This “agree never to disagree” philosophy is considered necessary to guarantee peace, tolerance and equality in a pluralistic world. Conversely, people who think we can know the truth in moral or religious issues are considered intolerant, bigoted and maybe even downright dangerous.
In defense of those who have the audacity to claim to know the truth about who God is or how we’re supposed to live, myself included, I have to point out that nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the most intolerant people in history were not believers, but relativists!
Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, is one clear-cut example. Early in his political career, he wrote:
"Everything I have said and done in these last years is relativism, by intuition. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology, and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable. If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and men who claim to be the bearers of an objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than fascism (“Diuturna”)."
Since Mussolini didn’t recognize any objective reality—moral or religious—to which he should conform, he invented his own moral code and enforced it on everyone he could. If truth is really relative, why not?!
And while it might seem that if we could just “imagine there’s no heaven … no hell below us … no religion, too,” then we could “live life in peace.” The 20th-century proved John Lennon’s dream wrong time and again. People in the 20th-century who imagined that there was no “objective immortal truth”—no heaven, hell and no religion—made many of the crimes committed in the name of faith look like child’s play.
Take communism, for instance, with its strong commitment to atheism. In one small communist country alone, Cambodia, 1.7 million people died at the hands of the government from 1975 to 1979, with entire families, including infants, being put to death by the tens of thousands if they were a perceived threat to the Communist Party.
To be fair, the average relativist wouldn’t go as far as Mussolini or the communists of Cambodia, but the modern world is increasingly full of examples of relativist intolerance toward those who believe in objective truth. Take, for example:
• Regular lawsuits backed by the ACLU to forcibly squash any mention of God out of the public square to cater to a few intolerant atheists.
• The college student in California who was threatened with expulsion after she said a prayer for a sick teacher on campus with his consent.
• A civil rights organization that protested a statue of Jesus found on the floor of the ocean.
• The Christian print-shop owner in Toronto who was fined for choosing not to print promotional materials for a gay and lesbian group.
• The attacks on conscientious objection rights that currently allow Catholic doctors and hospitals to refuse to participate in providing abortions.
It seems that a new relativist inquisition is picking up steam. And, of course, it is being carried out in the name of “tolerance”!
Contrast these examples of intolerance with a “religious absolutist” whom most people remember: Mother Teresa. She believed beyond the shadow of a doubt that she was right and other faiths were wrong when it came to the divinity of Jesus Christ. But could you imagine new videos being found and released on YouTube of her kneeing a poor Indian in the face because he didn’t accept the message of Christianity? The idea is ridiculous. Her faith motivated her to a life of service to everyone regardless of creed or lifestyle—from feeding Hindus living in the slums of Kolkata to starting New York City’s first AIDS hospice and much more.
I’m not trying to rewrite history with this brief article. Atrocities have been committed by people of faith too. But an honest look at history shows that religious and moral absolutism doesn’t necessarily make a person intolerant, nor does a lack thereof. It depends on what a person believes, not if he believes.
So to all who would use the rod of “tolerance” to beat the faithful into submission for claiming truth, I make this humble request: please tolerate me.
Speaker and author Christopher Stefanick is director of youth outreach for YDisciple. Visit him at RealLifeCatholic.com.