When Tolerance Becomes SLOTHFUL
Part of our reflections this Lent have involved reminding ourselves of the seven (even eight) deadly sins, those squid-tentacled sins that stick to us and ensure there are more entrapping arms to come. We pondered what is THE deadly sin of America, and saw there are surely several strong candidates. It came as a surprise to me, but the more I considered it, the more I came to see the “pedestrian” and “sleepy” sin of Sloth our greatest concern. In a time of overwhelming busyness, it is tempting to neglect more important things as well as substitute lesser visions for greater and more demanding ones. Among the greatest expression of sloth in our time is an unthinking dependence on Tolerance as an answer to our greatest social and moral problems. This does not take away from the value and validity of the classic form of tolerance described as bearing with those whose beliefs and practices differ from our own in view of the common human dignity of being in the image of God and in view of the Lord’s example of patience and bearing with sinners (like ourselves).
The good and helpful classic tolerance has been remolded by many in the “talking class” (media/educators/politicians) as meaning not merely recognizing the right of others to hold differences but also the necessity to accept and even validate that all differences are equal in value and in truth. This is a subtle but real form of dogmatic social engineering. Here are some ways I describe the “new dogmatic tolerance”:
Toxic Tolerance: tolerance to such a degree that truth suffers and is poisoned; regression to a moral stone age where folks impress themselves with the discovery of the wheel
Tolerance with a capital “T”: Tolerance above all; what “thinking Americans” think before thinking, a means of coercion, experienced as bullying, thought control, condescension, manipulation & hypocrisy to those on the corrective end of the “Be tolerant” stick
Total Tolerance: the illusory and impossible idealistic-modern-dream that one can be totally tolerant, maintained by the pretense of ignoring the many things that person or group will not tolerate
An alternative to the above morphed and massaged versions of tolerance can be described as:
Tolerance with a small “t”: this is the classic tolerance mentioned above, which although admitting many failures in application, has been a part of the Christian teaching as early as Tertullian, the Christian apologist from Carthage who wrote around 217 A.D:
“It is a human law and a natural right that one should worship whatever he intends . . . It is no part of religion to coerce religious practice, for it is by free choice not coercion that we should be led to religion.” (To Scapula 2.1-2)
Objections: Some object that tolerance with the small “t” is not enough. It takes the “Big T Tolerance” as THE method for getting along. Coexist, right? So tolerate is the answer.” I quote University of Texas Professor of Government, J. Budziszewski, who reveals real problems in applying the Big T Dogmatic Tolerance:
“If you really believe that the meaning of tolerance is tolerating, then you ought to tolerate even intolerance. If you really believe that the best foundation for tolerance is to avoid having any strong convictions at all about right and wrong, then you shouldn’t have a strong conviction that intolerance is wrong. If you really believe that when you do have strong convictions you should refuse to express or act upon them, then your tolerance should be a dead letter; it should be one of the things you are pusillanimous (faint-hearted) about.. . . .
What then is the truth about tolerance? The meaning of this virtue is not tolerating per se, but tolerating what ought to be tolerated. Practicing it means putting up with just those bad things that, for the sake of some greater good, we ought to put up with. We aren’t practicing the virtue when we fail to put up with bad things that we ought to put up with, such as the expression of false opinions in debate; nor are we practicing it when we do put up with bad things that we ought not to put up with, such as rape. But making such distinctions requires knowing the truth about goods, bads, and greater goods.”
Why then is the new Big T dogmatic Tolerance slothful? Because Jesus calls us not to tolerance but to love. Josh McDowell & Bob Hostetler put it this way:
Tolerance says, “You must approve of what I do.” Love responds, “I must do something harder; I will love you, even when your behavior offends me.”
Tolerance says, “You must allow me to have my way.” Love responds, “I must do something harder; I will plead with you to follow the right way, because I believe you are worth the risk.”
Tolerance seeks to be inoffensive; love takes risks. Tolerance is indifferent; love is active. Tolerance costs nothing; love costs everything. Lance H