Tolerance: What Would Jesus Do?

I have been ridiculously busy lately and haven’t posted anything in ages but I ran across this amazing post today and I wanted to recommend it and link to it and share the last few paragraphs here.

Basically it is a case study in the practice of tolerance.  In modern society tolerance is held as the highest virtue and anyone who attempts to make moral judgments is accused of being an intolerant bigot.   If we do not understand the proper place that tolerance holds we cannot counter these accusations.  I urge you to read the full text of “On Prudence and the Tyranny of Tolerance: A Case Study” or at least read a short excerpt below.

The idea of tolerance is often invoked, and in many different situations, as the guiding principle which trumps all others. In fact, tolerance is typically introduced as the only possible answer to the question of how Jesus would have acted in any given situation. It is the classic rhetorical WWJD response. But it seems to me that this notion must be discredited before it does any further damage to authentic human culture, and so I feel compelled to raise two critical points.

The first point is that Jesus was not tolerant. He was quick to forgive whenever forgiveness was sought, which is a very different thing. But he was formidably intolerant of unrepentant sinners, of those who refused to change in response to the proclamation of the Kingdom. The New Testament repeatedly reinforces this intolerance of the unrepentant, in both the gospels and the epistles. Indeed, if a public sinner will not change at the behest of the Church, he is to be avoided and excluded as a “heathen or a publican”.

The second point, as may be easily imagined from the fact that Jesus did not practice tolerance, is that tolerance is not a virtue. Patience is a virtue. Courage is a virtue. Faith, hope and love are preeminent, supernatural virtues. But tolerance is merely a good or bad prudential decision, based on circumstances. There can be no appeal to tolerance as to a general principle of right order. The only possible question is whether, with respect to any particular difference, tolerance or intolerance is the course most conducive to the common good, that is, to the well-being of the whole community. …

Where tolerance is deemed a virtue rather than a prudential decision, it is not only impossible to build a virtuous society, it is impossible to build any kind of cohesive society whatsoever. This is so because universal tolerance means the acceptance (and therefore tacit approval) of all behaviors, irrespective of their impact on the common good and on human flourishing. To put the matter simply, tolerance perceived as a virtue always rewards vice. Thus, while I began this discussion with the the purpose of elucidating the way complex prudential questions should be resolved, along with the perfectly legitimate differences of opinion which can result, I close it almost gratefully with the proclamation of an inflexible principle: The invocation of tolerance as a virtue will always undermine prudence, the real and necessary virtue that enables us to match proper solutions to particular problems.

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