As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Easter, they reflect on God's purposes amid suffering and death. They look forward to the hope of the resurrection. Yet there is another aspect to the Easter story that should be as important to the skeptic as it is to the believer: its message of religious toleration. Whether read as history or allegory, the resurrection stories in the gospels offer an approach to faith that challenges the militant religions of our own day.
Consider the account in Luke's gospel about two disciples of Jesus, just days after his crucifixion, fleeing Jerusalem for their home in nearby Emmaus. They are fugitives: Jesus was executed on the charge of sedition, after all, and it is not safe for his followers to remain in the city. His horrific death has cast them into a storm of grief and doubt.
Somewhere along the road to Emmaus, Jesus appears to the men as "a stranger"—they don't immediately recognize him—and a conversation ensues. The stranger upbraids them for their politicized religion, that is, for thinking that Israel's Messiah would be a military or political liberator. Rather, he explains, the Messiah was meant to suffer for the sake of his people in order to win them spiritual freedom: "And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in the Scriptures concerning himself." Finally, by the end of their journey—after talking and debating and sharing a meal together—the travelers recognize who the stranger is.
The disciples have been guided, not coerced, out of their skepticism. Their objections have been met with reason, not force. The stranger has described the world they were meant to live in, a world drenched in beauty, peace, justice and love. They are cut to the quick: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scripture to us?"
Realizing what has happened, emboldened by their new faith, the travelers rush back to Jerusalem to share the news about Jesus with their friends. Told with remarkable modesty and vulnerability, this account is one of the earliest conversion stories in Christianity. It helped to set the pattern for evangelism in the early church.
In all of the New Testament's resurrection accounts, the method of Jesus for winning hearts and minds—his emphasis on peaceful persuasion—couldn't be plainer. All depict the patience and kindness of God in the face of human doubt. Yet, in one of the tragic turning points in the history of the West, this biblical ideal was rejected. The church, imitating the Roman state under which it had suffered and ultimately thrived, soon endorsed the methods of Caesar: the use of imprisonment, torture or death to combat unbelief.
The church of the martyrs became the church of the Inquisition. Catholic thinkers as profound as Thomas Aquinas justified the use of violence to win converts and put down dissent. "Even if my own father were a heretic," declared Pope Paul IV, "I would gather the wood to burn him."
Protestants soon followed suit. Leaders such as John Calvin, with Bible in hand, used the power of the state to brutally enforce the new religious orthodoxy.
The advance of Christianity in the West brought with it many blessings: an ethos of compassion for children, the poor, the sick and the outcast. It established a basis for human dignity unknown in antiquity. Nevertheless, nearly everywhere the church went—whenever it encountered resistance or disbelief—a culture of suspicion and violence followed. Christian author C.S. Lewis once declared: "If ever the book which I am not going to write is written, it must be the full confession by Christendom of Christendom's specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery."
Eventually, after a series of religious wars, the Christian church confessed its negation of Christian charity. By the late 17th century, a steady stream of tracts, pamphlets, sermons and books—disseminated by the explosive growth of the printing press—delivered a singular message about the sacred rights of individual conscience. Christian thinkers such as William Penn, Roger Williams and John Locke would help the church recover its older tradition of toleration, as old as the New Testament itself.
Indeed, a firm basis for religious freedom would be found in the Bible, supremely in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. "I did not come to judge the world," Jesus told his followers, "but to save it." Here is an Easter story—a message of the grace of God toward every human soul—for believers and doubters alike.
This makes an excellent critical point even though I personally do not agree with every point.
But the understanding that God call to us and reasons with us is the Fundamental core of Reformation Faith. God who Gifts freedom of conscience and offers a personal relationship is a Creator of rational thinking beings made in His image. Creations gifted individual talents they can chose to develop and apply to useful; therefore mutually beneficial, productive purpose. After all the American Constitution, Declaration and Washington's (Framers) Farewell Address are based on the Enlightened Wisdom and reasoning about man's constant nature. Only logical as in all on man's history our reason alone has never fashioned a stable and Just civilization. Which is completely different from the hubristic idea imperfect man can create a perfect society. All we can do is repent mistakes and continue towards the shining city on the hill.
I was logically assaulted by a communal prayer calling for universal understanding and therefore mutual respect between all religions. So the young male pagans getting wasted about the stones praying the hot priests will chose them for the fertility ritual is due a Christians respect? The Progressive pagans worshiping their humanity hating earth goddess are due my respect as they starve the least among us with their clearly corrupt corn ethanol delusion? NO this 'prayer' is simple willful childishness.
What did the First American Ben Franklin have to say on this subject?
You desire to know something of my Religion. It is the first time I have been questioned upon it: But I do not take your Curiosity amiss, and shall endeavour in a few Words to gratify it. Here is my Creed: I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing Good to his other Children. That the Soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its Conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental Principles of all sound Religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever Sect I meet with them.
Sound religion is due respect simply because it is logically due. The respect due God's gift of Liberty and freedom of conscience which is not agreement. It is a rational logical measure rather than surrendering to emotional demands to relativistic equality and phantom emotional well being as the man made farcical 'certain' Utopian outcome..
Now OLB members do not believe they are going to be judged. Not by God and not by mature, responsible Just common sense Americans for their choice of behavior. Even when their choice of behavior is purposeful deception, dissembling and obfuscation. Now we have no authority to judge souls but under God's Liberty; logical philosophical assumption of man's individual self determining agency, we can judge their character based on their actions.
Delusion can be an honest condition. But it is curable if we are honest and therefore have the capability to be objective. This condition should not be confused with the primitive relativism of the Progressive religion in all it's base shades of self absorption.
Of course the primitives demand we keep turning the other cheek. BUt I do not believe we are allowed to keep doing so when God;s Gift of Individually granted Liberty is the cost.