well as glib and demeaning arguments about postmodernism being silly or foolish.
The statement made by this friend targets three specific things: Tolerance, Morality, and Freedom. Modern western societies have staked much on these three things and so they must be handled with care and graciousness toward the person making the statement. So ingrained in the cultural consciousness of western society are these three, that any attack on them is taken not just as an assault on an ideology, but rather an assault on a person or community’s very identity. Tolerance, morality, and freedom in that order are at the core of the statement. A person or community’s concept of what tolerance is and what it means will shape their view of morals and their place in society. A person or community’s view of morality will undergird their understanding of freedom versus restriction, liberation versus bondage, and expression versus suppression. What follows is a response that seeks to respond to the statement as a whole by addressing the three individual concerns it raises.
What tolerance is can be difficult to nail down. Its definition has changed over time to mean something much different than what it meant in ages past. Merriam-Webster defines tolerance as: “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own. b: the act of allowing something: TOLERATION.” This implies the recognizing that other views exist, but not necessarily accepting those other views as correct or valid. Yet, as D.A. Carson points out, the definition of tolerance has moved from the accepting of the presence of differing viewpoints, to the acceptance of all viewpoints being equally valid and true.
This is an important distinction to make when addressing the original statement put forth by this hypothetical friend. When he or she says that “Christians seem so intolerant and judgmental,” is she implying that Christians refuse to engage with differing views, or that they refuse to accept other views as being true? In today’s culture, it is often the latter that is meant when the word “intolerant” is thrown around. However, if tolerance means accepting all views as equally true, then it is easy to see how some very disturbing scenarios can be justified without consequence. Ravi Zacharias offers this poignant statement, “In some countries you love your neighbors, and in others you eat them.”
If the new definition of tolerance is to be adopted, then people must accept living in a society where you may become your neighbor’s friend or, just as likely, his dinner. Yet, this friend that has made the assertion that Christian’s are intolerant would spit at the thought of living in a society where having one’s neighbor over for dinner can suddenly have more sinister implications. This friend, when pressed on why such a situation is unfavorable to him, may emphatically respond that “eating people is wrong!” It is this remark that reveals another facet to the idea of tolerance. It shows that tolerance, the new tolerance, is a virtue unless the thing one is asked to tolerate is perceived as being against his or her set of beliefs. Therefore, Christians must be tolerant of people’s views on sexuality, meaning they must be accepted as true, but no one is required to be tolerant of Christian’s views on sexuality.
This begs the question, “why is the refusal to accept Christianity’s view on sexuality not seen as intolerant?” The answer is evident in our friend’s response to cannibalism, “eating people is wrong!” To say that it is wrong is to not simply say that it is frowned upon or undesirable to modern sensibilities, it is not simply saying that a person disagrees with it, rather it is to say that it goes against the moral norm. This friend has inadvertently introduced morality into her position despite it being absent from her original statement. Initially this friend brought up tolerance and ethics, however, a discussion on tolerance often gives way to a discussion on morality; this is because what people are tolerant or intolerant of is usually tied to their morality.
Christians are viewed as intolerant because they refuse to accept as true, positions that the culture views as being morally good or neutral. Christian morality is on the stand, and must be cross-examined to determine whether or not it has a basis for its attitudes toward what are becoming new cultural norms.
Morality is what guides and shapes a culture or society’s values and ethics. People’s understanding of complex issues of right and wrong can be traced back to their basic morality. What behaviors and practices a culture is willing to accept or reject as normative is determined by its morality, and herein lies the issue; the moral structure on which Western society in particular is and was built is being turned on its head. Those things that have been almost universally considered morally wrong or abhorrent by all human cultures and societies throughout history are now being called good and acceptable. “[This] moral revolution is now so complete that those who will not join it are understood to be deficient, intolerant, and harmful to society,” says Dr. Albert Mohler Jr. in his analysis of the sexual and moral revolution of the last seventy years. Homosexuality is the topic at hand, and it has been a driving force behind the moral revolution.
It is interesting how so great a shift in a culture’s morals can take place when such a small percentage of the culture actually identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). Gallup puts the percentage of LGBT persons in the United States at 4.1% in 2016, but surprisingly their research shows that in 2017 polls 51% of Americans support new civil rights protections for LGBT persons, 64% support legal same-sex marriage, and 72% support legal same-sex relationships. Their reports also shows trends for the last twenty years that reveal that these numbers are double what they were in 1997.
What becomes evident is that somehow the views of a minority have so effectively persuaded the masses that they have become the standard for the majority. The words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in The Social Contract clearly show how such a thing can take place:
“From the deliberations of a people properly informed, and provided its members do not have any communication among themselves, the great number of small differences will always produce a general will and the decision will always be good. But if groups, sectional associations are formed at the expense of the larger association, the will of each of these groups will become general in relation to its own members and private in relation to the state; we might then say that there are no longer as many votes as there are men but only as many votes as there are groups. The differences become less numerous and yield a result less general. Finally, when one of these groups becomes so large that it can outweigh the rest, the result is no longer the sum of many small differences, but one great divisive difference; then there ceases to be a general will, and the opinion which prevails is no more than a private opinion.”
The great divisive difference of modern American society is same-sex relationships, and the prevailing private opinion that has become the general will is the belief that the historic understanding of homosexuality is archaic and oppressive. In Western society right and wrong are no longer grounded in objective moral standards, but rather in the subjective will of the current culture. When a society begins to operate on this basis everything is suddenly up for grabs; all questions of right and wrong are now decided by the consensus of the group. And what of those who disagree with the group accord? They are now considered backwards, narrow-minded, and intolerant. They quickly become marginalized and ostracized, viewed as a threat to the forward progress of the culture, more than this they are considered dangerous and are subject to eradication.
Those who advocate for tolerance and subjective morality not only claim that those who disagree with them are intolerant and wrong, but they make it a point to go after their businesses, churches, schools, jobs, families, etc. in an effort to punish and silence them. This is a mob mentality that dictates its morality as the standard for all and defines tolerance as an acceptance of their views, to go against this is to be intolerant and to lack moral goodness. If such a position is considered to be the benchmark for freedom and self-expression, one wonders what restriction and suppression look like.
Freedom is the hallmark of Western society, it is the rallying call of the revolutions throughout Europe and the Americas that overthrew monarchies and slavery. Freedom is also the principle used to bolster the argument against traditional and historical morality. The friend who has presented the statement being assessed and addressed throughout this essay may take great issue with the section on morality. She may say that Christians are also, if not more, guilty of forcing their moral standards on the masses. While this may be particularly true at certain times throughout history, it is not universally true, especially when one considers the foundations of modern Western society.
Any public-school student knows that religious freedom and separation of Church and State are pillars of Western political ideology, and this fact quickly dispels the notion that Christian morality is or can be forced on the general populace. The ground gained by so called progressives in their efforts to change the morality of Western society also shows that Christian morality has never been at the core of Western ideology.
The Enlightenment philosophy that influenced the development of modern Western society saw the laws of nature and reason as the driving forces behind morality, not necessarily Christian morals. This is seen in such texts as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, Rousseau’s The Social Contract, and John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government, as well as the works of Voltaire, Adam Smith, and Thomas Hobbes to name a few. Rousseau himself says that “The lawgiver is, in every respect, an extraordinary man in the state.” He goes on to say that it is only because of certain paradoxes in men’s attempts to institute laws that they appeal to higher divine authorities as the source of law; specifically that they “…attribute their own wisdom to the Gods; for then the people obey freely…”
These men are mentioned and quoted because their observations on law and morality were inextricably tied to their opinions on politics, specifically freedom. What the Enlightenment ushered in was and is a subjective morality that shifts according to the will of the people, a social contract between citizens. In their striving for freedom, liberation, and individual expression the threw out any and everything that had been used or misused as a means of tyranny and oppression, including objective morality.
Our friend’s statement said that Christian sexual ethics “seem to suppress basic human desires and our freedom to live fulfilled lives.” What he is suggesting is that Christian sexual ethics restrict freedom, place liberated people in bondage to outdated morals, and suppress individual expression. Brevity is best here as much has been said concerning tolerance and morality. Freedom itself must be restrictive because it depends on the constraining of those things that bring tyranny. Liberation requires bondage because those things or persons that would enslave people must be bound. Finally, individual expression requires the suppression of oppressive forces, people, and ideas.
One would be inclined to ask this friend what he means when he says Christianity suppresses expression and limits freedom, you might even ask him what exactly it is Christianity constrains, binds, and suppresses, is it basic human desire as he stated? Ask him to define basic human desire. Are all basic human desires to be allowed? Hunger is a basic human desire, yet this friend is against cannibalism. Sexual pleasure is a basic human desire, but should all sexual behaviors be allowed? Pedophilia, incest, rape? Internet porn sites depict fictional scenarios of these things and hundreds of millions of people consume them for entertainment every year.
The top porn categories in the world include incest, young girls (women depicting young high school girls), and things that fall into what is called hardcore porn which depicts rape like situations. These things that, on the surface, society considers immoral are in fact quietly accepted and viewed for amusement and pleasure. If a broad definition of freedom is accepted along with the new tolerance and subjective morality, then these detestable behaviors can neither be shunned or designated as wrong. A society that allows any and everything that tickles the fancy of its citizens will quickly, and frighteningly, come to fruition if the viewpoint of this friend is adopted and lived out to its logical conclusions.
“My biggest problem with Christianity is, for one, that Christians seem so intolerant and judgmental, and secondly, their sexual ethic seems to suppress basic human desires and our freedom to live fulfilled lives.” Here is the response to this statement: Yes, Christians are indeed intolerant and judgmental, their sexual ethic does suppress human desires while restricting people’s ability to live out what non-Christian world would consider “fulfilled lives.” They are intolerant because they refuse to accept the truth claims other worldviews put forth. They are judgmental because they judge others by the moral standard set forth in their sacred text, the Bible. And their sexual ethic is guilty as charged because their ethics are governed by biblical sexual ethics and not the general will of the populace; however, every person on earth is guilty of the same.
People are intolerant of any truth that falls outside of their worldview; they judge based on their personal, familial, and cultural moral standards; and their ethics are dictated by their belief system. Our friend’s statement is true, but his argument is weak.
 Merriam-Webster, Inc, ed., Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh edition (Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 2003).
 D. A Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2013) pp. 3.
 Ravi K Zacharias, Can Man Live without God (Nashville, Tenn.: W Pub. Group, 2004).
 R. Albert Mohler, We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, & the Very Meaning of Right & Wrong (Nashville, Tennessee: Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, 2015) pp. 1-3.
 Ibid, 3.
 Gallup Inc, “In US, More Adults Identifying as LGBT,” Gallup.com, accessed June 9, 2017, http://www.gallup.com/poll/201731/lgbt-identification-rises.aspx.
 Gallup Inc, “Americans Split Over New LGBT Protections, Restroom Policies,” Gallup.com, accessed June 9, 2017, http://www.gallup.com/poll/210887/americans-split-new-lgbt-protections-restroom-policies.aspx.
 Gallup Inc, “US Support for Gay Marriage Edges to New High,” Gallup.com, accessed June 9, 2017, http://www.gallup.com/poll/210566/support-gay-marriage-edges-new-high.aspx.
 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (London: Penguin, 2003) pp. 73.
 Mohler, We Cannot Be Silent, pp. 3.
 Rousseau, The Social Contract, 85.
 Ibid, 87.
 Ibid, 87.
 This information is taken from a report done by the largest and most popular adult entertainment site in the world, it is owned and operated by MindGeek Holding SARL. Numerous media outlets and reputable organizations reference this porn site’s annual “Year-In-Review” report that provides a detailed analysis as well as raw data on worldwide porn consumption. Because this report is only available in full on the actual porn site I have decided not to provide the actual citation. If the citation is needed I can provide that via email.
Carson, D. A. The Intolerance of Tolerance. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2013.
Inc, Gallup. “Americans Split Over New LGBT Protections, Restroom Policies.” Gallup.com. Accessed June 19, 2017. http://www.gallup.com/poll/210887/americans-split-new-lgbt-protections-restroom-policies.aspx.
———. “In US, More Adults Identifying as LGBT.” Gallup.com. Accessed June 19, 2017. http://www.gallup.com/poll/201731/lgbt-identification-rises.aspx.
———. “US Support for Gay Marriage Edges to New High.” Gallup.com. Accessed June 19, 2017. http://www.gallup.com/poll/210566/support-gay-marriage-edges-new-high.aspx.
Merriam-Webster, Inc, ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Eleventh edition. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 2003.
Mohler, R. Albert. We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, & the Very Meaning of Right & Wrong. Nashville, Tennessee: Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, 2015.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. London: Penguin, 2003.
Zacharias, Ravi K. Can Man Live without God. Nashville, Tenn.: W Pub. Group, 2004.