Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Vice Of Tolerance

These days, if you don’t simply up and agree that tolerance is the Virtu Ultimo, you will be immediately accused of advocating intolerance. That’s what happens whenever one virtue is elevated above the others – it acquires that special cachet, that unassailable quality that allows everyone to feel all righteous by attacking you. Among individuals where chastity is the supreme virtue, suggesting it is simply one admirable quality among many lays you open to charges of advocating promiscuity. Where oathkeeping is the sine qua non of good human conduct, the least acknowledgement of possible extenuation brands you as a friend of liars and encourager of thieves.

It is therefore important for all of you to know right at the outset that I do think intolerance is just great. I have every gay person in the neighborhood on speed-dial so I can harrass and threaten them randomly four or five times a week. I taught my boys to subtly but effectively sabotage any attempts by people of color – any color – to improve their lives. We splatter red paint on campaign signs of candidates we don’t like, and I have for years been part of a super-secret organization that poisons the pets of Christians who hold heretical views on Transubstantiation, Gifts of the Spirit, and Semi-Pelagianism. Worse, I have actually advocated that everyone should vote for people they agree with.

Tolerance, also known as being non-judgmental, is an inexpensive virtue, hence its current popularity. Patience, mercy, honesty, self-sacrifice, humility, generosity – these all come at a cost. Tolerance is passive, and often indistinguishable from boredom, self-centeredness, or regular bowel habits. You can be tolerant of something by ignoring it.

Curiously, the idea is widespread that tolerance is the heart of the Christian message, the most important thing that Good Ol’ Jesus taught. Not only is the idea widespread among nonbelievers, it is frequently found among Episcopalians as well (insert obvious joke here). I don’t come away from the Gospels with that impression. Jesus spoke respectfully to women and those of low status. Other than that, where does the reputation for being non-judgmental come from? The weight of judgment of Matthew chapters 5-8 is crushing. But if by tolerance we mean that brood-of-vipers, beat-the-moneylenders stuff then sign me up. Can I have an Amen?

CS Lewis, in The Problem Of Pain, contends that in that era (about 1940), the virtue elevated above the others was kindness. He criticised that virtue in much the same way I do here with tolerance: that it was too dependent on mere feelings of well-being. Sadly, I think tolerance is a natural derivative, but actually a step down from kindness.

People insisting that we be tolerant don’t really like tolerance, they just like certain categories of it, usually related to sex or to perceived underdogs. Tolerant people are actually the worst enemies of the real underdogs. Most intolerance is actually a good thing, enabling us to live next door to each other, stand in line, and drive our cars safely. Societies are built upon things they will not tolerate. We don’t tolerate spitting on the bank tellers, molesting the children, or throwing trash into the street. If societies always go overboard, it is because they are over-sensitive to the dangers of anarchy.


bs king said...

My biggest problem is that "tolerant" people usually suck.

jw said...

The "tolerant" people I've met allow some forms of hate and include those forms of hate as part of tolerance. An example is the tolerant leftist who enjoys the most radical of misandry. I've never met a tolerant person who does not encourage some hatred of some people ... I doubt there are any.

You right in saying intolerances, of some forms, are key to keeping a society going.

Our current tolerant society is not a tolerant society. Our current intolerant society is not an intolerant society either. We seem to be a mix of not-thinking-too-wells.

Anonymous said...

I just want the literal readers out there to realize paragraph 2 is a joke!

Anonymous said...

CS Lewis also had a serious issue with what he called, "National Repentance." He felt it was disingenuous at best, and maybe a form of thought-control at the worst (or maybe I am reading too much into his writings.)

The thing is, in our politically correct society, Tolerance and National Repentance are so similar, as to be almost impossible to differentiate. We (as in white, Christian people) must be tolerant to the point of bloodletting. I have to put up with a culture that attempts to corrupt the morals of my children (especially w.r.t. sex and homosexuality), but I must sit by and let an openly homosexual individual refer to me as a "baby-breeder." (Hasn't happened to me, but to a family with nine kids in my church.)

I think Lewis would see both things (Tolerance and National Repentance) as branches of the same tree - thought control is impractical, but speech control is practical, and easily implemented. National Repentance came about because the British were effectively bashing anything of a German or Italian nature, so the intelligentsia "decided" that they should call for a National Repentance, to "make up" for the horrible things the British had done, particularly to the Germans (ignoring the fact that during war, bad things happen.)

I know I am not making a whole lot of sense, but I am having a hard time organizing my thoughts. But I do agree that it is intolerance of anti-social behavior that keeps society running.


Ben Wyman said...

The problem is not that "we must be tolerant," but that the decision is already being made for us. "Tolerance" is not actually something passive, since the only way to be perceived as tolerant is to accuse other people of being "intolerant."

Therefore, the church, who has been toeing pretty much the same line on a lot of issues for a while, gets poked as "intolerant" by a lot of people who aren't being very tolerant of the fact that we've been like this for a long time and don't feel much need to go waving it about in anyone's face.

Therefore, the only way to prove my tolerance is to go out and join in the public intolerance of intolerant people, just to let people know how tolerant I can be.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

ELC said...

Tolerance is like walking. You can walk to your invalid neighbor's house to help him out. Or you can walk to the bank to rob it.

Tolerance of good is itself good. Tolerance of evil is itself evil.

David Foster said...

"When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful."

David Foster said...

...the quote was from Chesterton.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I thought so. Everlasting Man, I think.