Intolerance: The Foundation of all Stability
"Tolerance does not apply to truth or principles. About these things we must be intolerant, and for this kind of intolerance, so much needed to rouse us from sentimental gush, I make a plea. Intolerance of this kind is the foundation of all stability.”
-Fulton Sheen, 1931
"Intolerance: The Foundation of all Stability" is a revised and appended version of an earlier post from April of 2011. With all of the protests that are transpiring around the world, even in our country, the truths addressed by Jacques Maritain and Fulton Sheen decades ago are quite relevant today.
It is a sad reality of fallen human nature to have an “either-or” approach to life; that is, to embrace something at the expense of something else. We forget that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to juggle opposites; to keep love and hate in their proper tension without totally doing away with one or the other. This is one of the benefits of being Christian and one of the advantages of a Christian society.
Jacques Maritain, a convert from Atheism to the Catholic Faith and one who ended up being one of the greatest philosophers in the twentieth century, had an interesting insight to how people love and hate wrongly.
Take for instance the bigot. Maritain said that the bigot gets off to a good start by hating the sin. So far so good! However, the bigot errs by taking his hatred for the sin and then transferring it to the sinner. He thus ends up hating both. This is not good because it is a sin not to love our neighbor!
The liberal, he continued to say, has the opposite problem. The liberal gets off to a good start by loving the sinner. So far so good! However, he takes his love for the sinner and ends up embracing or loving the sin. He ends up loving both. This is not good because loving the sin (or accepting it in the name of compassion) is contrary to the love our neighbor. After all, sin enslaves and then completely undermines our neighbor’s happiness. In the former case, people suffer from the wrong kind of intolerance; in the latter, the wrong kind of tolerance.
The world is riddled with these two problems. But Christ teaches us a different way: We are to love the sinner and hate the sin. In our culture, we forget that the genuineness and intensity of love is dependent upon our willingness to hate sin. A parent who is overly tolerant of his or her child’s unruly or dangerous behavior is lacking in the fundamental duty of parental and Christian love. In society, this can be expressed in “accepting people for who they are.” What this often translates into is tolerating sinful behaviors and lifestyles.
Homosexuality, for instance, began to be tolerated in society in 1973 with the DSM-R III (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association). In 1973 it was removed from the DSM-R III and no longer diagnosed as a disorder. Nearly forty years later, however, to publicly disapprove of homosexuality or same-sex marriage is to run the risk of being censured by the media or paying a price corporately by losing one's job. To be sure, many political powers that be are on the threshold of legislating that criticism of homosexuality is a hate crime.
This kind of tolerance is nothing less than confusing license (the freedom to do what we want to do) and liberty (the freedom to do what we ought to do). As Pope Leo XIII said over a century ago, what license gains, liberty loses; that is, to the degree we tolerate immoral acts, we lose the liberty to pursue justice and goodness. Why is that? Well, one thing leads to another. The social and political toleration of immoral behavior leads to its acceptance which then leads to its advocacy. With the advocacy and promotion of anything immoral there comes with it an intolerance to opposition. And this intolerance is often coercive and repressive.
It is important to remember that license is an indiscriminate or imprudent form of tolerance. In accepting immoral values, it ceases to acknowledge proper standards and boundaries. But this can work the other way too. The flipside of acceptance is rejection. And if license goes too far in accepting that which is evil, it will go too far in rejecting the good. The violation of human rights, private property rights and liberty itself proceeds from the spirit of licence. Indeed, a liberal tolerance of any kind of value or lifestyle is but the groundwork for a dictatorial intolerance.
Pope Benedict XVI called it "The Dictatorship of Relativism." It is a kind of dictatorship that masquerades as being principled but it is far from being principled or consistent. Rather, it's coercive and repressive measures are subjective in that they are based on on likes, dislikes and expediency. Vladmir Solovev, an 18th century Russian philosopher and convert to the Catholic Faith, reminded his fellow countrymen (before the onslaught of the Russian Revolution of 1917) that when government is inspired by the instinct of "I want..." then there are no limits to the political power. All boundaries are erased. Unfortunately, the Russian people learned the hard way. And it may be that Americans will learn from experience too.
As long ago as 1931, then-Monsignor Fulton Sheen, spoke about “A Plea for Intolerance.” What he addressed just 30 to 40 years before the widespread outbreak of relativism is the blind spot of our age. According to Sheen, in 1931 the world suffered from undue tolerance. Indeed, he saw the beginnings of it. Unfortunately Christians were beginning to identify love with being tolerant of sin. This is what he said:
“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 overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broadminded…
Tolerance is an attitude of reasoned patience toward evil ... a forbearance that restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment. Tolerance applies only to persons ... never to truth. Tolerance applies to the erring, intolerance to the error...
Tolerance does not apply to truth or principles. About these things we must be intolerant, and for this kind of intolerance, so much needed to rouse us from sentimental gush, I make a plea. Intolerance of this kind is the foundation of all stability.”
Recovering this balance between loving the sinner and hating the sin is, in part, the task that the New Evangelization will have to undergo if it is to effectively reverse the tide of Secularism. Either we passionately love souls by becoming unapologetically intolerant of sin, error and the prejudices of our century, or Secular minded people will become intolerant of us. The latter has already manifested itself and as for the former, it is never too late to try. Christ did it! The Apostles did it! The Fathers, Doctors and Martyrs of the Church did it! And the Saints did it! Therefore, we should do it!