The Problem with Tolerance
The Tolerance of Intolerance ...
... and the Intolerance
What, precisely, do we understand by the
notion of “tolerance”? One dictionary defines it as follows:
“A fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward
those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc.,
differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.” (dictionary.com)
Quite reasonable, yes?
Well, no. Superficially it appears … just, even magnanimous. Tolerance
for one and all. What could be more fair?
Indeed, the very antithesis of tolerance is intolerance, a word most
often uttered as an epithet by the morbidly “correct” and which, in
fact, is even legally actionable in today’s multi-moral, multicultural
Now I must ask you a question: You maintain that you are a tolerant
person and that tolerance is a virtue (which you, of course, "correctly"
exemplify) that is necessary both to the polity and the person. You
are indignant, even outraged before any intimation of intolerance
— so much so, in fact, that you will not tolerate it.
You will agitate, demonstrate, and litigate against it. You will stamp
it out as a pestilence to an enlightened, democratic, and civil society.
You are fond of the saying that, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to
the death your right to say it.” 1 Will you, indeed? This,
in many ways, is the signature of the problem.
“I will be tolerant of anything but intolerance.”
Another way of saying this is, “I am intolerant of intolerance.”
Will you, then — or will you not — tolerate, even defend, my intolerance
of your intolerance of intolerance? In other words, will you tolerate
the one thing you categorically repudiate?
Let us look at some of the things we tolerate and do not tolerate.
But before we do, it is important to understand beforehand that
(despite your own exemplary instantiation of it) the notion of
tolerance is not univocal. That is to say, the notion of tolerance
is articulated differently through various cultural, political,
historical, and religious prisms. The Muslim understanding and
practice of the notion of tolerance, for example, vastly differs
from our own, that is to say, from what we have come to understand
as tolerance in post-Christian Western culture. There is no
functional, or even logical absolute in our understanding of
tolerance that does not embroil us in contradictions. Tolerance does
not possess the apodictic nature of, say, our understanding of a
Euclidean triangle as a polygon that has three vertices and as many
angles, the sum of which always equals 180o. It is not a
concept in the way of mathematical or geometric models. Such
deductive models are self-incorporated and reflexive: their
definition is in their proof and their proof is in their definition.
Logic, geometry, and mathematics are, in a sense, conceptual
paradigms of intolerance. One cannot have arrived at both a
correct and incorrect answer simply because it is polite
(despite current education theory). If you choose to believe
that a triangle is a figure whose boundary consists of points
equidistant from a fixed center, while I hold that such a
configuration is a circle, one of us will be wrong. You are
certainly free to believe this absurdity, but it nevertheless
Catholic-Bashing as a Paradigm of Intolerance
The Catholic Church is now the most prominent target
for the charge of intolerance. So, in all candor, let us openly ask
the question: is the Catholic Church intolerant?
Of course it is! GOD HIMSELF IS!
What is more, the Church is intolerant of precisely those sorts
of behaviors of which God is!
Among them — especially in last 50 years — those that provoke the most
strident and abusive reproaches from a now militantly secularized society
concern areas of human sexuality; specifically, homosexuality in all
its evolving variants, contraception, cohabitation, pre-marital sex,
abortion, adultery, human-cloning, and bestiality.
The Church does not tolerate these behaviors. It deems them not simply
sinful, but gravely sinful. One cannot engage in any of
these behaviors and expect the approbation of the Church BECAUSE
one cannot engage in any of these behaviors and expect the approbation
Your contention, really, is with God Himself.
Neither secular society, nor many Catholics themselves (those unfortunate
Catholics who are the products of the complete dereliction and utter
distortion in “progressive” catechetical programs over the past half
century) understand the Church any more than they understand God. For
the most part, the prevailing view of the Church is based upon
a corporate enterprise model within a broad and differentiated market
economy comprised of shareholders who invest it, in this case, with
moral authority and in, turn receive dividends in power-sharing.
Not a Democracy
Is this the model of the Church? NO! The Holy Catholic
Church is not a democracy. Its laws and doctrines are not the
result of a consensus among its quarreling children; nor do the laws
and dogmas of the Church derive their moral authority by means of popular
or even majority vote. The laws and the binding dogmas
that define us as Catholics come from God, from Christ Himself;
they derive from the teachings of His holy Apostles, from Sacred Scripture
and from 2000 years of unbroken Tradition.
The Magisterium, or teaching authority of the
Church, is articulated in the Deposit of Faith — divinely revealed
truths that come to us, equally, from Sacred Scripture and Tradition.
We do not believe the teachings of the Church because
they are popular or because they have broad secular consensus and accord
with prevailing social norms. We are obligated as Catholics to
believe them ... and not simply those that accord with our own personal
inclinations, those with which we are comfortable, or which we find
pleasing to us — but all of them without exception.
Does that surprise you?
One is Catholic because one believes in
God and in what His Holy Catholic teaches, and practices (or makes every
effort to practice) what it teaches. Put another way, because
one believes in God and in what His Holy Catholic Church teaches, and
practices (or makes every effort to practice) what it teaches, one is
deemed a Catholic. If our religious convictions happen to be
popular or have broad secular consensus, and accord with prevailing
social norms, it is quite beside the point.
Social norms have nothing to do with my being Catholic,
although my being Catholic should exercise some influence on
secular norms. Why? Because that, too, is part of my being Catholic:
the mandate to openly profess Christ 4, to live my life in
Christ, and to eschew the world, the flesh, and the devil as inimical
to my life in Christ and to my ultimate happiness in Heaven.
While I must love my neighbor and refrain from judgment,
love of neighbor does not, in any way, obligate me to be complicit (by
either act or omission) in his sins because they are approved by the
state or endorsed by society at large. "Love the sinner but hate the
sin" — you have heard this, yes? In fact, it is my obligation
as a Catholic to raise my voice in protest against the growing enormities
of a militantly secular society, a society intolerant of my Catholic
Faith, and which would, were it possible — in an act of violent intolerance
— attempt to stamp it out ... as intolerant.
Religious intolerance, then, is no different from the
intolerance expressed in competing and incompatible ideologies such
as secularism, militant feminism, and aggressive homosexuality —
even when they are irreconcilable. Each of these ideologies
is unwilling to tolerate the Church’s most fundamental precepts, especially
concerning human sexuality and life — just as the Church cannot
tolerate as moral the defining principles articulated in these (most
often complementary) ideologies. Upon what logical premises, then, do
such ideologies repudiate institutions (the Church, in this case) as
intolerant — which themselves are equally and reciprocally intolerant?
It is a circular argument.
I cannot, and ought not, be coerced to accept, think, believe, and act
upon what is in violation of my own conscience. Laws certainly can be
enacted (such as the “racial” laws of Nazi Germany codified as the Nuremberg
Laws beginning in 1935, the Penal Laws of 17th century Britain, or the
Sharia Law of Islam) and enforced — but the freedom of the individual
conscience cannot be coerced, no matter what measures are taken against
it. It may be socially and politically correct to endorse homosexuality,
radical feminism, abortion, contraception, bestiality, and militant
secularism — but to be "correct" is not to be moral. The
Nuremburg Laws were "correct" for 10 years ... but they were
not moral. The putative science of eugenics — espoused by Margaret
Sanger (the founder of Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider
in America — and borrowed from America 3 long
before it was considered and subsequently legislated in Nazi Germany — endorsed
these laws. There was scientific consensus. There was popular
consensus, both in America until 1977 and Germany until
1945.4 In fact, it was this widespread
social and scientific consensus 5 that was the impetus behind the
unspeakable atrocities that followed. Such a state is ineluctably a
state of tyranny, the tyranny of social and scientific consensus — which one encounters daily in the effort to stamp out any remaining
vestiges of Christianity in Western culture and the patrimony of Catholicism
In sum, if I am intolerant because I am a practicing Catholic, embracing
the authentic teachings of the Holy Catholic Church (with an
unbroken history of 2000 years), through my refusal to endorse agenda
deeply inimical to the Church, then you can no more insist that I be
tolerant of (endorse) behavior inconsistent with, and antagonistic to
the Church, than you — who claim to be tolerant — refuse to tolerate
the teachings of the Church as inimical to your own convictions.
Nor can such a state of affairs be remediated — at all! There can be
no “soul-searching”, no compromise and no dialectic that will coherently
reconcile these contradictions. The Church cannot (which is to
say, it is not within Her power or authority to) demur from the revealed
truths and divine mandates which are, in essence, nothing less than
Her raison d’être.
The Church cannot change on these issues and
will not go away. She has an extraordinarily good history of surviving
those who lay siege to Her … and subsequently — or perhaps consequently
— go by the way.
1 Evelyn B. Hall, an obscure early 20th century
admirer of Voltaire, who himself never said this, although it is often
attributed to him. It has become the mindless mantra of elitist
progressives, who, generally, will prefer to jail you — and if possible dismember
you — to defending you for dissenting with them.
teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and
of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all
things whatsoever I have commanded you."
(St. Matthew 28.19-20)
"He that shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father
Who is in Heaven." (St. Matthew 10:33)
4 While California had the
highest number of sterilizations, North Carolina's eugenics program
which operated from 1933 to 1977, was the most
aggressive of the 32 states that had eugenics programs. An IQ of
70 or lower meant sterilization was appropriate in North
Carolina. The North Carolina Eugenics Board almost always
approved proposals brought before them by local welfare boards.
Of all states, only North Carolina gave social workers the power to
designate people for sterilization. "Here, at last, was a method
of preventing unwanted pregnancies by an acceptable, practical, and
inexpensive method," wrote Wallace Kuralt in the March 1967
journal of the N.C. Board of Public Welfare. "The poor readily
adopted the new techniques for birth control." ibid.
5 "Extensive financing [for
eugenics] by corporate philanthropies, specifically the Carnegie
Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman
railroad fortune. They were all in league with some of America's
most respected scientists from such prestigious universities as Stanford, Yale, Harvard and Princeton. These academicians
espoused race theory and race science, and then faked and twisted
data to serve eugenics' racist aims."
Boston Catholic Journal
Comments? Write us: