Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Intolerance of Tolerance

I am currently writing an essay for a book on worldview. My essay addresses the question, "How can I live out the biblical worldview in a culture that does not share that worldview?" Among the various elements that I am addressing the issues of "tolerance" and "intolerance" are crucial.

Though I have had the book on order for several months, lamentably my essay is due about the time that D. A. Carson's The Intolerance of Tolerance is due to ship. I know that his book will be a great resource on the topic. In the meantime I have to content myself with the following video clip. Evidently this clip is a portion of a much longer presentation that may be purchased at ChristianAudio.


Adam Omelianchuk said...

You should also check out the book The Truth About Tollerance put out by IVP a few years ago. It's excellent. Very substantive argument.

abcaneday said...

Thanks, Adam. I have the book by Stetson and Conti. You're right. It's a solid book.

Nice to hear from you again.

John said...

You're right, Carson has done this lecture many times in many places. You can listen to it from a few different sources.

I believe I found the audio here:


I've got the audio, I believe, if you can't get it there.

Edwardtbabinski said...

The "intolerance of tolerance?"

That kind of reminds me of the question, "Can God make a stone so heavy even He can't lift it?"

Can a person become so tolerant they become "intolerant?"

My mind reels.

At a Youth for Christ rally in 1994, Josh McDowell got up in front of thousands of young people and denounced tolerance itself: "Tolerance is the worst roar of all, including tolerance for homosexuals, feminists, and religions that don't follow Christ." (If only C. S. Lewis were alive to tell McDowell, "I dare say, there are people in every religion who are 'following Christ' more closely than you at this moment, Mr. McDowell.") McDowell reiterated in a magazine article published in 1997 that we are teaching our kids to focus on tolerance too much. He called it a "drastic change," "one of the greatest shifts in history," adding, "I am convinced we have only a short time to counter this new doctrine of tolerance before it will be too late - for us and our children."[122] McDowell even had a novel published in 1997 titled, Vote of Intolerance, in which the hero "takes a hard stand against crime, drugs, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia" (and presumably against all beliefs and convictions other than his own).

McDowell's statements remind me of similar ones reported by a friend who attended a famed retreat/camp for young Christians called "Scroon Lake" in New York State. The retreat was tied in with Jerry Falwell's ministries and Campus Crusade for Christ (who sponsor Josh McDowell Ministries), and other Christian organizations. According to my friend, "On the first day, a speaker pushed Oliver North's book and sang the glories of the Gulf War. Most of the weekend was in the hands of some anti-evolutionists from the Institute for Creation Research in California; one of them, a leading member in the organization with which Josh McDowell is closely associated, said how terrible a sin it was that Charles Darwin was buried in Westminster Abbey. He added that we could all take comfort in the fact that we could, anytime we pleased, go there and trample and spit on his grave. Another speaker went on about the evils of secular education, the evils of tolerance for homosexuals, etc. All of this provoked constant cheers and 'Amen's' from the youthful audience. I felt like I was at a Hitler Youth Rally! The weekend ended with someone quoting Jerry Falwell himself: 'If you're not a born again Christian, you're a failure as a human being.' If only this sort of 'Christianity' were an aberration. Unfortunately, it's not."[123]

Edwardtbabinski said...

Speaking of the difficulty that many fundamentalists and hard-line evangelicals have in tolerating the notion of tolerance, last year in Greenville, South Carolina (where I live), the County Council (backed by "strong Christian principles") passed an "Anti-gay resolution." The council did not advocate running gays out of town, but they felt they had to let homosexuals know that they were to blame for destroying America. In response to the Council's "Anti-gay resolution," homosexuals organized a gay pride march to take place in Greenville. Some stores on Greenville's main street hung signs in their windows supporting the march. But on the day of the march those shop owners discovered that someone had jammed toothpicks into their door locks so that they could not open. And two weeks after the gay pride march a local minister organized a "pro-family rally" and told people to boycott all restaurants in downtown Greenville because "waiters with AIDS" were transmitting the disease by "spitting on people's food." A few weeks later a man who said he was "sent by God to kill homosexuals" spewed obscenities and threats at students in a high school career center in Greenville county (it took numerous police officers to subdue him).[124] Then the Southern Baptists (the majority religion in the South, including Greenville county), voted to boycott Disney because they treat their gay employees as if they were human beings (i.e., Disney pays benefits to the gay companions of their employees).

More recently, a "Christian" on the South Carolina state board of education proposed that the Ten Commandments be displayed in public schools throughout the state. When it was pointed out to him that people of other religions might be offended if their holy sayings were not also displayed, he replied, "Screw the Buddhists and kill the Moslems" (He apparently forgot the commandment "Thou shalt not kill.") Which brings to mind an incident from a few years ago when a man on a Delta airliner in the skies above Greenville, South Carolina, told a flight attendant that he would "have to kill everyone who was not a born-again Christian." Luckily, the man was unable to force the cockpit door open and attack the pilots or damage the controls.[125])

Edwardtbabinski said...

Returning to McDowell's magazine article on "Tolerance and Truth," in it he listed "homosexuality, pornography, and abortion" as the evils taking refuge behind the "new doctrine of tolerance." But compare McDowell's list of evils with Jesus'. Jesus did not crow on about the dangers of "homosexuality." Though it certainly existed in his day, the Gospels never have Jesus addressing the subject even once. And he did not rail against "pornography," though there were sexually explicit statues, pottery, and imagery throughout the Roman Empire. What Jesus railed against was each person's lack of control of their own wandering eyes, not against the objects they might spy. Neither did he cry out against "abortion" though the Greeks and Romans not only employed abortifacients, but also practiced infanticide on unwanted children. Jesus had different priorities and told people that instead of worrying about those who can kill the body, each person should "fear Him who can cast both body and soul into hell." He urged each person to look into their own hearts, and not to judge the secret motives and desires of others. Nor would "compulsory public prayers" have made much sense to Jesus, who taught, "When you pray, do not do it loudly in the streets [or over satellite TV?] like the hypocrites, but go into your closet to pray in secret." Jesus was obviously not obsessed with the same issues as McDowell (or today's Religious Right). Instead, Jesus preached things like, "Woe to the rich,[126] they already have their reward;" and, "Woe to the Pharisees" (self-righteous religious leaders who only see goodness in their own narrow causes and evil everywhere else). So if McDowell wishes to warn people of a "new doctrine of tolerance," he should begin by warning Christians of their "new doctrine of tolerance" toward the wealthy and self-righteous, against which Jesus preached most loudly.

I would say that McDowell has disguised (even from himself) the motive behind his "dangers of tolerance" speeches. He is not "afraid" of a "new doctrine of tolerance." He just wants intolerance reinstated to its age-old status of a moral and religious obligation. (Just like the Pharisees did.)

McDowell also apparently suffers from selective amnesia regarding the "dangers of intolerance." C. S. Lewis was far more aware of such dangers and of the bloody history of Christians who persecuted pagans, Jews, Moslems, fellow Christians, and more. Lewis wrote in a letter to a friend, "Even more disturbing as you say, is the ghastly record of Christian persecution. It had begun in Our Lord's time - 'Ye know not what spirit ye are of' (John of all people!)[127] I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse...Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil."[128]

McDowell should consider whether he might be on the way down that slippery slope toward "devil-dom" that Lewis warned about, or whether he might be greasing up that slope for some of his Christian listeners to slide down. He might also benefit by reading Dr. F. Forrester Church's book, The Seven Deadly Virtues.

CD-Host said...

Edward --

Nice series of posts.

I think Carson is begging the question trying to conflate:

political tolerance — which views will be suppressed through state action, or fail to receive full public support.

public policy tolerance / rhetoric– which views will be allowed to influence laws. That is how arguments about public policy should be made.

tolerance in manners — how to act with other people in social settings

"old tolerance" is about political tolerance and nothing much has changed there other than free speech is even more broadly supported than it was 2 generations ago.

"new tolerance" is about tolerance of manners and nothing has changed there for thousands of years. Don't deliberately be rude to people who do not share your values in one area with whom you have to work in other areas.