Living in a pluralistic society such as ours, a keen spirit of tolerance is essential to ensure social harmony. In fact, our American republic is founded on the presumption of mutual tolerance, something we pride ourselves upon. Yet how easy it is through excess for human nature to turn a virtue into a vice. The philosopher Karl Popper shrewdly observed that unlimited tolerance eventually produces intolerance. Popper warned about pursuing tolerance to extremities, for when that happens the thing turns into its very opposite, and brings about a culture of intolerance.
This is what we are quite plainly seeing in our society today, rife with its “woke” cancel culture. There needs to be some natural limit to what people will tolerate because unchecked tolerance does not produce social peace and harmony. Instead it empowers the most intolerant factions to weaponize tolerance against the very same well-meaning individuals who are busy tolerating everything and everybody. For the intolerant, tolerance is always a one-way street, namely the obligation of you to tolerate whatever I may say, do, or think with no corresponding obligation on my part to be tolerant of your views.
A good example of this lopsided dynamic has been the infiltration of liberal democracies such as France by radical Islamists who have taken full advantage of the freedoms provided by that liberal democratic state to impose their very illiberal Shariah law upon certain neighborhoods around Paris and other large cities. And once control is seized by an intolerant minority any real semblance of toleration evaporates like the morning mist. In short, unlimited tolerance fails to provide a secure peace because it enables and shields the most intolerant factions to bully the more tolerant population into submission. Such feckless tolerance refuses to confront evil before it assumes tyrannical proportions. And any protest after the fact is too late, and too feeble, to restore the necessary balance.
Tolerance is a much needed virtue if we are all to live together, but only up to a point. Too much of a good thing, like too much sugar in your diet, will eventually begin to work as a slow poison, squeezing out any desire for healthy social relations, just as an excess of sugar erodes the body’s appetite for healthier foods.
In our own nation the ubiquitous “cancel culture” is another manifestation of growing intolerance. What in fact represents a descent into primitive tribalism is lauded by woke activists as their version of tolerance. Individuals are thereby routinely “cancelled” and de-platformed for not being “inclusive” enough to satisfy the self-appointed arbiters of “inclusiveness.” Again, unbridled tolerance does not engender real social harmony or any kind of true diversity or equality. Rather it encourages radicalism and the disruption of society because it permits the most radical ideas and behaviors to prevail. In the moral sense, it facilitates a race to the bottom.
This occurs when tolerance refuses to confront evil, or even to acknowledge it as such. In the end, granted such wide latitude, evil assumes tyrannical proportions. The classic truism of Edmund Burke that the only thing necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing (as in unlimited tolerance) addresses this paradoxical nature of tolerance. For tolerance has the uncanny ability to serve both good and evil ends. Removed from the context of Christian forbearance, tolerance will always be exploited by the most intolerant despot in the room. But within a Christian framework tolerance is well regulated through the exercise of the natural virtue of fortitude and the theological virtue of charity.
Unfortunately we are today witnessing a false sense of tolerance in the Church which does not distinguish between tolerating persons,which we must do, and tolerating evils which we must categorically reject. Love the sinner, yes, but do not neglect to correct his sin. The toleration of sin has too often become an act of pseudo-charity. As a pastor or as a parent, correction is one’s sacred responsibility. To lightly excuse evil in one’s given charge, whether intrinsic or deriving from a particular situation, is to cooperate with that evil. Unfortunately, this critical distinction between tolerance of the sinner while not tolerating the sin is being blurred at the highest levels of the Church. This sort of false tolerance is compounded by the widespread confusion and scandal it has caused, both among Catholic and non-Catholic persons.
For example, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the CDF (chief doctrinal watchdog of the Faith) warned that any U.S. bishop’s policy of refusing Communion to pro-abortion politicians could be a “source of discord” which unfairly targets “only one category of Catholics,” meaning public sinners who are willfully causing grave scandal while parading their “devout Catholicism.” Apart from holding virulently anti-Catholic positions, the cynical exploitation of a religion they pretend to respect ought itself to be grounds for refusing such politicians the Sacrament. Yet in his appeal for (faux) tolerance the cardinal goes even further and adopts the very language of pro-abortion advocates by repeatedly using the term “pro-choice” in reference to those championing the pre-natal dismemberment of innocent children! It seems as though the cardinal would provide protective cover for duplicitous politicians by preempting any local prelate foolish enough to “create a scene” by acting on his conscience. Hence, the only intolerable act would be a pastor’s refusal to administer a sacrilegious Communion. Truth and charity are thus neatly turned on their heads. (You don’t get promoted to be a high ranking cardinal for no reason!)
To further demonstrate its new-found spirit of “tolerance” the Vatican has gone all out by hosting a Unite to Prevent & Unite to Cure conference. Invited participants to this conference included the CEOs of Moderna and Pfizer (producer of chemical abortion pills), NIH director Francis Collins who approves the use of aborted fetal tissue for research, and apostate Catholic Anthony Fauci. Even rabid abortion apologist Chelsea Clinton was given a prominent platform to spout her own “tolerance” narrative about cracking down on internet anti-vaccine information. “I personally strongly believe there has to be more intensive and intentional and coordinated global regulation of the content on social media platforms,” wrote this 42 year old “expert.” Academic freedom be damned, or objective scientific inquiry for that matter. The infallible Clinton has spoken!
It’s not bad enough that all the so-called Covid vaccines are abortion tainted products, or that they represent a global guinea pig experiment for which nobody understands the potential long term outcomes. Yet Stephane Bancel, the CEO of Bill Gates’ Moderna, was presented with a Pontifical Hero Award to recognize his success in developing a (untested and experimental) vaccine for the Covid-19 coronavirus! Like the Hollywood Emmys, this smacks of mutual, self congratulatory admiration between Bancel and the Vatican since Moderna also just happened to be a major financial underwriter of the conference. Money it seems always helps to grease the wheels of “tolerance.”
The only antidotes to such overbearing and ultimately intolerant manifestations of “tolerance” are honesty and fortitude. Charity demands that we tolerate the sinner but certainly not the evil he is doing. Christ rebuked James and John when they proposed raining down fire on the unrepentant town. He also scolded the Pharisees in the harshest terms for their own corruption and evil intentions. Nor is “Go, and sin no more,” a recipe for blind tolerance.
Charity is not looking away from sin but opposing it squarely and unflinchingly. Love the sinner but hate the sin: yet the prevailing message of our age seems to be that evil must not only be tolerated but celebrated! And if you refuse you will be branded as the worst sort of bigot. Modernist sophists in the Church have reduced tolerance, and even charity, to meaningless abstractions ~ a kind of syrupy sentiment that is supposed to make one feel good about one’s refusal to confront what is objectively evil. But beware! When tolerance becomes a substitute for the truth then intolerance of the worst sort will inevitably replace it.
Francis J. Pierson +a.m.d.g.