Intolerance in the Name of Tolerance
By now we all know that “tolerance” is one of the most abused, misused and bankrupt words going. It is of course used by the militant activist groups to shut down all debate and censor out all contrasting points of view. In the name of tolerance these groups are the most intolerant groups around.
Indeed, there is nothing tolerant about the secular left. As Mark Steyn puts it, “The Left does not want to win the debate, it wants to shut down the debate.” We see this happening every day. Just one recent case in point comes from the American state of North Carolina.
Because the government there dared to seek to protect children by not allowing adults into children’s bathrooms, the “tolerance” brigade is hyperventilating and foaming at the mouth. One leftist group after another has come out demonising the state and threatening it with any and every reprisal – all in the name of tolerance of course.
PayPal for example said it will pull all business from the state. Um, never mind that it has plenty of business dealings in countries where homosexuals are routinely being tortured and killed. Hypocrites much? And aging rocker Bruce Springsteen has cancelled a concert there because of this new ‘bathroom law’.
Moreover, the head of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has effectively banned agency employees from traveling to Charlotte, N.C., for a conference. And RINO presidential candidate John Kasich said he would not have signed the law if it were up to him.
Hmm, that sure is a whole lot of tolerance going on. I would hate to see what these guys are like when in intolerance mode. The double standards from these folks are utterly amazing to behold. As they hate on anyone who takes a different stance on issues, they insist we all be just like them – oh so tolerant. Yeah right.
Many have warned about the tolerance fascists that we face today. But some voices were writing about this long before we saw the full outbreak of ugly tolerance in action. For example Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) was a staunch defender of conservative values, and he often took on the reigning cultural and religious liberalism of his day.
In 1931 he penned a volume entitled Old Errors and New Labels. In it is a chapter called “A Plea for Intolerance.” It is a ripper, and one of the earliest pieces warning about both moral relativism and tolerance wrongly conceived. It is well worth quoting from at length. It begins:
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.
Voltaire boasted that if he could find but ten wicked words a day he could crush the “infamy” of Christianity. He found the ten words daily, and even a daily dozen, but he never found an argument, and so the words went the way of all words and the thing, Christianity, survived.
Today, no one advances even a poor argument to prove that there is no God, but they are legion who think they have sealed up the heavens when they used the word “anthropomorphism.” This word is just a sample of the catalogue of names which serve as the excuse for those who are too lazy to think. One moment’s reflection would tell them that one can no more get rid of God by calling Him “anthropomorphic” than he can get rid of a sore throat by calling it “streptococci.”
Another evidence of the breakdown of reason that has produced this weird fungus of broad‐mindedness is the passion for novelty, as opposed to the love of truth. Truth is sacrificed for an epigram, and the Divinity of Christ for a headline in the Monday morning newspaper. Many a modern preacher is far less concerned with preaching Christ and Him crucified than he is his popularity with his congregation. A want of intellectual backbone makes him straddled the ox of truth and the ass of nonsense, paying compliments to Catholics because of ʺtheir great organizationʺ and to sexologists because of their ʺhonest challenge to the youth of this generation.ʺ Bending the knee to the mob and pleasing men rather than God would probably make them scruple at ever playing the role of a John the Baptist before a modern Herod.
No accusing finger would be leveled at a divorce or one living in adultery; no voice would be thundered in the ears of the rich, saying with something of the intolerance of Divinity: ʺIt is not lawful for you to live with your brother’s wife.” Rather would we hear: ʺFriend, times are changing! The acids of modernity are eating away the fossils of orthodoxy. If your noble sex‐urge to self‐expression finds its proper stimulus and response in no one but Herodias, then in the name of Freud and Russell accept her as your lawful wife to have and to hold until sex do ye part.ʺ
Belief in the existence of God, in the Divinity of Christ, and in the moral law are considered passing fashions. The latest thing in this new tolerance is considered the true thing, as if truth were a fashion, like the hat, instead of an institution, like a head. At the present moment, in psychology the fashion runs towards Behaviorism, as in philosophy it runs towards Temporalism. And that it is not objective validity which dictates the success of a modern philosophical theory, is borne out by the statement a celebrated space‐time philosopher of England made to the writer a few years ago, when he was asked where he got his system. ʺFrom my imagination,ʺ he answered. Upon being challenged that the imagination was not the proper faculty for a philosopher to use, he retorted: ʺIt is, if the success of your philosophical system depends not on the truth that is in it, but on its novelty.ʺ
In that statement is the final argument for modern broad‐mindedness: truth is novelty, and hence ʺtruthʺ changes with the passing fancies of the moment. Like the chameleon who changes his colors to suit the vesture on which he is placed, so truth is supposed to change to suit the foibles and obliquities of the age, as if the foundations of thinking might be true for the pre‐Adamites and false for the Adamites. Truth does grow, but it grows homogeneously, like an acorn into an oak; it does not swing in the breeze, like a weathercock. The leopard does not change his spots nor the Ethiopian his skin, though the leopard be put in bars or the Ethiopian in pink tights. The nature of certain things is fixed, and none more so than the nature of truth. Truth may be contradicted a thousand times, but that only proves that it is strong enough to survive a thousand assaults. But for anyone to say, ʺSome say this, some say that, therefore there is no truth,ʺ is about as logical as it would have been for Columbus, who heard some say, ʺThe earth is round,ʺ and other say, ʺThe earth is flat,ʺ to conclude: ʺTherefore there is no earth at all.ʺ
It is this kind of thinking that cannot distinguish between a sheep and his second coat of wool, between Napoleon and his three‐cornered hat, between the substance and the accident, the kind that has begotten minds so flattened with broadness that they have lost all their depth. Like a carpenter who might throw away his rule and use each beam as a measuring‐rod, so, too, those who have thrown away the standard of objective truth have nothing left with which to measure but the mental fashion of the moment.
The giggling giddiness of novelty, the sentimental restlessness of a mind unhinged, and the unnatural fear of a good dose of hard thinking, all conjoin to produce a group of sophomoric latitudinarians who think there is no difference between God as Cause and God as a ʺmental projectionʺ; who equate Christ and Buddha, St. Paul and John Dewey, and then enlarge their broad‐mindedness into a sweeping synthesis that says not only that one Christian sect is just as good as another, but even that one world‐religion is just as good as another. The great god ʺProgressʺ is then enthroned on the altars of fashion, and as the hectic worshipers are asked, ʺProgress towards what?ʺ The tolerant answer comes back, ʺMore progress.ʺ
All the while sane men are wondering how there can be progress without direction and how there can be direction without a fixed point. And because they speak of a ʺfixed point,ʺ they are said to be behind the times, when really they are beyond the times mentally and spiritually.
In the face of this false broad‐mindedness, what the world needs is intolerance. The mass of people have kept up hard and fast distinctions between dollars and cents, battleships and cruisers, ʺYou owe meʺ and ʺI owe you,ʺ but they seem to have lost entirely the faculty of distinguishing between the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. The best indication of this is the frequent misuse of the terms ʺtoleranceʺ and ʺintolerance.ʺ There are some minds that believe that intolerance is always wrong, because they make ʺintoleranceʺ mean hate, narrow‐mindedness, and bigotry. These same minds believe that tolerance is always right because, for them, it means charity, broad‐mindedness, American good nature…
What is tolerance? Tolerance is an attitude of reasoned patience towards evil, and a forbearance that restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment. But what is more important than the definition is the field of its application. The important point here is this: Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to truth. Intolerance applies only to truth, but never to persons. Tolerance applies to the erring; intolerance to the error.
What has just been said here will clarify that which was said at the beginning of this chapter, namely, that America is suffering not so much from intolerance, which is bigotry, as it is from tolerance, which is indifference to truth and error, and a philosophical nonchalance that has been interpreted as broad‐mindedness. Greater tolerance, of course, is desirable, for there can never be too much charity shown to persons who differ with us. Our Blessed Lord Himself asked that we ʺlove those who calumniate for us,ʺ for they are always persons, but He never told us to love the calumny.
Right is right if nobody is right, and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong. And in this day and age we need, as Mr. Chesterton tells us, ʺnot a Church that is right when the world is right, but a Church that is right when the world is wrong.ʺ The attitude of the Church in relation to the modern world on this important question may be brought home by the story of the two women in the courtroom of Solomon.
Both of them claimed a child. The lawful mother insisted on having the whole child or nothing, for a child is like truth — it cannot be divided without ruin. The unlawful mother, on the contrary, agreed to compromise. She was willing to divide the babe, and the babe would have died of broad‐mindedness.
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