CHAMELEONS IN THE TEMPLE OF TOLERANCE

 

We are in a maze of disagreements over certain hot button issues.  Even in our toleration syndrome we must affirm Christian truth, theology and orality without becoming rhetorical bomb throwers.  The tolerance/intolerance debate is between superstition and rationalism.  Some efforts to mediate between tolerance and intolerance is coercion by way of utilitarianism.  Postmodern prophets of tolerance call all Christians to join the progressive club of open mindedness.  Ultimately the “left” does not expect tolerance but affirmation (eg. affirmative action).  Living in our tolerance culture presents us with at least three possibilities:  (1) Argued via Rationalism/Superstition; (2) Coerced by Totalitarianism (power confrontation); (3) Advertised into submission via materialism, commercialism, consumerism misinformation.  “If Darwin and Stalin don’t get us, Master Card and Visa Card will.”

 

Right now those who seek to impose their personal standards of morality on private/personal behaviour are dangerously close to violating the gospel of postmodern tolerance.  Christians are to model the “spirit of Christ.”  But our postmodern culture is angered by being told by Christian Merchants of Virtue that we are a nation in moral decline.  The heat intensifies in the cauldrons of “legalism as a counterfeit love.”  Sometimes the discussion returns to Biblical data, eg., “God is love” (Dt. 6.4; Mt. 22.37f; Mk. 12.28-30; Lk. 10.27f; Jas. 1.19-20; Rom. 12.1-4 (present participle, “by the constant renewing of the mind”).  “We are to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul.”

 

Narrative Displacement

 

Any constructive discussion of tolerance, world view and the search for “common ground” must be engaged through awareness of the narrative which justifies belief and behaviour in alternative and contradictory world views.  Christian witness (Matthew 28, the great commission) is grounded in the exclusive gospel, not the inclusive universalism of modernism.  There are at least four possible encounters with these claims and counter claims:  (1)  Rational Argument in order to convert individuals and audiences from one position to another; (2) Coercion/Totalitarianism; (3) Subliminal Manipulation a la Freudianism; (4) Multicultural Pragmatism.  The mere mouthing of tolerance slogans will not do.  The relationship between “true truth,” moral norms, love and tolerance are marvelously expressed in three biblical encounters:  (1) David; (2) the woman taken in adultery; and (3) The Good Samaritan.  Here we see the wondrous love of God who forgives the sins of repentant sinners.  He does not ignore them in the maze of tolerance.  We note no references to archaic sexual norms but “go and sin no more.”  We hear both the love of God and the heart beat of righteousness and justice.

 

The central problem of toleration in Western history was for centuries the problem of religious tolerance.  The central consequence of this form of tolerance was because its religion has been Christianity (not to be equated with Christendom).  Poly theistic religions are by nature more tolerant.  The Greeks, for example, were more conservative in the religious histories ceremonies and institutions but they admitted a great variety of theological beliefs.  Where there were many gods there could be many dogmas.  Although Socrates and the Pythagoreans were  persecuted it was not on religious grounds but because they were accused of threatening the morality and political security of the community.

 

The Romans were more permissive and repressive of particular gods. Notably, but not exclusively the Christian God.  Roman toleration was limited by at least one specific religious nation, namely.  The belief that the traditional deities would punish a whole people for the offense of those who failed to worship them.

 

The Patristics on Tolerance

The early Patristic Fathers were cruelly persecuted by the Romans, who were in favor of religious tolerance as a principle.  Augustine was an early advocate of suppressing heretics, but the death penalty for heresy was wrong.

 

The policy of moderate repression continued throughout the Early Middle Ages.  The Renaissance, The Reformation and the Counter Reformation; Toleration was virtually repudiated in principle by European Christians.  The Anabaptists in Germany, the Armenians in Holland, Zwingli in Switzerland, Castellio in France, Socinius in Poland emphasized Tolerance.  But the main line Protestant Churches, whether Lutheran, Calvinist or Anglican were not conspicuously more tolerant than the Roman Catholic Church.  The Roman Catholic Church’s chief instrument of religious discipline was The Inquisition, which freely employed torture as well as the death penalty in its endeavors to recover erring souls for God.  Members of religious sects, such as Cathari, Waldenses and Albigenses were generally regarded as seditious rebels.

 

John Locke’s Classic Theology of Tolerance

 

The first major philosophical argument for Tolerance was that of John Locke.  In the 17th century Christians were generally losing confidence in the old politics of repression.  The unity of Christendom was clearly ended.  The position of “One True Doctrine” against the heretics was losing its hold on the Church in general.  The confidence in the utility and justice of suppressing unorthodox opinions was shaken by such writers as Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), who in his Pensees sur la comete (1682) argued that morality is independent of religion.  Locke’s pleas for tolerance was the earliest systematic argument in its favor.  Repression and Force does not change a person or bring them to salvation in Christ.  Locke’s attack on the priority of man’s obligation to the Church or State became central in the 18th/19th/20th centuries’ concern for freedom independent of God’s grace and faith in Christ!

 

Locke’s theory of tolerance was inseparable from his view of freedom.  The battle took Locke’s view unabated into our postmodern concept of multicultural tolerance.

 

The outstanding exponent for greater tolerance in the 19th century was John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) who put fewer limitations on tolerance than did Locke.  He stated that only threat to another man’s liberty justified external interference.  (Compare Thomas and Alexander Campbell with Mill’s concept of tolerance).

 

 

Mills and Stephen’s Conflict Over Tolerance

 

Mill’s ablest critic was James Fitzjames Stephen.  His book, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity was written in reply to Mill’s essay on Liberty; he argued that intolerance was a necessary preservative of society.  The modern Liberal Sate was made possible precisely because society was able to discipline itself through unwritten laws (the Perceived View Paradigm).  These “self regulating laws” are completely repudiated in post modern neo tolerance.

 

Tolerance and The Rise of Totalitarian Governments

 

For democratic and freedom loving governments, the toleration of intolerance became an acute problem.  In 1936 the British government introduced a ban on political uniforms because of the disturbance caused by Oswald Mosley’s fascist movement and its black-shirted adherents, an attempt was made under Wilson’s Labour government in 1965 to proscribe acts of racial discrimination.  After World War II the USA was troubled by the difficulties of deciding how much toleration could be safely extended to Communists when several Communists proved to be Russian or Cuban agents and when all Communists seemed to have more pronounced loyalty to the Soviet Union than to the United States (eg. the McCarthy Era).

 

The positions of the Communists in 20th century America was thought to resemble that of the Roman Catholic Church in 17th century England and many Americans recalled Locke’s view that such persons had forfeited their rights to tolerance.  The developments from the 1940s/50s/60s’ counter culture to postmodern tolerance in the 1980s and 90s becomes crystal clear.  The argument both for and against political toleration in the 20th century cannot be said to have differed greatly from the debate concerning religious tolerance that exercised the minds of earlier generations.

 

When Tolerance Is No Virtue:  Tolerance and The Gospel

 

Post modern multiculturalism is the source of Tolerance as a Virtue.  “Before repairing the ruins of our society,” writes J.B. Cheeney, “Christians had better see to the crumbling walls of the Church and reestablish the mandate we were given here.  God is not here for us; we are here for him.”  (Cheeney, “But Can It Save?” World 20 (Sept. 1, 1997), p. 34)

 

The destructive doctrine of neo tolerance has invaded the Church as well.  What Satan could not by fire and famine, he is already achieving with the cooperation of Churches and Church goers themselves-the marginalization and subversion of The Church itself.  Consider the following statistics:  (1) 57% of Church’s youth do not believe that an objective standard of truth exists (Josh McDowell, et.al., Right From Wrong (Dallas, TX: Word, 1994), p. 85; George Barna, What American Believe: An Annual Survey of Values and Religious Views in the USA (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1991), p. 85).  (2) Almost as many Bible believing conservative Christian adults (53%) do not believe in “Absolute truth” (Barna, ibid.)  The great demise started with Descartes and Kant to post modern epistemology and hermeneutics (see my papers, “Whatever Happened to True Truth?”).

The Cost of Tolerance

 

Post modern tolerance corresponds to the disappearance of Ethical Theism:  This means that there are moral absolutes (eg. The American Declaration of Independence--“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”).  This is the way it was (Walter Cronkite; see David Wills, “No Place For Truth” (Eerdman, 1993, pp. 259-200).  There are identifiable characteristics of how the West/Christianity was best:  (1)  The Renaissance (1300-1600); The Enlightenment (ca 1600’s) (The Age of Reason) The Enlightenment (esp. represented by Voltaire and Descartes) was The Age of Reason and Deism. Their thought was that there was a God who created the world but left it to man’s reason to understand and manage it.  Standards of right and wrong were not based on the character of God; they were the products of human reasoning. (3)  The Industrial Revolution overlapped much of the Enlightenment Period extending from the 1700’s through the 1800’s.  It was an explosive period of human productivity and advancement.  The inventions, innovations and improvement of The Industrial Age fueled more than factory furnaces; they stoked the fires of human confidence.  The Age of Progress (Inevitable Progress was the thesis of the 19th century), that what men and women saw all around them encouraged them to look to themselves for hope and guidance.  Men no longer needed to look upward to God; he needed only to look inward to himself.  God as the source of Truth and Morality began to wain.  (The Wesleyan revival in England saved this period from a fate worse than the French Revolution.)  (4)  Darwinism:  “The furnaces of the Industrial Revolution still blazed hot when the theories of Charles Darwin, a former theology student, completed the seismic shift that the Renaissance had begun.  Darwin’s theories presented an alternative to a theistic understanding of origins.  God was no longer “needed” to explain or understand how the world and man came to be.”  (Josh McDowell, Right From Wrong Ibid, pp. 259-260)

 

Because of the developments in science and technology, man had become arrogant.  God was no longer necessary to explain either the origin or nature of the universe or man and his social institutions.  Modernism saw the world through the eyes of positivistic science.  Science alone produced True Truth and all other areas of endeavour were “relative.”  But modernism was replaced by post modernism! 

 

Narrative Displacement: Modernism and Postmodernism

 

Postmodernism:  “Between 1960 and 1990” writes Stanley J. Grenz, in his book, A Primer to Postmodernism, postmodernism emerged as a cultural phenomenon, spurred on in many respects by the advent of The Information Age.  Grenz suggests that if the factory is the symbol of The Industrial Age, which produced Modernism, the computer is the symbol of the Information Age, which parallels the spread of postmodernism (see my papers “Anti Science” “Revisionist History” “Terrorism of Truth” “Search for Truth in Cyber Space” “The Social Gospel in America”)

 

Postmodernism is a complex and contradictory movement.  Some of the characteristics are: (1) Truth does not exist in any objective sense; (2) Instead of decoding truth from a “meta narrative” which represents a unified way of looking at philosophy, religion, art, science, etc., postmodernism is characterized by “incredulity toward meta narrative.”  (Jean F. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition (University of Minnesota Press, 1984)  In other words, postmodernism objects to the idea that there exists any “grand story” that explains an individual local story or any universal truth by which to judge any single “truth.”  (3) Truth, whether in science, education or religion, is created by a specific culture or community and is “true” only in and for that culture.  (4)  Individual persons are products of their culture; individuality is an illusion and identity is constructed from cultural sources.  (5)  All thinking is a “social construct.”  That is, what you and I regard as “truths” are simply arbitrary beliefs we have been conditioned to accept by our society, just as others have been conditioned to accept a completely different set of beliefs.  (Edwin J. Delattre, “Diversity, Ethics and Education in America” Josephson Institution Enterprise, 4, no. 5 (Sept-Oct, 1998), pp. 48-51; this position is precisely Skinner’s “operant conditioning”; the essence of Outcome Based Education and Goals 2000)  (6) Since human beings must use language in order to think or communicate and words are arbitrary labels for things and ideas, there is no way, “to evaluate or criticize the ideas, facts or thoughts a language conveys.”  (Jon Leffel, “Our New Challenge, Postmodernism” The Death of Truth (Bethany House, 1996), pp. 35-40)  (7) Any system or statement that claims to be objectively true or unfavorably judges the values, beliefs, lifestyle and truth claims of another culture is a power play, an effort by one culture to dominate other cultures.  (Gene E. Veith, Postmodern Times (Crossway, 1994), p. 13; and Leffel, “Our Old Challenge: Modernism Ibid., p. 21)

 

Christians should be puzzled over why, when artist Andres Serranto exhibited a crucifix, a Christian symbol, suspended in a jug of his urine, it was not only tolerated but it was hailed as a work of art and funded by the National Endowment for The Arts !?  Or why City Hall of Jersey City, NJ can officially commemorate Ramadam, the Hindu new year, Greek Independence Day and Dominican Flag Raising Day, but according to the ACLU and a federal court of appeals, cannot display a manger scene at Christmas!?  Is this mere divergence and difference?  (Tony Snow, “Christmas in Public Is No Crime” The Cincinnati Enquirer 23 (Dec., 1997) and the Manhattan Theater Club play, “Corpus Christi” portrays Jesus as a promiscuous homosexual; there was a $80,000 grant given through the NEA.)

 

Also, why Christian employees who requested to start a prayer group were repeatedly stalled by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration when gay activist groups are not only allowed, but encouraged by the agency!  (Gary Bauer, (The Family Research Council) “Backers, Bombers and Bigots” Washington Watch 26 (March 1964), p. 4)  Does all this sound like postmodern tolerance?  This stance is clear--Christianity is a target of the neo tolerance.  “Who am I equals What I Do”  This equation represents a radical paradigm shift from classical to tolerance of alternative beliefs, behavior and lifestyle; a postmodernist believes that one belief and behavior system is equally as good as any other.

 

In a postmodern society, a society that regards all values, beliefs, lifestyles and truth claims as equally valuable, there can be only one universal virtue--Tolerance.  If tolerance is the cardinal virtue there can be only one evil--Intolerance.  This is, of course, narcissistic irrationalism.  Leslie Armour, a philosophy professor at the University of Ottawa, proposed, “our idea is that to be a virtuous citizen is to be one who tolerates everything except intolerance.”  (quoted by Bob Harvey, “Wanter, Old Fashioned Virtue” Montreal Gazette 19 (Feb. 1995).

 

This phenomenon is clearly affirmed in multicultural Outcome Based Education.  Dr. F.W. Hill, a school administrator, said “It is the mission of public schools not to tolerate intolerance.”  What?  (see esp. Stephen Bates, “Religious Diversity and The Schools” The American Enterprise 4, no. 5 (Sept/Oct., 1995), p. 19, and Esp. Paul Vogt, Tolerance and Education.)

 

What does intolerance mean?  According to the United Nations, “Declaration of Principle on Tolerance” -- “Tolerance. . .involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism.”  The member states of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization meeting in Paris at the 28th session of the General Conference from 25 October to November, 1995.

 

Postmodern Tolerance is dogmatic about dogmatism and so absolute in their opposition to absolutism!  This irrational view of tolerance is brilliantly critiqued by Ryszard Legutko.  He says in “The Trouble with Tolerance,” - “All those who cherish the value of diversity must perceive these even merely considering the subjectivity of the  pluralism of ideals to selection and hierarchical organization to be intolerant.”  (Legutko’s article in Partisan Review, p. 619)

 

Therefore, anyone who believes in True Truth is by definition guilty of intolerance.  Any negative evaluation of any belief/behavior system is a target for criticism by postmodern tolerance gurus. 

 

This is the reason the proponents of neo tolerance have no problem being intolerant toward Christians because the present problems for Tolerance are in four basic biblical areas:

 

(1) The truth claims of the scriptures (eg. Isaiah 65.16; Daniel 10.21) are considered too narrow and intolerant (see esp. Jay Sekulon and Keith Fourier, And Nothing But The Truth (Atlanta: Thomas Nelson, 1996, p. 44).

 

(2) Jesus, The Cross and Resurrection:  Jesus’ claims are an affront to postmodern tolerance.  Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14.6) (See my essay, “The Search for the Wrong Jesus” and “Jesus Under Fire”)  Such claims are intolerably narrow and exclusionary.  A 103 foot cross in a San Francisco park was determined to be unconstitutional and was slated for destruction.  The American Civil Liberties Union and The American Jewish Congress brought the case against the constructors of the cross.  A faithful groups purchase one third of an acre for $26,000 and saved the cross for public access!!  The cross represents the exclusive and intolerant claims of Jesus and such “intolerance” must be met with intolerance (eg. Bill Hybles removed the cross from the center of their auditorium because it was offensive.  I am sure it was and always will be!!).  

 

(3)  Sin:  This is another dimension of intolerance (eg. Freud’s reduction of sin to neurosis).  Jesus told his disciples, “the world. . .hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.” (John 7.7) and “all have sinned” (Romans 3.23)

 

The British Columbia College of Teachers (BCCT) passed a decree to deny accreditation to Trinity College of Teachers and force the Christian school’s education students to finish their degree at a secular institution.  Central to BCCT’s decision was one paragraph in TCT’s community students’ contract.  The contract requires students to refrain from various activities, including “involvement in the occult and sexual sin such as premarital sex, adultery or homosexual behavior.”  A self-declared lesbian (Annabelle Paxton) took exception to mentioning dishonoring of the occult and homosexual behavior in the same sentence.  The school’s position follows discriminatory practices which is contrary to public interest and public policy.  So because of this BCCT withheld accreditation for TCT.  (Faith Today (Sept/Oct 1996, p. 51)  Neo Tolerance is one of the greatest challenges of the Church in our postmodern multicultural epoc in the race toward the 21st century (eg. tolerance in light of Y2K).

 

James Strauss, Lincoln, IL 62656