Magazine article The Christian Century

Degree of Tolerance

Magazine article The Christian Century

Degree of Tolerance

Article excerpt

A recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that Americans are quite accepting of religions other than their own. Seventy percent of those with a religious affiliation agreed that "many religions can lead to eternal life." Among mainline Protestants that figure jumped to 83 percent, and among Catholics, to 79 percent. As would be expected, the response among evangelical Protestants was lower; still, well over half of evangelicals--57 percent--agreed that "many religions can lead to eternal life." More than 80 percent of Jews, Hindus and Buddhists agreed with the statement, and more than half of Muslims did.

The figures may be misleading. One suspects that many Christian respondents, when they heard the reference to "many religions," thought about Christian denominations other than their own, not about other religions. (Methodists may have been thinking about Baptists, not about Muslims.)

Nevertheless, the poll suggests a remarkable degree of religious tolerence, and probably reflects the everyday consequences of religious diversity. When almost everyone you live and work with believes and behaves more or less the way you do, it is easy to believe that your way is the only way. But in a society in which Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, skeptics and atheists rub shoulders with one another at work and school, people start to learn, as Oscar Wilde did, that "the truth is rarely pure and never simple."

The triumph of toleration is hardly complete. …

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