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Essay

A young man called in to the Michael Medved radio program one day and argued that the most dangerous religions in the world are those that believe in "exclusivity" and in "proselytizing."

The young man included Muslims in his harangue, but mostly for illustration. His real anger was leveled at people who believe the words of Jesus when He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."

By definition, an evangelical shares the faith. We evangelize — not always as often as we should, and sometimes more often than we should — because we long for others to know what we know, experience what we've experienced, have what we have, understand what we understand.

This new army, bitterly hostile to the Christian faith, believes Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens when they say Christians are not just deluded, but dangerous.

You would expect people to see Christians as among the least dangerous people around. We believe in the Prince of Peace, the One who taught, "Love your neighbor as yourself," and "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."

Is that dangerous?

One of the really interesting things people do is try to convince others that proselytizing is evil. To proselytize is to try and convince. It usually pertains to faith or some other major area of life, but, in essence, it's an attempt to win the other person over — to persuade.

So here is the young man trying to persuade us that persuasion is wrong; trying to convince us that it is wrong to try and convince; trying to win us over to his point of view. And if you think because he had no religious agenda, he was not really proselytizing, think again. He entered the realm of religious thought with the goal of changing someone else's religious faith. That is a religious agenda and it is proselytizing.

The Marketplace of Ideas

Ideas can be scary. Some can be destructive. But Christians today are not arguing for the control or suppression of ideas. Just the opposite. We want ours to get an even chance in the marketplace of ideas. Islam, on the other hand, seems to be running scared of that same marketplace.

This point is easily proven. Look at the nations founded by Christians and at the nations founded by Muslims. See how Christian evangelists are treated in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and how those spreading the tenets of Islam are treated in Great Britain or the United States. There may be isolated instances of Muslims being treated poorly in nations whose founders were Christians, but it's nothing like the systematic and often violent exclusion of other religions found in most Islamic nations.

Freedom of religion is a statement of faith in the strength of one's own religion. Suppression of other faiths shows a fear of the weakness of one's own beliefs.

It is stunning when people assume Christianity and Islam are the same. The word fundamentalist is a red flag no matter the comparative peacefulness of the religion's founder.

In politics and religion, in any area of life where feelings run deep, we should seek a sense of proportion. Maybe you don't like Hillary Clinton or George Bush, but neither of them is the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. It's fair to say that a person or group is on a path that might lead to horrors similar to those of the Nazis, but the road, though dangerous, is not the destination. Interstate 90 runs from Seattle to Boston. It's the same road, but don't confuse a person on Mercer Island with a New Englander. Comparisons to Nazism have the effect of diminishing the real atrocities of that regime. It's fair to say that an atheist holds beliefs central to those held by some of the most evil people and regimes in history, but that doesn't put every atheist on a par with Stalin.

Both fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims are true believers who, in theory, will do anything they believe God or Allah wants them to do. Should people be afraid of that? They shouldn't be afraid of the man or woman fully committed to God, if he or she also believes God's highest law includes, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

A Sense of Proportion
©2007-2019 Tom Gilbreath All Rights Reserved
Posted: 4-25-2008

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