Is tolerance good

Are you for tolerance?  Am I?  Well, it all depends on what we are being asked to tolerate.  Tolerance is a minor virtue and totally dependent on the nature of what is being tolerated for its moral goodness.  In other words, tolerance is not an end in itself.  It is good in some circumstances and bad in other circumstances; much depends on the moral status of what is being tolerated and on whether what is being tolerated inherently requires intolerance of the opposite.
There are three categories: things which should never be tolerated (eg. child molesting), things which should always be tolerated (eg. free speech about values) and things that should be tolerated up to a point but not necessarily indefinitely (eg. sexual deviance).  This last example is non-controversial in principle; almost every rational person agrees that some sexual deviance should be tolerated though not socially approved.  An example would be fornication.  We don’t think it is morally right and expressing social disapproval to the point of driving it underground is necessary for a healthy society, yet we would not want to infringe on civil liberties to the extent necessary in order to have fornication police investigating, probing, arresting and jailing every single fornicator.  On the other hand, another sexual deviance, rape, falls into a different category.  It should be illegal and penalties should be harsh.  If we have to give up some privacy to prevent or punish rape, so be it.  It is that serious.

So tolerating rape or child pornography is morally reprehensible and also ought to be illegal and laws against them should be enforced stringently.  But simple fornication between adults is morally reprehensible but should not be illegal.  Tolerance of deviant lifestyles is good up to a point.  When people begin to be hurt too much and too often, society has to revise its tendency to tolerance and begin to act against evil. Statecraft is not reducible to ethics; it is more complicated.

Tolerance is not like a major virtue like hope or faith or love in that there can be too much tolerance, whereas there can never be too much love there can easily, and often is, too much tolerance.  Our society is very confused about tolerance.  There is a ferocious attempt to control so-called “hate speech” but an extremely lenient approach to punishing physical attacks on people.  If we cannot even punish those who physically attack innocent people, what good do we think is being done to punish individuals who say things categorized as “hate speech?”

The unspoken but operative “rationale,” if one can even call it that, for punishing Christians who express the traditional and normal view of homosexuality while letting violent criminals walk free, seems to come down to one over-riding factor: how likely is the person being punished to react violently?  Those who show signs of aggressive fight-back are treated with a hands-off approach, but those who submit meekly to a totalitarian approach to speech regulation are increasingly oppressed.  Christians are punished severely for expressing religious ideas in public but Muslims are ignored.  Criminal mobs are treat leniently but Christians who witness to their faith are clamped down on.  There is a clear pattern here.

Julian Mann, writing in Virtue Online gives us a good example of the contemporary approach to “tolerance.”

Orthodox bishops in the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, meeting this week in London, are gathering in a capital city where the Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson has just banned this statement from London buses: “Not gay. Post-gay, ex-gay and proud. Get over it.”

Such censorship of these advertisements, responding to the earlier “Some people are gay. Get over it.” campaign by the highly politically influential homosexualist lobby group Stonewall, is disturbing enough. But the reasons Mr Johnson has given for the ban in the UK capital city are even more alarming.

His latest rationale frighteningly exposes the dry-rot in the edifice of democratic freedom.

At a mayoral hustings last week at St James’s Piccadilly, Mr Johnson declared that he banned the ads on London buses by Christian groups, Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues Trust, because “the backlash would be so intense it would not have been in the interest of Christian people in this city”.

His initial stated reason for banning the posters was his desire to protect Londoners from being exposed to the suggestion of gay therapy: “London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance. It is clearly offensive to suggest being gay is an illness someone recovers from and I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses.”

Whilst his latest reason at the hustings does not contradict his earlier one, it is a significant development. It emits an even stronger whiff of democratic putrefaction.

At least Boris Johnston is explicit and open about his cowardice, for cowardice is the reason for tolerating the aggressive and angry pro-homosexual lobby while shutting down the free speech of Christians.  “Tolerance” here is just a content-less slogan that is ritually invoked by intolerant people as their excuse for eliminating Christianity from the public debate.  Christians are easy marks, peaceful and tolerant themselves, and so unwilling to strike back against this kind of persecution.

The take-away from all of this is two-fold.  First, Christians must stop being afraid to appear “intolerant” because there are worse things than intolerance.  Christians must not allow a debate over good and evil to be stifled by their opponents playing the tolerance card as an undisputed trump.  We don’t just want tolerance for our opinions; we want good to be recognized as good and evil to be recognized as evil.  Playing for a tie is a losing strategy because even persecution of Christians and the suppression of religious freedom are being justified in the name of “tolerance.”   We don’t want mere tolerance; we want an acknowledgment that right is right and evil is evil.

Second, Christians must either accept persecution meekly and go underground or else they have to fight for the democratic and human rights that gradually evolved in Western civilization and made the West the highest, best civilization in history of the world.  If we choose not to fight for our culture, then we must accept that we are complicit in its destruction and for the coming of a new dark age.  If you really think this is the right thing to do, fine.  But take responsibility for your choice and acknowledge that you believe that Christians should not be in the culture-building business.  So keep quiet and don’t ingratiate yourself with the secular persecutors.  If you wish to live an underground, privatized existence and let the culture go to hell (literally), then that is your choice.

For my part, I believe we ought to fight.  We ought to fight in a moral way and refuse to use certain despicable tactics, but I believe we ought to pray for revival, vote for politicians we think can slow down the rot and generally be the adults in the room.  This is messy and precarious in a fallen world, but that is our calling as long as our Lord tarries.

Cross-posted from The Politics of the Cross, where is is entitled: “This is What They Mean by Tolerance“

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