Alistair McKitterick

“The Bible is Right and the Qur’an is wrong.”

How do you respond to this provocative statement? Some might wholeheartedly agree (no doubt mainly Christians) and some would strongly disagree (no doubt mainly Muslims), and others might say they’re both equally wrong. But another group of people again are not interested in the rights and wrongs of this statement (they’d probably deny that there even could be a true answer to it), but rather object to the statement being said at all. The objection? ‘Intolerance’. In one of those delicious ironies, this group is intolerant of such a claim on the grounds of it being intolerant. They don’t so much object to the statement itself; they object to the statement being made.

A recent example of this intolerance was seen in the arrest last July in Bristol of three Street Preachers for preaching the Gospel and then responding to questions about Islam (and they are being prosecuted in court as I write). The police claimed, amongst other things, that these preachers were ‘challenging Muslims’, and it was the challenge itself (not the truth or otherwise of the challenge) that apparently could not be tolerated in our society. This is the ‘thought-Police’ in action. Society, it seems, must be protected from these kinds of truth-claims for its own sake.

There are so many problems with this abuse of power, but the one that seems most unnoticed is the poverty of the value that they are trying to protect. Tolerance is not a virtue, or if it is then it is the weakest and most unhappy of all the virtues. At its best, we leave each other alone to do and say what we want. At its worst, we persecute those who don’t conform to our standards. A society based on this kind of tolerance is always vigilant to stamp out critical views, leaving us anxious about expressing moral judgements for fear of being called intolerant. We daren’t even whisper that someone is wrong about matters of faith and morality. Those living in this kind of society are only free to the extent that they conform.

The society that Jesus envisaged has very different values. It encourages us to be self-critical before criticising others (think logs and specks) and to accept insults without retaliating (think turning the other cheek). It gives to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and loves its neighbour as it loves itself. And it insists on proclamation of the truth of God, and not just an abstract, distant kind of God that nobody would mind much about, but the God who loves the world and wouldn’t simply tolerate it but came right in amongst us and loved us even though those in power found him intolerable. A good society is based not on tolerance but on love and truth. And truth must be proclaimed as such, in love, and to hell with the consequences. Or, more hopefully, to Heaven.

Alistair McKitterick is a Lecturer in Biblical and Theological Studies at Moorlands College.

 


COMMENT

In response to yesterday’s news of the Court’s ruling: Court convicts street preachers in ‘modern-day heresy trial’

This is a turning point in our society. We have become used to being marginalized in the media, and in education, but this trend has now reached a very dangerous point where the secular voices in society have now received judicial backing in the courts.

It has been said in court that ‘To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth’.

This is simply wrong. The identity and claims of Jesus are precisely matters of truth, and in fact the central matter of truth. It is precisely here that our society has lost its way by denying the existence of truth. The irony is that at this very point the courts want to assert that their view is ‘true’.

Note this: the court was not denying that Jesus is God; they are not declaring it to be false. They are saying that such claims don’t qualify for being either true or false. They are declaring this to be an opinion, a preference, a prejudice, a value, a subjective feeling, or a matter of private faith. What we must declare back is that our belief in Jesus as God is not a private feeling but rather a matter of public fact, objective truth, and the kind of thing that depends on evidence and reason. If anything in public life is considered a matter of truth or falsehood, then this must also be considered a matter of truth or falsehood.

Now, if anyone wants to declare the belief in Jesus as God as false then fine: let them bring forward evidence for their position and we’ll bring forward our evidence for our position, and may the best evidence win the argument. But if anyone declares that this is not a matter of truth, then that is simply a matter of sheer ignorance or, more worryingly, an abuse of power and an attempt to silence the proclamation of the Gospel.

Alistair McKitterick, 2 March 2017

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