Eller discusses “toleration” in Ch. 8; he seems to endorse this idea, especially for atheism, though as an extreme relativist, he can’t of course call it objectively good or bad. Toleration for Eller is just his own personal subjective and arbitrary value judgment, vomited onto us from his own “perspective” which might not be valid for other people.
He wishes to “be tolerated as equal to the faithful,” saying mercifully that “we do not want to kill or persecute” the theists, though he would insist, of his own authority, that religions be abolished: “We do not ask to be given a seat at the interfaith council. Philosophically, epistemologically, we ask that the interfaith council disband.” (231-2)
Well, David, request denied.
A persistent straw man in this chapter is Eller’s fantastic assertion that Christianity, say, is a “totalistic belief-system” which “claims exclusive access to all truth and good.” (205)
Alright then, let’s take a look at the Christian articles of faith, summarized for example in the Nicene creed: “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God…” This confession traditionally comprises exactly 12 articles. Further, these propositions, being of faith, are above — not contrary to — unaided reason. No Christian believes there is such a thing as Christian mathematics or Christian economics.
Only 12 rather modest assertions about the infinite God: surely far from “all truth”!
Regarding the “good,” Christians probably agree that God is good in one important sense, but might find chocolate ice cream also to be good, though in another and completely non-religious sense. Not stealing is good in yet a third sense; courage is good in a fourth sense, as has always been recognized almost everywhere in the world, though in Christianity courage receives prominence as a “cardinal virtue”; and so on.
Whence then Eller’s preposterous and ugly charge that Christianity comprehends “all truth and good”?
Eller believes that toleration and final respite from religious wars that convulsed Europe came about “because there was just no choice anymore; intolerance failed and exhausted itself.” (221) A much more plausible theory is that religious toleration was part and parcel of the development of economic science and the liberal ideology that accompanied it. According to it, modernity came about by two shifts in human understanding.
First was that all men are at least in the long run natural friends; their secular interests, when “rightly understood,” are harmonious. “The greater productivity of work under the division of labor is a unifying influence,” says Mises. “It leads men to regard each other as comrades in a joint struggle for welfare, rather than as competitors in a struggle for existence. It makes friends out of enemies, peace out of war, society out of individuals.” (Socialism, 295)
All individuals are mutually complementary in the structure of production and market process. Economics tells us: “Do not just ‘coexist.’ Profit handsomely from each other’s existence.” That Eller grows rich under laissez-faire capitalism benefits me as a consumer; his success, far from coming at my expense, is on the contrary a cause for me to rejoice, cause for celebration: he has willy-nilly contributed to the greater good.
The second idea that transformed the world was taking seriously the prayer “let it be on earth as it is in heaven.” This life is more than merely a preparation for eternal bliss, and has considerable importance in its own right. Mises quipped that “present-day churches often speak more about raising wage rates and farm incomes than about the dogmas of the Christian doctrine.” (HA, 154) The astonishing idea, before the Industrial Revolution never entertained, that there can be such thing as everlasting economic progress has become accepted by all. Such progress, it was further realized, requires complete abolition of international war for any reason whatever including religious differences.
This natural pre-grace friendship and communion of all men is the foundation for the specifically Christian and more rigorous faith and morals. The religious wars and persecution in prior centuries were, indeed from the Christian point of view, straightforward injustices, violations of natural law, though this fact only became apparent with the advent of economics and (classical) liberalism. For example, it was economists who “reduced the prestige of conquerors and expropriators and demonstrated the social benefits derived from business activity.” (HA, 8)
I don’t know how much Eller knows about Christian theology, but he should at least understand that grace (such as the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity) builds on nature. Christendom was marked by barbarism because the supernatural divine grace, though a beautiful thing, had little on which to rest. Mises argues: “all other human beings are potential collaborators in the struggle for survival because they are capable of recognizing the mutual benefits of cooperation.” (HA, 144) But you can’t have peace of earth and good will toward men when people precisely fail to recognize that. It took the development of economics, “the youngest of all sciences” (1), to enlighten us all.
Mises is unequivocal on this matter:
Compare the results achieved by these ‘shopkeepers’ ethics’ with the achievements of Christianity!
Christianity has acquiesced in slavery and polygamy, has practically canonized war, has, in the name of the Lord, burnt heretics and devastated countries.
The much abused ‘shopkeepers’ have abolished slavery and serfdom, made woman the companion of man with equal rights, proclaimed equality before the law and the freedom of thought and opinion, declared war on war, abolished torture, and mitigated the cruelty of punishment.
What cultural force can boast of similar achievements? (Socialism, 440-1)
My only reply to Mises would be that Christianity did fairly well with what little it was given.
Perhaps Eller will insist that he finds the talk of “grace” meaningless. It may be in a trivial sense, insofar as, as an atheist, he denies that there is a grace-giver. In this case, the absence of reference of “grace” may suggest that it has no meaning either. (This is a perfect illustration of how both atheism and theism are competing rational ideas, such that rejection of natural proofs of God’s existence leads inevitably to the collapse of the whole “superstructure” of faith on top of reason.) That’s fine, but the distinction refutes his opinion that “there is no world-religious source that includes toleration as one of its values.” (205) A miracle may provisionally be described as a “violation” of a law of nature. But grace is not that at all but instead builds on nature including natural reason. If the latter, such as sound economic reasoning, tells us to maintain global peace, then no article of faith can propose otherwise. And it does not, as is evident from the creed.
Eller really grasps at straws: “Jesus also said to love your neighbor and your enemy, but I think it is obvious that he assumed that your neighbor and even your enemy would be a Christian too. There is nowhere, I repeat nowhere, where Jesus says to love the non-believer or to be free to be a nonbeliever yourself.” (207) But the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37) contradicts Eller’s claim. So is the parable of the Lost Sheep (“The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'” (Lk 15:1-7)). In fact, as Joseph Sobran pointed out, Jesus was murdered by the most religious men of his age. Suppose finally for the sake of argument that Christianity is true. Then Jesus’ injunction to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19) is an act of enormous love and acceptance of all men as wayfarers to glory. In any case, Christianity suggests that we are saved by Christ, not really by “religion,” though faith is indubitably useful to that end.
Faith is useful, because “grace is nothing else than a beginning of glory in us”; glory is “but grace consummated,” as St. Thomas teaches.
Let me again take note of Eller’s position that there are no objective moral truths, not even “murder is wrong.” The lifestyle of a serial killer would be for him just another “alternative.” Now it is true that the “gay lifestyle or perspective… is neither true nor false.” (225) But of course the issue is the status of the proposition “homosexuality is a vice.” Eller denies that it is truth-apt at all, but only because of his metaethical commitments, in particular his “anthropological” relativism. He assumes it throughout the book but never proves it, perhaps falsely finding it self-evident.