does Christianity display a spirit of intolerance for non-believers?
Most people undergo a process of socialization where they affiliate with others who have similar beliefs, and create groups and organizations often with hierarchical power structures, to propagate and encourage those beliefs among the ingroup. “Duh,” you say. Why can’t I just say folks with the same interests get together and chill? Because this process is extremely profound and has far reaching implications for people everywhere, regardless of their thoughts. Maybe I should review first.
The image to the left is a brief overview I made of how people learn their roles (and others) through social identity theory. To copy from Wiki (the easiest resource on hand) – social identity theory’s four principles are these-
- Categorization: people often put others (and ourselves) into categories.
- Identification: people also associate with certain groups (ingroups and outgroups), which serves to bolster our self-esteem.
- Comparison: people compare our groups with other groups, seeing a favorable bias toward the group to which we belong.
- Psychological Distinctiveness: people desire our identity to be both distinct from and positively compared with other groups.
These ideas are also expressed in continental philosophy’s concept of The Other. The other is a way to define the self, in existential terms; it is what we are not. It also serves as a way to understand components of society or the excluded who should be subdued or excluded.
Now, knowing this, observe Christianity as a social ingroup, and the authors of the Bible, “inspired” as we say they are, as members of a new, elite ingroup who are quick to defend it in it’s infancy? Regardless of their feelings as to it’s legitimacy, and their divine ordination, being human, we can assume they socialize in the same manner. Therefore, when we see people rejecting The Other in society, we see the ingroup displaying it’s behavior of bias and exclusivism. However, inspiration does shine through the cultural and anthropocentric bias of the men who wrote Christian scripture;
Proverbs 3: 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Another source I should have remembered before, is this:
1 Corinthians 13: 9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Wheras 2 John makes the case for a strong in-group bias, these excerpts also make the exception for the lack of human understanding that prevents people from making divine and righteous judgment. Instead, people are supposed to “try the spirit” (1 John 4) and work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). In fact, to expand on that, the author also writes how we should emulate the humility of Christ; there is no pride in this, and ingroup values are discouraged by emphasizing the ideas of compassion, peacefulness, and selflessness. Lending itself to radically different interpretations, Christianity can serve as a vehicle for a personal philosophy or a social order, each with varying degrees of metaphysical relevance. People confuse one with the other, and often see direct calls to action in the scripture as an imperative to implement that social order in their world rather than their lives and relationships.
On whether or not there is a numinous or divine source for morality, this is also existentially irrelevant; as soon as we are able to recognize it, morality already exists, and we must provide our own essence or context for its existence. As human society has a long and rich lineage of values and mores extending into pre-history, the origin of those morals is left to explanation by less skeptical theologians and evolution biologists, who can still believe in the divine implementation of some sort of morality in human behavior. Even if that is so, morality as the superego of human behavior is a factor in returning the world to entropy.
One of the examples I mentioned in the outline I made was Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations. Edward Said made some nice comments about that here. Ingroup mentalities that promote exclusivism inevitably perceive people not part of the group as threats and look to objectify them in one way or another. While Christians have an a biblical directive to be faithful, they also must be humble, kind and loving. It’s these “irrational” values that sets Christ-centric discipleship apart from other social orders. When Jesus commands believers to “love your enemies,” “turn the other cheek,” and “bless them that curse you,” he is not speaking figuratively, he was deliberately working against the tendency of people to stratify into castes, classes, ingroups, etc.
So, to go back to the original question and hopefully answer it better this time with all that exposition – Christianity as a social group has an intolerance for unbelievers because people in it; it’s what we all do. Christianity, as a spiritual philosophy, is exclusive (which is a different issue),
but it’s exclusivity does not prohibit believers from being intolerant of unbelievers. Believers are supposed to transcend the “group” thinking –
Romans 12:2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
and furthermore, believers are supposed to drop the secondary socialization, while retaining their personal spiritual revelation –
1 Corinthians 9: 19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
To summarize, Christian culture and society is a sham, an invention of people. Any time people exhibit intolerance for unbelievers, they are acting like the “old man” (Romans 6:6) and not with the regenerated behavior of someone exemplifying the spirit of Christ (with the exception of the theological discussion of exclusivity, which is up to the “fear and trembling” of each believer, but that’s a different issue).