Monday, November 28, 2016

Diverse Toleration


For many evangelicals, it's become a four-letter word.  Mostly because people outside of our evangelical industrial complex say we're against it, or don't practice enough of it.

And it's true that diversity isn't eagerly embraced within evangelicalism.  Diversity, for example, apparently doesn't describe God's intricate detailing of our biological reality.  Otherwise sins like gluttony wouldn't be as rampant within evangelicalism, and we'd be more sympathetic towards people with chronic illnesses such as clinical depression.

In addition, diversity apparently doesn't represent the various topographies, climates, and seasons of our planet and its place in our solar system.  Otherwise, environmentalism wouldn't be so roundly scoffed by evangelicals.

And diversity does not always flood our imaginations with thankfulness when we consider all of the skin colors, ethnicities, personalities, and emotions of every single person on this planet at this very moment.  Otherwise, racism and nationalism wouldn't be as popular - at least, historically - within evangelicalism as it is.

We evangelicals tend to avoid people who are different from ourselves, whether we're white, black, Hispanic, Asian, or purple-polka-dotted.  We tend to segregate ourselves based on our ethnicity, social class, income level, and even education level.

We're most comfortable when we're around people like ourselves.

But that's not a propensity unique to evangelicals, is it?

Diversity is not exactly a trait that humans instinctively celebrate, whether we're evangelicals, or political liberals, or Americans, or European, or white, or black, or Russian, or Chinese, or poor, or any other type of demographic.

Like tends to attract like.  People with a fondness for liberal ideologies, for instance, tend to find a smug camaraderie with fellow smug liberals.  People with a fondness for nostalgia tend to find a fuzzy solidarity with other people who don't embrace change.  Educated people tend to find common ground with like-minded peers who bristle at the less educated, more rough-around-the-edges folk.

This is no big secret.  But it's something we often forget, or prefer to pretend is a social dynamic that doesn't really exist.  At least, not to the degree that it does.  Particularly the more educated we are - or, at least, the more educated we think we are.  After all, higher education currently champions diversity, so diversity is a trendy pursuit to be theoretically celebrated by the educated.  Since we've learned that diversity is a fact of life, it must be accepted and pursued, at least by the open-minded.  After all, the presumption is that only the ill-informed or the bigoted can't handle diversity.

Yet for all of its vaunted respectability, diversity can also be a concept even the most educated among us can deride.  This is because diversity isn't just about skin color, or socioeconomics, or sexual preference, or nationality.  It's about one's world view, and how people process the reality around them.  And although diversity's conventional champions generally deny it, diversity itself defies their attempts at controlling and owning it.

Diversity may be something evangelicals have a hard time accepting politically.  But diversity is also something educated liberals have a hard time accepting spiritually.  This is probably because spirituality represents an aspect of life that challenges conventionally-educated notions of diversity.  Particularly when it comes to areas involving divisive issues like abortion, gay marriage, and religious freedom.

So far, at least in the West, the easy-out for diversity's more liberal advocates has been to quietly rationalize that religious freedom takes a back seat to our common notions of everyday diversity.  It's easier to pretend that religion can be "tolerated" as long as religion doesn't compromise our humanistic notions of diversity.

Yet just because diversity exists doesn't mean that "tolerance" makes diversity peaceful.  Look at the animal kingdom, where diversity rules the jungle, yet there is also a regimented food chain in which survival can be brutal.  Look at how some invasive plants can kill long-established plants.  There is precious little tolerance or peace in nature.  There may be a certain equilibrium, in which plants and animals appear to be surviving in some sort of balance.  But just watch any nature show on TV to have that perception quickly dispelled!

Social scientists claim that our human capacity for tolerance helps separate us from wild beasts.  Yet tolerance is only as tolerant as the world view of the person defining it.  After our most recent presidential election, a lot of pundits are rhapsodizing that what we need now is social harmony based on tolerance for the viewpoints of others.  But that's sheer fallacy, isn't it?  Tolerance can only go so far before even the tolerant folks start getting on each others' nerves.  Some of us like to imagine that humanity only has to cherish a common respect for everybody and everything, and we'll be all right.  But that philosophy didn't even last for long in the Garden of Eden, did it?

God created diversity to demonstrate His creativity, but I'm convinced He also created diversity to keep us from relying on humanity for the peace we so desperately need.  Perhaps you recall the Tower of Babble, when folks were convinced they could supplant God's sovereignty with their own.  The Bible tells us that our diverse languages stem from that fallacy, which to this day represents one of our planet's key examples of both diversity and confusion.  Our inability to communicate remains a surprisingly persistent contributor to much of the strife in our world - even when we're speaking the same language!

God's provision of diversity means that we're all different.  Which, of course, is something we say we know, but is also a fact we rarely respect.  We all have things that prevent us from being exactly like somebody else, and prevent utter homogeneity, compliance, and tranquility.  Which, of course, means that to a certain degree, there are things in everybody else that we need to tolerate in order to simply get along and survive.

We don't have to accept everything about everybody.  We don't have to understand how and why we're all different.  We don't even have to protect all of the reasons why we're different - otherwise, we wouldn't need laws and jails.  Yet in this mix of personalities, ethnicities, temperaments, physical and mental limitations, socioeconomics, and body types, God tell us that the humanity each of us embodies is to be honored.  Humanity is the gift God has given each of us, which means that it's not ours to denigrate - in ourselves, or in somebody else.

But tolerance?  If anybody is to be tolerant, it's us Christ-followers.  But it's not a tolerance that excuses things God says we're not supposed to excuse.  It's not a tolerance that says anything goes, and everything's OK.  But it is a tolerance that celebrates everything that God says is good, and right.  And considering the inestimable breadth of all that God has created within and for us, that's a lot more stuff to tolerate than we generally recognize.

The type of tolerance most non-Christians embrace relies on cultural norms - or, at least lately, progressive interpretations of cultural expectations.  And some of these progressive expectations aren't wrong in and of themselves.  Yet how many of them are based not on an implicit recognition of God's gift of humanity, but on a selfish desire for any of us to be able to do whatever we want?

Just as tolerance is a concept that has been distorted by Western society at large, freedom is another concept that society has distorted.  We've convinced ourselves that as long as it doesn't hurt others, the things we want to do should be available for us to do.

Which means that we have a lot of people out there doing stuff that needs to be tolerated.  And in the process, we tend to create an identity for ourselves based in large part on the stuff that we do.  Which means that the whole notion of respect involves not only the humanity of each individual, but the stuff that they want to do.  Because otherwise, we're not really being tolerant.

At least, that's what our self-appointed tolerance police tell us.

And that helps expand the notion of diversity, since the amount of stuff for which we're supposed to be tolerant expands exponentially based on the size of the population, since we're all individual human agents.

This is the type of diversity we're told matters most.  Not human diversity.  But the diversity of human desires, since desires are now part of our identity as humans.  Again, at least according to our tolerance police.

Which is another reason why religiosity has supposedly become archaic, with its parameters and mindsets that generally celebrate a deity instead of a human agent.

Not that diversity actually isn't something to be tolerated, or even celebrated.

But it does depend on Who is expecting us to tolerate diversity.  And the types of diversity we're supposed to be celebrating.

Unfortunately, people who do not embrace Christ will probably not tolerate Who and what God wants us to celebrate.

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