Tolerance does not mean that everyone should be provided a platform

Dear Editor,
Henry Jeffrey’s, ‘A radical religious inclusivism,’ (SN, April 5) seeks to interpret the events surrounding the permission given to Pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church to preach to and proselytize among the students of Central High with which I am not sure Pastor Anderson himself will agree.

As to Ms Balroop, her competence to make a decision is not in question. The question that begs our attention is whether she “gave permission” to Faithful Word Baptist Church on her own or was she herself given a directive. Events suggest that the latter was the case, given the scale and magnitude of Anderson’s operation which was nothing less than a military-style blitz unleashed on schools in and around the city. By their own accounts, the mission “reached” more than 3,000 students and “saved” as many as 1,000.   Did each of the heads of these schools come up with their own arbitrary on-the-spot decisions?  Hardly likely.  It seems evident that instructions to the heads to accommodate Pastor Anderson emanated from the Ministry of Education itself.

Whether the heads acted on their own initiative or on an order from the ministry, it is important to see why Faithful Word Baptist Church was apparently welcomed with open arms.  In this regard, we need to keep in mind that this church is a powerful aggressive, proselytizing tradition which has a long history in the United States. The spread of American Christianity has always been seen as a plank in American foreign policy, and it is no secret that the State Department enables and encourages American missionaries abroad.  It is never easy to say no to America.

The missionary movement on the whole shares in the perception, created by the power of Western imperialism, that Western civilization, Western culture and Western religion are the wave of the future, a perception further fuelled by the tide of globalization. Western products Like Levi and Nike are good for us, so too is Western religion.  When an aggressive church tradition in alliance with a dominant power comes knocking on our doors we better know how to behave.

One cannot also discount the power of whiteness in this matter.  Christianity with its white Jesus wrapped in whiteness and delivered by a white man is always more compelling and desirable to brown and black peoples.

The white men who come bearing the white religion are aware of, and unabashedly participate in, the powerful hold and mystique whiteness has over the minds of colonials.  Had these men been black, from a black country, and worst of all bringing a black Jesus, the reception would have been far from welcoming.

There is another, and perhaps more important, reason why the Ministry of Education accommodated Pastor Anderson so willingly. There are people in Guyana who lament the loss of the dominance of Christianity as a state religion as it was in colonial times, and they can be found today as bureaucrats in many state agencies.

There still exist a residue of the notion of Christianity as the de facto state religion and the simplistic view that if all are converted to Christianity there will be greater unity in Guyana.  With this in mind, there are those in the Ministry of Education and Culture who will obviously have a vested interest in the conversion of Hindus.

While Mr Jeffrey speculates as to what may have prompted Ms Balroop to allow the preachers in her school, he informs us that, “a radical religious inclusivism” was at the heart of her decision. On the surface of it is would seem that Ms Balroop was very accommodating, a typical Hindu attitude towards other faiths.   Accommodation suggests some element of mutuality, at least mutual respect. But respect for other faiths, or the views of unbelievers, is not an attitude that Anderson’s God endorses, and whose religious views are irrevocably beyond the scope of discourse or critical analysis.  Far from respect, she must know that, being a Hindu, she is destined for eternal hell as was expounded to her and her students.

We should now look at Dr Jeffrey’s rarefied concept of “radical religious inclusiveness.” Unlike exclusivism which views one’s religion alone as true and all others as false, a doctrine classically stated in the Catholic axiom, extra ecclesiam nulla salus, (outside the Church there is no salvation) hence all must be converted to Christianity, religious inclusivism grants that other religions may possess a ray of truth, but the fullness of truth is only in Christianity.

Inclusivism tries to avoid the confrontational approach of exclusivism by seeking to integrate all other faiths into Christianity while at the same time holding on to the superiority of Christianity and the uniqueness of Christ. With reference to Hinduism, all inclusivist theology seeks to demonstrate that Christ is the “hidden” or “unknown saviour” in Hinduism.  But as the noted Swiss theologian has put it, “This is a pseudo-solution which offers slight consolation. Is it possible to cure a society suffering from a decline in membership by declaring even non-members are ‘hidden members?’”

But Anderson would countenance no such deviation. He propounds the infallible word of the “One True God.”  It’s Jesus or hell. To the extent that Christians like Pastor Anderson believe that only their baptized brethren will be saved on Judgement Day, and all others are destined for eternal hell fire which has been stoked especially for unbelievers, they can have no respect for the beliefs of others, and to the extent that they believe their version of Christianity alone constitutes the only viable path to God and that the Bible teaches it perfectly, they will feel nothing but contempt for any person who doubts the claims of their beliefs.

What, then, is so edifying in the teachings of Pastor Anderson that we should “listen” to him, as Dr Jeffrey urges us to?  Has humanity not gone beyond a theology of “us and them,” “self and other” “saved and unsaved”?  Have we not gone beyond a theology of hate and violence?  Every theology of everlasting hell fire, which is the cornerstone of Anderson’s teaching, must of necessity be a theology of hate and violence.  What is so redeeming and compelling about Anderson’s theology that will “enhance” and “enlighten” us?

Everyone has a right to express and teach his beliefs, however reprehensible they may be.

However, tolerance does not mean that they should be provided a platform or welcomed in our community.  Tolerating intolerance is an absurdity. Given his theology Pastor Anderson has no need to “listen” to and take from the “different explications” of religion what will “enhance” his truth.   There is nothing he can learn from others that will “enhance” his truth. He alone possesses the full and absolute truth.  Unless, of course, Henry Jeffrey means Hindus must do the listening and keep on accommodating the likes of Anderson to ensure, “the brotherhood of all mankind.”

Yours faithfully,
Swami Aksharananda

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