Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On Tolerance

I'll begin with a jarring statement to most readers: it seems to me that the Catholic Church is really the most tolerant of anyone or anything.

This is because the Catholic Church has rightfully questioned everything and accepted what it must. It is derived from the fact that we see creation as good and, as such, there is nothing that exists separated from goodness—no matter how hopeless. We are tolerant precisely because we call things evil and because we call things good. These are like the actions of a wise gardener who prunes leaves and branches, allowing the good to grow properly and the bad to fall lifelessly.

Indeed, the history and hagiographies [lives of the saints] of the Church attest to this attitude. St. Martin of Tours, though he had the mighty pine tree cut he erected an altar in its place. He removed the worship of something false with the worship of something true—he did not remove worship.

St. Catherine of Sienna scolded and encouraged Gregory to return to Rome. She did not seek to rid the Church of the papacy but rid the Church of the errors of the papacy.

But it seems that others consider themselves more tolerant by virtue of their adherence to progress, equality, or some such idea. Secular-types may see themselves as tolerant because equality and liberty are good, even though many disagree as to what sort of good they are. Some see utility as good, others consequences, and others still tolerance itself as a good worth pursuing in its own right. I propose we step back for a moment and look at these matters in brief:

+Those who propose a sort of utilitarianism replace the notion of good with "useful" and "beneficial." These terms are often anything but permanent and subject to a great number of changes. This avoids the discussion of what is really good. It is also a disposition that lends itself to casting off one thing in favor of another, e.g., the old for the new. The old being "what doesn't work" and the new being "what does work." If anything, utilitarianism is almost always intolerant to things seen as obsolete.

I readily confess that this attitude can be adopted by those who espouse an objective good. For some, this is how they see Martin of Tours above: he replaced the old worship with a better one. But unlike this, with an objective good in place one may easily examine the means by which that good is achieved and why. And this is also why Martin of Tours did not act out of a desire for utility. He did not believe that it was more beneficial for Germans to believe in Christ, he believed that it was necessary.

+ Others still try to champion the idea of progress, but it is often without purpose or direction. Some try to give each human being everything but they often ignore what it means to be human. They often reduce human beings to mere biology and the human person to whimsical preference. That is to say there there is no purpose to life but happiness, whatever it may be.
But if one progresses without knowing from where or to where they are going, he might as well be going in circles, which is to say he isn't progressing at all.


Tolerance has been very watered down as of late. In reality we are all intolerant of some things. Even to the person shallow enough to believe tolerance is "I like X, but I'm not forcing you to like it [and other variations]" is intolerant of various things.

And yet the rubik's cube remains unsolved despite there being a solution.

So we must ask ourselves, 'Is tolerance really something that is self-evident? Or is it the case that the grounds for tolerance lies in something else?'

I would argue that without a proper discussion of what is good we can never truly discuss what tolerance is. And anyone who discusses tolerance has some idea of what is good, yet some have been foolish enough to suggest that tolerance is a good in itself. These ones really are the most confused of all on this subject. This is because they don't realize that in order to tolerate anything there must be something worth tolerating.

Toleration, as some have seen it, is to love the person regardless of who they are or what they do—within reason. They cite love as the key to tolerance, yet this in itself is a poor argument. When one examines love it is paradoxically the most freeing and oppressive of things.

Love is seen most powerfully between persons and less perfectly in things. Those who advocate tolerance (as a higher good than 'good') ask people to love others without a care for what they do. Yet, for one who is in love cares for nothing but what his beloved does.

When one makes tolerance a greater good than "goodness," what that person is really saying is that "since we cannot agree on what is really good, let us make peace, concord, and our personal happiness our aim. Let us allow what we both see as good to be determined by these things." This is all very good if we all lived alone but this is not the case nor is it practical.

Tolerance, I say, comes from an agreement on what is really good and not from an agreement that it is better to not pursue that answer. This is why I can tolerate the faithful and moderate (for lack of a better term) Muslim or Lutheran more than many others, since they agree that good must be pursued, defined, and lived.

But I believe that Augustine gives us great wisdom when he says "love the sinner but not the sin."

More specifically he says:

For this reason, the man who lives by God's standards and not by man's, must needs be a lover of the good, and it follows that he must hate what is evil. Further, since no one is evil by nature, but anyone who is evil is evil because of a perversion of nature, the man who lives by God's standards has a duty of "perfect hatred" (Psalm 139:22) towards those who are evil; that is to say, he should not hate the person because of the fault, nor should he love the fault because of the person. He should hate the fault, but love the man. And when the fault has been cured there will remain only what he ought to love, nothing that he should hate.

(Augustine, City of God)
The City of God, the glorious Church that awaits the day to truly proclaim "on earth as it is in heaven."

Some may decry what Catholicism labels as a fault, yet from her earliest days the post-apostolic fathers of the Church proclaimed that "no one is evil by nature." Rather, by sin man has perverted his nature and at times seeks what is temporary and whimsical as the truest good. One of the greatest tragedies of sin is that we do not seek our true and proper goods. One of the great graces of the condition of sin is that when we finally come to recognize the true good we love it and hate all else that tries to separate us from it. This is so that, by means of our own journey and will, we come to love God personally. And by virtue of that love of God we love and seek what is truly good and hate what is evil. Incidentally, hate has become a strong word whereas love has become a soft word. In reality love is an even stronger word than hate, for love makes us vulnerable since it calls us to change.

When others claim we are intolerant what they mean is that our value of good is not theirs, but this does not excuse those who are truly intolerant.

There is no exhaustive way of showing which Christians are tolerant, which are intolerant, and in the proper or improper means. But, as the old adage goes, "a tree is known by its fruit." One who engages in violence, coercion, and slander for "love of the person" ought to reconsider tolerance. On the other hand those who are apathetic, noncommittal, or lax should reconsider how tolerant they are.

For my own part I see tolerance in its truest form exemplified by Christ. As God readily desires to pour out his mercy he also directs and commands us to change our hearts.

In this famous passage, an adulterous woman is brought forward both because she was an affront to the law and because she was being used to condemn Jesus. At its conclusion is our own lesson here:

"He was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?'

She replied, 'No one, sir.'

Then Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.'"

(cf Jn 8:1-11, esp. 9-11)

Reflect for a moment on what has happened. The others, the scribes and Pharisees, stood her in the middle so as to shame her and do violence against her. Yet Christ stood in their midst without shame nor making the woman to feel any shame. He dismissed the crowd and then stood alone before the woman. He did not condemn her but all the same he commanded her to sin no more. She was caught committing adultery but was still pardoned.
The image of love. A lesson on tolerance.

Out of love for her Christ kept the woman but dismissed the sin. That is to say that by mercy, patience, and forgiveness he so loved the woman so as to both protect her and urge her to remove what was wicked from herself.

And here only lies, for some, the door to our discussion. This is because many see their actions as neither wicked nor perverted, but this too stems from what both they and we believe to be good—a subject worthy of discussing and a subject worth submitting ourselves to.

[Edit, 7:13am: some diction and syntax revised]