Newspapers across the United States featured a religion article this weekend titled “Ideology Matters: What is the most dangerous idea in religion today?” Answering that question were Harold Kushner, Deepak Chopra, Richard Land, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im and Wayne Dyer. At first glance this roster appears to represent a wide diversity of opinion, including Jewish (Kushner), Christian (Land), Muslim (An-Na’im), Eastern mysticism (Chopra) and secular (Dyer). In actual fact, three of the five reflect no diversity at all. The most dangerous idea in religion today, say Kushner, Chopra and Dyer, is the notion that any religion is more true than another. An-Na’im, the Muslim spokesman, begins by stating that he wouldn’t “believe in a religion if [he] didn’t believe it to be better than other religions,” but he proceeds to denounce any attempt to convert others to a religion different from their own.
At first glance, this general consensus seems to honor the principle of tolerance, A closer look reveals that it actually undercuts both the importance of tolerance and its necessity by denying the possibility of any objectively true (and therefore permanent) religious statement. Biblical Christianity requires tolerance based on what we call the Golden Rule — Jesus’ command to treat others the way we wish for them to treat us (Matt. 7:12). We must confess that far too often Christians have failed to do what Jesus says in this regard. But that is to our shame, not to Jesus’ blame. His word remains true whether we obey it or not. Those who obey this command will respect every other person’s liberty of conscience and will therefore renounce coercive force as a means of advancing their own religion. The result is the exercise of genuine tolerance — tolerating the religious faith and practices of those with whom we disagree.
But suppose that Jesus’ teaching is no more or less valid than the thinking of anyone else. In that case the Golden Rule is only as true as any particular person believes it to be. If there is no objective, universal truth, what is considered true today is up for grabs tomorrow. Religious liberty loses its underpinning, its unchanging validity and its necessity. If no religious idea is better than another, there is no merit in treating others as we wish to be treated. If this is the case, we have no guaranteed basis for denouncing Bible-waving Ku Klux Klansmen or for condemning the murderous conduct of fanatical Muslim suicide bombers.
So we come full circle to the newspaper article. Under the general tItle: “Ideology Matters,” it asks the question: “What is the most dangerous idea in religion today?” In effect, a majority of those answering the question say that the most dangerous idea is the idea that ideology matters. Precisely because ideology does matter, the ultimate fruit of their answer might prove that their answer itself was the most dangerous idea of all.