November 04, 2011

Intolerance: The foundation of all stability

By Joe Tremblay *

Intolerance of evil is the best preventative measure against the rigid intolerance of good. Riots, unruly protests, narcissism and dictatorships arise from decades of tolerating too much evil. But the problem in our society is that we do not know what to tolerate and what not to tolerate.

It is a sad reality of fallen human nature to have an “either-or” approach to life; that is, to embrace something at the expense of something else. We forget that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to juggle opposites; to keep love and hate in their proper tension without totally doing away with one or the other. This is one of the benefits of being Christian and one of the advantages of a Christian society.

Jacques Maritain, Catholic philosopher and a convert from Atheism to the Catholic Faith, had an interesting insight to how people love and hate wrongly.

Take for instance the bigot. Maritain said that the bigot gets off to a good start by hating the sin. So far so good! However, the bigot errs by taking his hatred for the sin and then transfers it to the sinner. He thus ends up hating both. This is not good because it is a sin not to love our neighbor!

The liberal, he continued to say, has the opposite problem. The liberal gets off to a good start by loving the sinner. So far so good! However, he takes his love for the sinner and ends up embracing or loving the sin. As such, he ends up loving both. This is not good because loving the sin (or accepting it in the name of compassion) is contrary to the love our neighbor. After all, sin enslaves and completely undermines our neighbor’s happiness. In the former case, people suffer from the wrong kind of intolerance; in the latter, the wrong kind of tolerance.

The world is riddled with these two problems. But Christ teaches us a different way: We are to love the sinner and hate the sin. In our culture, we forget that the genuineness and intensity of love is dependent upon our willingness to hate sin. A parent who is overly tolerant of his or her child’s unruly or dangerous behavior is lacking in the fundamental duty of parental and Christian love. In society, this can be expressed in “accepting people for who they are.” What this often translates into is tolerating sinful behaviors and lifestyles.

Homosexuality, for instance, began to be tolerated in society in 1973 with the DSM-R III (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; published by the American Psychiatric Association). At that time it was removed from the DSM-R III and no longer diagnosed as a disorder. Nearly 40 years later, however, to publicly disapprove of homosexuality or same-sex marriage is to run the risk of being censured by the media or likelihood of paying a price corporately by losing one's job. To be sure, many political powers that be are on the threshold of legislating that criticism of homosexuality is a hate crime.

This kind of tolerance is nothing less than confusing license (the freedom to do what we want to do) with liberty (the freedom to do what we ought to do). As Pope Leo XIII said over a century ago, what license gains, liberty loses; that is, to the degree immoral acts are tolerated, we lose the liberty to pursue justice and goodness. But why is that? Because license is an indiscriminate and imprudent form of tolerance! In accepting immoral values, it ceases to acknowledge proper standards and boundaries. However, this can work the other way too.

We forget that the flipside of acceptance is rejection. And if license goes too far in accepting that which is evil, it will go too far in rejecting the good. The violation of human rights, private property rights and religious liberty proceeds from the spirit of license. Indeed, a liberal tolerance of any value or lifestyle is but the groundwork for a dictatorial intolerance.

Pope Benedict XVI called this kind of intolerance "The Dictatorship of Relativism." It is a kind of dictatorship that masquerades as being principled.  But nothing could be further from the truth! It's coercive and repressive measures are subjective in that they are based on likes, dislikes and expediency. Vladimir Solovyov, an 18th century Russian philosopher and convert to the Catholic Faith, reminded his fellow countrymen (before the Russian Revolution of 1917) that when government is inspired by the instinct of "I want..." or “Mine!” then there are no limits to political power. All boundaries are erased. Unfortunately, the Russian people learned the hard way during much of the twentieth century. And it may be that Americans will have to learn from experience in the twenty-first century.

Nevertheless, in 1931 Fulton Sheen raised his prophetic voice and warned America of the sin of tolerance:

“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 overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broadminded…

Tolerance is an attitude of reasoned patience toward evil ... a forbearance that restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment. Tolerance applies only to persons ... never to truth. Tolerance applies to the erring, intolerance to the error...

Tolerance does not apply to truth or principles. About these things we must be intolerant, and for this kind of intolerance, so much needed to rouse us from sentimental gush, I make a plea. Intolerance of this kind is the foundation of all stability.”

Joe Tremblay writes for Sky View, a current event and topic-driven Catholic blog. He was a contributor to The Edmund Burke Institute, and a frequent guest on Relevant Radio’s, The Drew Mariani Show. Joe is also married with five children. The views and opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily reflective of any organizations he works for.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.