Saturday, January 16, 2021

Too much tolerance?

We live in an age in which the cardinal virtue appears to be tolerance.  In reality, the tolerant are not so tolerant that they would allow disagreement to stand with whatever is presumed to be the truth of the moment.  Of this there is no such tolerance and, in fact, the most rigorous enforcement of the truth du jour.  But there is tolerance of sin, of error, and of wrong.  There is so much tolerance of this that there is no more any right or any way of attesting to the truth.  Several lifetimes ago, Fulton Sheen wrote:

America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance. It is not. It is suffering from tolerance: tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so much overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broadminded. The man who can make up his mind in an orderly way, as a man might make up his bed, is called a bigot; but a man who cannot make up his mind, any more than he can make up for lost time, is called tolerant and broadminded. A bigoted man is one who refuses to accept a reason for anything; a broadminded man is one who will accept anything for a reason—providing it is not a good reason. It is true that there is a demand for precision, exactness, and definiteness, but it is only for precision in scientific measurement, not in logic. The breakdown that has produced this unnatural broadmindedness is mental, not moral. The evidence for this statement is threefold: the tendency to settle issues not by arguments but by words, the unqualified willingness to accept the authority of anyone on the subject of religion, and, lastly, the love of novelty.

Those words were written in 1931!  America was trying to find its way out of a devastating depression.  The seeds of war were being sown in Europe.  But the charge laid against the emerging political structures and religious authorities of the day was a caution against the temptation to dismiss truth as opinion and to herald tolerance of error as virtue.  What words would have been written if its author had lived to see what is unfolding among us today?

The academic world has forsaken truth for the felt imagination of the moment and our institutions of higher learning are hopelessly tolerant of everything except the favorite cause of social justice or progressivism.  We presume that the taught should judge the teacher and that the teaching should not offend the taught.  This has become the hallmark of a liberal education in America but it is no education of all.  The intolerance of any competing ideas or truths on any given college campus is shocking -- to the point where some schools have set aside safe spaces where people can go when their views are challenged, their values offended, or they feel unsafe from the onslaught of ideas different from their own.

Yet the presumption is that the bigots are at fault.  The typical approach to the problem of division in America is that those secure in their values and who hold to a truth bigger than themselves are the fault for distrust and division among us.  Churches have bought into this and do their own job of providing safe spaces where people will not be assaulted by notions of right and wrong, virtue and sin, truth and error.  It is the emptiness of modern Protestantism that the old truths on which these movements were born have given way to new truths that shift with the moment and have only a bare, passing resemblance to anything in the Scriptures.  But the allies of this liberalism and its progressive view of history find common cause in liberal Christianity and common enemy in creedal and confessional Christianity.

In the sea of darkness that identifies as light, the true Light has gotten lost.  When preaching the whole counsel of God's Word has become grounds for being charged with hate speech, what will survive?  There is no Gospel to be spoken without the Law to expose the sin and there is no sin to be exposed if there is no Law, no moral truth and conviction.  Without the enemies of sin and death, who is Christ and what has He come to accomplish?  Without acknowledging sin and error as the enemies, what has Christ won and what does His victory mean for anyone?

We are told over and over again that we need leaders who will bring Americans together and unite America as one nation and one people.  How will that happen as long as the lie of abortion is allowed to be the one moral truth that dare not be challenged?  How will that happen as long as life hangs in the balance and has value only to those who can keep it or let it die (at any age)?  How will that happen as long as the best Americans are those who surrender religious truth for the sake of tolerance of anything and everything that happens to be expressed in the moment?

We don't need more nice words.  Our society is struggling because we no longer rest on the foundation of truth, on the structure of a common identity, ideals, and values, or on a willingness to sacrifice something of the self for the sake of the whole.  We have succumbed to the prison of victimhood and from it we demand our rights over everything else.  If Fulton Sheen saw it 1931, why can't we see it 70 years later?

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” Often attributed to G.K. Chesterton although he never said it, according to Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society.

Excerpted from The Position of Christianity in the United States by Stephen Collwell (Lippincott, Grambo, 1854):

"It is now held by many such, though they may not actually so express their opinion, that Christianity is merely tolerated by our laws, and that it has no more connection with them than any other form of religion. It so happens, according to this opinion, that the people of this country are Christians, but their political institutions, they say, have nothing to do with that fact -- being equally applicable to the government of Hindoos [sic] or Parsees. They exalt the idea of religious liberty into an absolute absurdity; and hold that a plea of rights of conscience takes precedence of every consideration.... [p. 15]

"No reductio ad absurdum can be more complete than that to which this claim of unlimited religious liberty is reducible; and the only reason it has not been long since driven from the minds of fair men, is because the topic being regarded as one of great delicacy is not often mentioned; and the argument is seldom pushed far enough to betray its utter weakness. The Christians of this country really tolerate only what is not inconsistent with their morality. They cannot inhabit a country in which any obscene, profane, murderous or idolatrous rites might be practiced under their eyes in the name of religion.... [p. 16]

"In offering these advantages of civil and religious liberty to the people of every creed and nation, they, our ancestors, did not concede any principle of the great work they had just finished; they did not propose to take down their fabric or fashion it to the taste of all who might take refuge within its walls; they did not propose to place the existence of Christianity and Christian civilization in our land at the mercy of those who should make their abode with us; they intended to extend a real Christian toleration to all people, but they did not mean that the idolators or pagans who might come among us should be regarded in their turn as tolerating Christians. They intended that it should remain a Christian land, and that the glory of its toleration should continue to be ascribed to its true origin, Christianity." [p. 21]