Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sometimes Religious Tolerance Is NOT Love, It's Laziness Instead!

When I was 25, I lived in an interesting housing situation. I was a member of "St. Francis House", an experience in "religious tolerance" at the University of Wisconsin. Twenty students lived in the basement of a beautiful old Episcopal Church in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. We received practically free room and board in exchange for doing tasks around the church and participating in Sunday Mass.

It was so much fun! Most of my roomies were international students from Africa, Asia or Europe. I think there were only three or four Americans in the bunch. It was a huge blend of different religions: Shinto, Buddhism, Muslim, Catholics and unfamiliar (at least to me) Protestants like "the Dutch Reform Church."

Every weeknight we took turns cooking massive dinners for the whole community. I will probably never eat so well again in my life. I developed a special fondness for "Blue Crab Soup" (from Japan) and "Pineapple Mashed Potatoes" (from Columbia).

After three months of living in this diverse religious community, I (a firm Christian) imagined that I was "Miss Tolerance Herself."

Every Faith had something valuable to contribute to world. Each of us were "equal" in dignity. No spiritual path had a "monopoly on truth." Yada Yada Yada.

Then I met Jon.

My tall, thin boyfriend was a Catholic. No surprises, there. He had some odd New Age/Buddhism influences in his Christian thought. No surprises. Jon never said anything odd about Jesus that I hadn't heard a thousand time before by other college students.

The surprising thing, was that I, Miss laid back Christian girl, suddenly cared deeply about he thought about this Jesus Guy. I wanted to correct my sweet boyfriend's mistakes.

So I started arguing with him. I mean, it was INTENSE. One time I remember fighting so intensely about this crazy issue of "if Jesus said no to dying on the cross could God have found a replacement." Jon said "yes." I started yelling at Jon in the car "God only had ONE son. No one could have taken over his place." We were arguing so passionately that neither recognized that we took a wrong turn on the high way. After one hour, we suddenly saw the Mackinaw Bridge in front of us--telling us that we had gone North on a central Michigan highway instead of South!

I didn't recognize this "formerly" laid back girl who was suddenly fighting so hard with her boyfriend--as if it matter what he personally thought about God. In fact, when we got engaged, I remembered our atypical fights over religion with shame. "What if this fighting spreads to other areas?" I worried.

Now that dear husband and I are both Carmelites, I laugh.

I think my deep interest in my boyfriend's personal thoughts about Jesus and God because I loved him! His religious viewpoints directly mattered to me! Jon was about to become my husband. My fellow Carmelite. The Father of my children. In our joint vocation- matrimony-- it is intensely important that BOTH of us are pointing in the right direction in matters of faith.

Sometimes fighting over Faith is a sign of True LOVE and "Tolerance" is simply lazy, self-interest.

(inspired by thoughts from He Adopted Me First and Little Catholic Bubble).


  1. I think in your case, in the case of it being more of an argument of passion and love, religious tolerance would have suggested religion wasn't really important for either of you. But would you say your title would apply outside of a marital relationship? I mean, fighting with someone over religion generally isn't the best way to win them over. And, if a person really cares about their religion, not fighting with someone can be a huge challenge.

    Both of my brothers are lapsed Catholics. Both went to Catholic schools through high school. Both know where I stand. I could try to argue with them but I really don't think it would do any good. So I try to be the model of Christian Charity. I don't think of it at all as tolerance. It is painful for me to know what some of their thoughts and choices are. But, just as prayerful witnesses before an abortion clinic are more effective than condemnations about murderers, I hope that being as Christ-like as possible will be more effective than arguing. I think it might be a fine line, but there is a difference between telling people that "we are all right" and "I believe you're wrong but love you anyway."

    I've only recently really been trying to reflect on these things and, things being how they are for me right now, I rarely have two thoughts I can rub together without a, "MOM!!!!" thrust between them, so maybe I'm not understanding well or articulating myself well. I guess I just think that maybe your experience in the St. Francis House was religious tolerance but not fighting your boyfriend might not necessarily have been laziness. Maybe I'm confused. (It wouldn't be the first time. Not even today.) But I'll post this in case anyone else can help me make sense of it.

  2. Interesting thoughts! On a sidenote.. when I was a kid, the Reformed Church was the one of the three churches in town (along with Catholic and Methodist) so I grew up thinking it was a major Protestant church! It was quite surprising to later learn that it wasn't ;)

  3. I remember crying at my neighborhood bookclub about 10 years ago when we read the DaVinci Code. I didn't choose the book and hated every last thing Dan Brown said about Jesus. When they finally got around to asking my opinion I just crumbled. I could not "tolerate" the lies they told about Him. I made a fool of myself for getting emotional (they still talk about it) but then a friend helped me realize that I must really Love Him to defend Him so - and that made me really happy.

  4. Good point!! So many of us would rather slink away.

    But, seriously, fighting for Jesus is more fun!

  5. What a compelling post! You are a warrior for Christ, and you are charitable and loving to boot. That is a balance I pray to achieve. No easy feat!!

    And, Danya, great story!

  6. You go girl. :-) You always inspire me to do better (by the way, have you done any of the readings for class in a few weeks...I am really getting bad at doing them at the last minute. St. John of the Cross and cramming really don't mix..)