For the week of August 23, 2003 / 25 Av 5763
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:11 - 55:5
Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places (Devarim / Deuteronomy 12:2,3).
Today I was listening to a phone-in radio program. The discussion at hand was in answer to the question, "Do you think religion should play a part in politics?" This has become a hot topic in Canada, where I live, due to proposed legislation regarding the definition of marriage. During the 55-minute broadcast many opinions were expressed. The guest on the show was a university religion professor. Several times his response to what the callers were saying was that he or she had expressed a common opinion in our country.
The show was a good example of what tolerance is all about. This radio station had given people the opportunity to express their views without being criticized or ridiculed. Some of the callers were themselves not very tolerant, but each one was equally respected. It was then left to the listening audience to draw their own conclusions.
Apart from the issue being discussed, a program like the one I heard today is actually itself promoting a value. It is a version of tolerance that claims that all opinions are equally valid. There is some good in that. People should not be in fear of negative reprisals simply because of an opinion they have or express. Sadly there are still countries in the world where people suffer for their opinions. But itís not only in repressive regimes that this kind of intolerance exists. Even in so-called free societies, many have experienced various levels of persecution within their companies, schools, congregations, and even within their own families.
Yet tolerance as a value in and of itself brings along its own problems. The fact is not all opinions are equally valid. Just because someone believes something doesn't mean that it is true or good. While people need to have the freedom to express their views without fear, that doesn't mean that those views must be accepted by everyone as correct. True tolerance must also include the freedom to disagree with someone else's opinion.
It is this freedom that is in danger of being lost. There are people among us who correctly perceive that there are opinions being expressed today that are destructive. These people are warning the rest of us that if we continue down the path being mapped out by some, our society is in great danger.
Yet there are others who, while claiming to be tolerant, wish to silence those who disagree with them.
In this week's Torah portion we read how the people of Israel were to be absolutely intolerant of evil worship practices in their midst. They needed to learn that to tolerate these things would mean the destruction of their society. They had to be radical, swift, and extensive in dealing with evil.
The people of Israel needed to learn that the practices of the nations around them were incompatible with the true worship of God. What was true then is still true now.
While I am not proposing we resort to the violent means utilized by the people of Israel centuries ago, we mustn't allow our commitment to God's truth to be watered down in the name of so-called tolerance.
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