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The irrational intolerant tolerance of our age

24 January 2015

This morning two wildly contradictory headlines in my Twitter digest jumped out at me:

The Big Read: Let us put our faith in tolerance – Times LIVE

and then there was this:

Thursdays in Black: zero tolerance for violence against women — World Council of Churches

The contradiction is symbolised by all the cars one sees driving down the highways at top speed with hazard lights flashing, to let everyone know that they are about to turn left and right at the same time.

Tolerance: zero tolerance.

He loves me: he loves me not.

hazard-warning-flasherIt’s like all those suppressors of freedom of speech marching for freedom of expression in the streets of Paris a fortnight ago.

Actually, though I disagree with the headline Let us put our faith in tolerance, I largely agree with the content of the article, and I think it is well worth reading.

I just think it’s a pity that such a lot of contradictory nonsense is spoken about “tolerance”, where people speak of tolerance as if it were the supreme virtue, and then think they are saying something admirable when they announce “zero tolerance” policies.

A friend of mine posted a Sufi saying on Facebook:

Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?

To judge from some of the comments I received on my Je ne suis pas Charlie post, those admonitions would go down like a lead balloon in French culture. But then Sufis are Muslims, are they not?

So I can tolerate the publishers of Charlie Hebdo saying nasty things about other people, even if I disagree with them, but it seems that some people have zero tolerance for disagree3ment with the likes of Charlie Hebdo

And I still think the best word about tolerance was spoken by Father Thomas Hopko/ It lies somewhere between the idolatry of “putting our faith in” tolerance, and the outright rejection implied in “zero-tolerance” policies:

Tolerance is always in order when it means that we coexist peacefully with people whose ideas and manners differ from our own, even when to do so is to risk the impression that truth is relative and all customs and mores are equally acceptable (as happens in North America).

Tolerance is never in order when it means that we remain idle before wickedness which harms human beings and destroys God’s creation.

To be tolerant is to be neither indifferent nor relativistic. Neither is it to sanction injustice or to be permissive of evil. Injustice is intolerable and evil has no rights. But the only weapons which Christians may use against injustice and evil are personal persuasion and political legislation, both of which are to be enacted in an atmosphere of respect. While Christians are permitted under certain conditions to participate in police and military actions to enforce civil laws and to oppose criminality, we may not obey evil laws nor resort to evil actions in defence of the good. This means that Christians are inevitably called to suffer in this age, and perhaps even to die. This is our gospel, our witness and our defence/

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