Wednesday, June 09, 2010

When Tolerance Becomes Hate

A high school classmate just posted this quote from writer G.K. Chesterton over on Facebook:
Tolerance is the virtue of a man [sic] without convictions.
It was great seeing Chesterton's words. I love him anyway! He was a big joyous man who was loved even by the atheists with whom he debated.

But these particular words of Chesterton's relate to issues I've been thinking about a lot lately.

These days, we--Christians and non-Christians in the West--have elevated "tolerance" to the highest human virtue. So much so, in fact, that a member of one of my former parishes told me once that, so far as he could tell, the gospel message was, "Live and let live." I wondered what Bible he had been reading.

Christians should have no desire--any more than Jesus Himself did--to coerce people into repentance for sin or faith in Christ, of course. (That's why I oppose political involvement by the Church or by pastors.) No one comes to faith in Christ and no one places themselves under the pull of God's Holy Spirit toward holy living by coercion.

But a "live and let live" attitude is usually just another way of saying, "Live and let die." Or, "Live and ignore." For believers in Christ, when tolerance comes up against God's revealed truth, tolerance must give way to truth. It must also give way to love.

If a child has the notion that sticking her or his finger into an electrical outlet would be fun, the last thing a responsible parent would do is tolerate this impulse. The parent would do everything conceivable to prevent the child from harming himself or herself. Love and truth would trump parental tolerance.

Just so, the Church has a God-given responsibility to militate against a lazy, indifferent tolerance, to instead, opt for love and truth in warning people who ask us for an account for the hope that is in us through Christ, to make them aware of the destructive consequences of flouting God's will, whether it's expressed in materialism, injustice, egotism, lovelessness, covetousness, or sex outside of marriage.

If we claim to love family or friends, then to tolerate rationalizations for sin is to conspire in the deaths of those Christ calls us to love and with whom Christ commissions us to share the gospel.

Tolerance becomes hate when we refuse to speak the truth in love, when we fail to share the good news of new life for all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ.


Spencer Troxell said...

We're on the same page here, Mark.

We're too often afraid to be uncomfortable, and too afraid to make others uncomfortable by being real.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason people don't discuss serious ideas seriously is based on some kind of unspoken contract that 'If I don't make you think too hard about your silly ideas, you won't make me think too hard about mine, and everyone can go home happy.'

Relativism is weak and annoying.

PS: Very few people have given us as many worthwhile quotations as G.K. Chesterton.

Charlie said...

Speaking the truth in love is very difficult, because speaking the truth stirs up conflict, and I think there is something about us moderns that has grown very tired of conflict. I suppose it has to do with living in an age when we are constantly assaulted by violence. Violent images and acts and words seem inescapable. We long for peace.

Tolerance seems like a means to peace. If we could only just all get along, things would quiet down. Tolerance looks to some like a foundation for peace, but as you point out, it forces us to duck certain important truths, especially the truth that Jesus is Lord, and peace is contingent on all creation bowing to him.