A Plea for Intolerance

Many a modern preacher is far less concerned with preaching Christ and Him crucified than he is with his popularity with his congregation.  A want of intellectual backbone makes him straddle the ox of truth and the ass of nonsense…Fulton J. Sheen

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 much overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broad-minded.  The man who can make up his mind in an orderly way, as a man might make up his bed, is called a bigot; but a man who cannot make up his mind, any more than he can make up for lost time, is called tolerant and broad-minded.

A bigoted man is one who refuses to accept a reason for anything; a broad-minded man is one who will accept anything for a reason—providing it is not a good reason.  It is true that there is a demand for precision, exactness, and definiteness, but it is only for precision in scientific measurement, not in logic. The breakdown that has produced this natural broad-mindedness is mental, not moral.  The evidence for this statement is threefold: the tendency to settle issues not by arguments but by words, the unqualified willingness to accept the authority of anyone on the subject of religion, and lastly the love of novelty.

The science of religion has a right to be heard scientifically through its qualified spokesmen, just as the science of physics or astronomy has a right to be heard through its qualified spokesmen.  Religion is a science despite the fact the some would make it only a sentiment.  Religion has its principles, natural and revealed, which are more exacting in their logic than mathematics.  But the false notion of tolerance has obscured this fact from the eyes of many who are as intolerant about the smallest details of life as they are tolerant about their relations to God.

Another evidence of the breakdown of reason that has produced this weird fungus of broad-mindedness is the passion of novelty, as opposed to the love of truth.  Truth is sacrificed for an epigram, the Divinity of Christ for a headline in the Monday morning newspaper.  Many a modern preacher is far less concerned with preaching Christ and Him crucified than he is with his popularity with his congregation.  A want of intellectual backbone makes him straddle the ox of truth and the ass of nonsense, paying compliments to Catholics because of “their great organization” and to sexologists because of “their honest challenge to the youth of this generation.”   Bending the knee to the mob rather than God would probably make them scruple at ever playing the role of John the Baptist before a modern Herod.  No accusing finger would be leveled at a divorce or one living in adultery; no voice would be thundered in the ears of the rich, saying with something of the intolerance of Divinity: “It is not lawful for thee to live with thy brother’s wife.” Rather would we hear: “Friends, times are changing!”  The acids of modernity are eating away the fossils of orthodoxy.

Belief in the existence of God, in the Divinity of Christ, in the moral law, is considered passing fashions.  The latest thing in this new tolerance is considered the true thing, as if truth were a fashion, like a hat, instead of an institution like a head.

The final argument for modern broad-mindedness is that truth is novelty and hence “truth” changes with the passing fancies of the moment.  Like the chameleon that changes his colors to suit the vesture on which he is placed, so truth is supposed to change to fit the foibles and obliquities of the age.  The nature of certain things is fixed, and none more so than the nature of truth.  Truth may be contradicted a thousand times, but that only proves that it is strong enough to survive a thousand assaults.  But for any one to say, “Some say this, some say that, therefore, there is no truth,” is about as logical as it would have been for Columbus who heard some say, “The earth is round”, and others say “The earth is flat” to conclude: “Therefore, there is no earth.” Like a carpenter who might throw away his rule and use each beam as a measuring rod, so, too, those who have thrown away the standard of objective truth have nothing left with which to measure but the mental fashion of the moment.

The giggling giddiness of novelty, the sentimental restlessness of a mind unhinged, and the unnatural fear of a good dose of hard thinking, all conjoin to produce a group of sophomoric latitudinarians who think there is no difference between God as Cause and God as a “mental projection”; who equate Christ and Buddha, and then enlarge their broad-mindedness into a sweeping synthesis that says not only that one Christian sect is as good as another, but even that one world-religion is just as good as another.  The great god “Progress” is then enthroned on the altars of fashion, and as the hectic worshippers are asked, “Progress toward what?” the tolerant comes back with “More progress.”  All the while sane men are wondering how there can be progress without direction and how there can be direction without a fixed point.  And because they speak of a “fixed point”, they are said to be behind the times, when really they arebeyond the times  mentally and spiritually.

In the face of this false broadmindedness, what the world needs is intolerance.  The world seems to have lost entirely the faculty of distinguishing between good and bad, the right and the wrong.  There are some minds that believe that intolerance is always wrong, because they make “intolerance” mean hate, narrow-mindedness, and bigotry.  These same minds believe that tolerance is always right because, for them, it means charity, broadmindedness, and American good nature.

What is tolerance?  Tolerance is an attitude of reasoned patience toward evil and a forbearance that restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment.  But what is more important than the definition is the field of its application. The important point here is this:  Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to truth.  Intolerance applies only to truth, but never to persons.  Tolerance applies to the erring; intolerance to the error.

America is suffering not so much from intolerance, which is bigotry, as it is from tolerance, which is indifference to truth and error, and a philosophical nonchalance that has been interpreted as broad-mindedness.  Greater tolerance, of course, is desirable, for there can never be too much charity shown to persons who differ with us.  Our Blessed Lord Himself asked that we “love those who calumniate us, for they are always persons,” but He never told us to love the calumny.

In keeping with the Spirit of Christ, the Church encourages prayers for all those who are outside the pale of the Church and asks that the greatest charity be shown towards them.  Charity, then, must be shown to persons and particularly those outside the fold, who by charity must be led back, that there may be one fold and one Shepherd.  Shall God, Who refuses to look with an equally tolerant eye on all religions, be denied the name of “Wisdom” and be called an “Intolerant” God?

The Church is identified with Christ in both time and principle; She began thinking on His first principles and the harder She thought, the more dogmas She developed.  She never forgot those dogmas; She remembered them and Her memory is Tradition.  The dogmas of the Church are like bricks, solid things with which a man can build, not like straw, which is “religious experience” fit only for burning.  The Church has been and will always be intolerant so far as the rights of God are concerned, for heresy, error, and untruth affect not personal matters on which She may yield, but a Divine Right in which there is no yielding.  The truth is divine; the heretic is human.  Due reparation made, the Church will admit the heretic back into the treasury of Her souls, but never the heresy into the treasure of Her Wisdom.  Right is right even if nobody is right; and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong. 

The attitude of the Church in relation to the modern world on this important question may be brought home by the story of the two women in the courtroom of Solomon.  Both of them claimed a child.  The lawful mother insisted on having the whole child or nothing, for a child is like truth—it cannot be divided without ruin.  The unlawful mother, on the contrary, agreed to compromise.  She was willing to divide the babe, and the babe would have died of broad-mindedness.

BISHOP FULTON J. SHEEN

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