Today’s World—Tolerant or Indifferent?
SOME feel we live in an Age of Tolerance—a world where in most lands killing or torturing people for their religious beliefs is unthinkable. Nevertheless, how deep do the roots of toleration really run? Could it be that the much-vaunted Age of Tolerance is merely an Age of Indifference?
The Fight for Toleration
Actually, tolerance is a relatively recent acquisition, even within Western civilization. According to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the English word “tolerance” is of French origin. Says the French Vocabulaire de la Philosophie by André Lalande: “The [French] word tolerance was born in the XVI century as a result of the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. The Catholics ended up tolerating the Protestants and vice versa.”
In France the Wars of Religion ended in 1598 by the Edict of Nantes, a law by which King Henry IV granted limited freedom to Protestants. But freedom of religion was still not secure in France. In 1685 King Louis XIV revoked this edict and the Huguenots faced another century of being imprisoned, sent to the galleys or killed outright. It was only after the French Revolution got under way in 1789 that freedom of religion began to be legally guaranteed in France.
In Germany the wars between the Catholic and the Lutheran princes ended in 1555 with the Peace of Augsburg. This, however, granted them the right to impose their religion upon their respective subjects. There was no religious freedom for dissidents. The Thirty Years’ War between European Catholics and Protestants came to an end in 1648, and the Peace of Westphalia extended religious freedom to Calvinists. But it was not until 1781 that the German Edict of Toleration granted freedom of worship to all non-Catholics, and even that freedom was limited.
England, too, had a long and bitter fight for toleration. Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans took turns persecuting one another as they successively came to power. In 1689, under Protestant King William III, the British Toleration Act was published, but it forbade any preaching against the Trinity, and dissenters were barred from political office. In the 18th century various acts were passed that progressively granted religious freedom to those who were not members of the Church of England. But Catholics, Jews and dissenters were deprived of certain civil rights. It was not until the 1820’s that most of these restrictions were removed, and it was not until 1880—only a century ago—that religious dissenters in England were allowed to bury their dead according to their beliefs.
Ecumenism—Tolerance or Indifference?
It can therefore be seen that today’s seeming toleration has very shallow roots in history. What, therefore, motivates the tolerant attitudes prevailing today? Sincere recognition of the rights of others, or religious indifference?
The Roman Catholic Church is of the latter opinion. The Catholic Encyclopedia states the matter bluntly: “Toleration came in only when faith went out.” Says this same work: “The Church would therefore seem to be strangely inconsistent, for while she claims toleration and liberty for herself she has been and still remains intolerant of all other religions.”
To illustrate this, at the Ecumenical Council Vatican II, which ended in 1965, the Roman Catholic Church for the first time in history recognized the need for religious freedom. But a careful reading of Paul VI’s official declaration on such freedom reveals that he was more concerned about freedom for the Catholic Church in countries where it is threatened than about freedom for non-Catholic religions. And the present pope’s insistence on Mary worship and clerical celibacy indicates that his concept of ecumenism is for Protestants to come back to the bosom of the Church of Rome.
As to the present-day ecumenism, in which the Protestant and Orthodox World Council of Churches is prominent, The New Encyclopædia Britannica states: “The ecumenical movement of the 20th century has been attempting to contribute to overcoming church division precisely through clarification of the nontheological factors.” (Italics ours.) In other words, the ecumenic movement is seeking to unite the churches on all matters except spiritual ones. It deals with social and political questions. The World Council of Churches allegedly provides funds for “liberation movements” in various countries. Recently the Salvation Army withdrew from the WCC, accusing it of being guided “by politics rather than the gospel” and of providing financial support to guerrilla movements. It is therefore quite evident that the doctrinal tolerance of the ecumenical movement is, in fact, a sign of doctrinal indifference. On the other hand, its political involvement is certainly not helping to endear it to certain political governments.
Strong Convictions Without Intolerance
In M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, we read: “The Church of Christ, in her purity, knows nothing of intolerance, and therefore can never be guilty of persecution.” (Italics theirs.) The Cyclopaedia quotes John Jortin, an 18th-century English Protestant, born of French Huguenot parents, who said: “Where persecution begins, Christianity ends.” It further states: “It was after Christianity had been established as the religion of the [Roman] empire, and after wealth and honor had been conferred on its ministers, that the monstrous evil of persecution acquired gigantic strength, and threw its blasting influence over the religion of the Gospel.”
Yes, it was only after the apostasy set in that “Christians” became intolerant persecutors. Foretelling this apostasy, the apostle Paul wrote: “The time is coming when men will not tolerate wholesome teaching . . . They will no longer listen to the truth, but will wander off after man-made myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4, The New Testament in Modern English by J. B. Phillips) The creeds of Christendom’s churches contain many man-made myths, and it was precisely over such myths that apostate Christians became persecutors. For example, the myth of “three divine Persons in one God” gave rise to violent dissension and persecution among so-called Christians in the fourth century C.E. Anti-Trinitarians continued to be persecuted throughout the centuries.
True Christians, though, are not persecutors. This does not mean, however, that they do not have strong religious convictions, nor that they do not combat error. The apostle Paul stated the true Christian position: “For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful by God for overturning strongly entrenched things. For we are overturning reasonings and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God; and we are bringing every thought into captivity to make it obedient to the Christ.”—2 Corinthians 10:4, 5.
Jehovah’s Witnesses likewise use the Bible truths as their only weapons for overturning strongly entrenched man-made religious myths. But they never use coercion, nor do they persecute those who disagree with them, although they themselves have been the victims of cruel persecution by religious and political powers. They follow Paul’s advice: “Return evil for evil to no one. Provide fine things in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’”—Romans 12:17-19.
Some would argue, however, that Jehovah’s Witnesses are, in fact, intolerant because they expel from the congregation wrongdoers and individuals who do not conform to their religious beliefs. However, this practice is not due to some human standard or personal prejudice. It is God who commands Christians to expel wrongdoers. (1 Corinthians 5:9-13) However, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not malign, slander or harass expelled ones in any way. They merely follow the Bible’s command to cease associating with such ones. In this way both the purity and the identity of the Christian congregation are maintained. How different is such action from that of the churches that have mercilessly hounded and persecuted dissenters!
Religion ‘Reaps What It Has Sown’
The apostle Paul once said: “Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) This certainly applies to religious organizations that over the centuries have practiced intolerance toward others.
In the last book of the Bible, false religion is pictured as a harlot that commits “fornication” with “the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 17:1, 2; 18:9) This refers to religion’s selling herself to politics rather than remaining “no part of the world” in obedience to Jesus’ command. (John 17:16) The Bible foretells that antireligious political elements will tire of religion’s interference and will turn against her. By means of them, Jehovah God will ‘execute judgment upon the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication’ and will ‘avenge the blood of his slaves at her hand.’—Revelation 19:2; 17:16, 17.
With this unexpected turn against religion, intolerance will surface as never before in history. Even true Christians will not escape the wrath of the anti-God society that false religion’s destruction will usher in. But the ensuing attack on God’s faithful people will provoke God’s intervention. He simply will not tolerate such “kings,” “military commanders” and “strong men” who attack his people on earth!—Revelation 19:17-21; 17:14.
All goatlike, intolerant persecutors “will depart into everlasting cutting-off.” But to his sheeplike disciples, many of whom have been victims of intolerant persecution, Christ will say: “Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.” (Matthew 25:31-46) At long last, the prayer of true Christians will be answered, namely: “May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”—Matthew 6:9, 10, Ph.
Where will you stand when intolerance toward religion reaches its climax? You cannot afford to remain indifferent. As the apostle Paul explained, at Romans 9:22, 23: “God, although having the will to demonstrate his wrath and to make his power known, tolerated with much long-suffering vessels of wrath made fit for destruction, in order that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy.” Yes, God’s ‘toleration’ of wickedness has served a good purpose: It has given righteously inclined individuals time to take their stand for what is right. Yet, God has placed a time limit on this tolerance. (Acts 17:30, 31) All the evidence indicates that this period of toleration has about run out. The Bible therefore urges you to get out of false religion before it is too late!—Revelation 18:4, 5.
Jehovah’s Witnesses will be happy to help you free yourself from false religion, which has shown so much intolerance over the centuries. Study the Bible with the Witnesses. They can help you discover therein a wonderful hope, that of living forever in a Paradise earth where man’s intolerance against his fellowman will be a thing of the past.
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Jehovah’s Witnesses use Bible truths, not violence, to combat error
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Secular powers will become intolerant of worldly religion, which is symbolized by a harlot in the book of Revelation