One very common argument I hear in opposition of Christianity is that Christians “impose” their beliefs upon others. Is this true? Are we even suppose to impose our morals upon others? Should we be quiet instead out of respect to their freedom to not believe?
This is a tough subject we’re all faced with, regardless of our beliefs or lack thereof. It becomes a more intense issue as we see things like DOJ Warns Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Could Violate Law, Obama criminalizes Christianity in the military, Canadian Supreme Court Upholds ‘Hate Speech’ Laws being made into legislative issues and attempting to criminalize such “impositions” upon others.
Defining the word Impose correctly
The simplest definition is:
to establish or apply by authority; to establish or bring about as if by force.
Based on that definition, the answer is “No, we as Christians are NOT to impose our views upon others.” (I’ll clarify in a moment that I do not mean we aren’t suppose to say anything and remain silent). The problem seems to be evident that exaggerated terms are used by opponents when making a compelling argument in favor of their view. People then begin to ignore the exaggerated expressions as exaggerations and instead adhere to viewing them as truth without seeing the error in doing so. The same goes with the usage of “imposing” since I do not see such instances of imposition of the Christian views, or not to any extent that jeopardizes the freedom of others to believe to the contrary of that view. I’m not saying their aren’t occasionally a few radicals that try doing so, but the few aren’t representatives of the whole and most often the whole oppose the few radicals along with non-believers alike. Remember, FORCEFUL assertion of such a view.
The Supposed “Imposition” From The Non-believers Perspective
So where do people get the idea we’re imposing our views & beliefs upon them? I’d dare say the main venue is in legislation that Christians vote in opposition against because we believe it’s morally wrong first and foremost. This is often labeled as being “intolerant”, “bigotry”, “hateful” and so on. These can only be labeled as such while remaining ignorant that their position could also be labeled the same. It’s really unfair and unjust to be bias against a view and belief when doing so makes you guilty of the same thing you’re accusing others of. The usage of ‘intolerant’ and ‘imposing’ is a two-sided coin and it applies to either side who acts according to the definition of either word.
What must be realized is that the same right to vote for something is also given to vote against it. If a person bases their vote for or against something based on their religious views, then they are entitled to do so. It goes both ways. That’s why we have voting. That way we all are able to have a say in it and whatever the majority consents to is what determines how things are to be handled in our society, not that the majority is right or wrong, but how the majority has chosen to address the issue at hand.
Why is Tolerance and Respect Important?
I agree with the need to be tolerant in many venues of our society. Both sides have been intolerant in ways they shouldn’t be. With strong convictions and driving passions behind our views, it’s difficult to hold to them while being tolerant and respectful of others who hold contrasting views. The problem is that we begin to loose sight of what it means to live in a world of diversity when we become intolerant and that leads to infringing on everyone’s human rights. There’s at least two things both sides must consider:
- Would any of us want to truly live in an “anything goes” society, a society of anarchy? Most logical and rational people would answer “No” to that, considering how lawlessness tends to not result in liberation, but oppression.
- Would any of us want to live in a strictly-enforced moral society? Now the theist might be tempted to say “Yes”, however we must step back and think of that for just a minute. As Christians, we identify our need for a Savior because we fail to live by such a moral standard at all times. So if such a moral standard were to be strictly enforced, we’d all end up on the guilty end of it at some point. As long as we’re sinful human beings, a strictly-enforced moral law is just as much against the Christian as it is against the unbeliever because we’re all guilty of being imperfect.
So it seems obvious to me that there’s a need for both. If Biblical morality were not challenged in legislation, it would become oppressive even for Christians. If the non-believer weren’t challenged, our society would slip into a state of immorality that even they wouldn’t find very appealing. So it takes both in a fallen society and learning to be tolerant is crucial. Tolerant doesn’t mean we must ACCEPT the other person’s views and/or opinions. It means we extend them the right to have a contrasting view to ours because we have the same right to hold one that contrasts theirs. Respect in this regard is to not violate their right to be human.
The Sharing of Different Opinions
It’s bizarre to me that so many have become intolerant of differing views, especially if the person in opposition adheres to a particular religion. However, the intolerance in itself isn’t the real issue. It’s when this intolerance leads to legislative action to censor the views that contrast theirs while ignoring that the opposing view could demand the same and neither can be granted such fairly. I remember a time when if you didn’t like what someone said, you removed yourself from their audience. Simple as that. However nowadays it seems we’ve forgotten this and people are trying to resort to legislation to make the freedom of speech a criminal act when in opposition to their view. This is perhaps among the highest level of expressions of intolerance one could demonstrate, because it cannot be mutually exclusive and will infringe on the rights of everyone.
We aught to instead learn how to share our differences and work past them as we strive to make our world a better place, despite the varying ideas of how to achieve this.
What about Christians evangelizing?
This is perhaps the other primary area where Christians are accused of imposing their ideas and beliefs on others. This again goes back to what I’ve already mentioned before … to speak contrary to the Christian faith is ALSO imposing your disbelief on them if the word imposing is going to be used. The Christian is compelled (or should be) to inform others of the pending judgement. As the Atheist Penn Jillette said, (loosely quoting)
“If Christians aren’t proselytizing and truly believe what the Bible says, they are some of the most wicked people to walk the face of the earth because they condemn people to hell by their silence”.
I think it’s a profound statement indeed and one I hope both Christian and non-Christian alike realize the truth of it. It’s not a hateful act to tell someone about a danger ahead, but instead a loving one. The person being spoken to has the right to disregard the warning, that’s the freedom of choice we all have. We use to hold the view that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but that seems to be diminishing if someone holds a non-secular view.
We’re a diverse people indeed and that is a beautiful thing until we begin to deny each other the right to be diverse. A Christian denying an unbeliever the right to be an unbeliever is wrong. Jesus “informed”/”warned” people of the very thing we should be informing and warning people of, but He never enacted legislation against those in opposition to silence them or ban them from having contrasting views than His and neither should we. I’m not saying we ought not vote against immoral laws, but we cannot take the freedom of speech away or deny someone the ability to have a difference of opinion. We ought to stand for what is morally right and vote according to our convictions. But when we deny each other the right of difference, we have become an oppressive people and are headed down the path of our own demise.
A non-believer who says a Christian shouldn’t share their faith is also wrong because they’d be asserting their views as being more important than that of another and denying them the same freedom they exercise in saying that very statement.