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Tolerance is not a virtue March 16, 2010

Posted by Tantumblogo in General Catholic, Society.

I haven’t opined much on the ongoing situation in Colorado, where a kindergartner was not allowed to re-enroll in Catholic school due to the child’s parents living a lifestyle which is counter to the Catholic faith.   This has become a very unpleasant imbroglio.  The usual sorts, the professional protestors, are of course up in arms, decrying the Church and viciously attacking the pastor.  But even many Catholics are upset about this, and feel that the pastor acted inappropriately in his prudential judgement. 

Alot of these folks hang their argument on the idea of tolerance.  They believe that Jesus was ‘tolerant,’ and thus we should must be, too.  Dr. Jeff Mirus, at Catholic Culture, argues otherwise:

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. In other words, it may or may not be the best course to admit the student despite his irregular “family situation”, but the solution must be determined by an examination of all the goods at stake in the context of the specific range of available options. It cannot be determined by proclaiming tolerance a virtue in and of itself.

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.

I certainly agree that ‘tolerance’ is not a virtue.  There are many in the Church today who wrongly interpret Jesus’ exhortation to love one’s neighbor as a call to accept any action on another’s part.  This is nothing more than license, and license is the pathway to sin and cutting oneself off from the graces available through the Church.   Pope Benedict’s recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate – Charity in Truth, reminds us with its very title that the virtue of charity, of love, must be grounded in the Truth Christ proclaimed.  Jesus did not accept everyone as is – he accepted those who begged forgiveness for their sins, often with the stern admonition that they sin no more (as in today’s Gospel – John 5:1-16). 

Too often we hear voices in the Church calling for us to ‘accept’ everyone.  This is not correct, as acceptance of sin is a sin in and of itself.  We do need to love those who sin and not judge them in terms of the state of their salvation, but we can definitely assert that they are not living according to the doctrine of the Faith.  In fact, we must do so, as we are all called to live and act according to the Truth of the Faith, and to help bring others to that Truth.


1. WalkingWithChrist - March 16, 2010

My favorite teaching by Jesus is when the rich man came to Jesus saying he was living as Jesus taught, and the man asked what else he had to do…Jesus responded ‘go and sell everything’. The man would not and left. Jesus did NOT chase after him; he did not say ‘oh, I love you anyways’, he let him leave.

The Church teaching is that the gay lifestyle is a sin, therefore the child CANNOT be accepted – the parents aren’t trying to live according to the teaching of the Church and raise the child in the Faith.

I’m glad this sort of thing is coming to light, love does not mean that anything is acceptable. Love means to do what is right, and encourage it in others. I LOVE my children; therefore, they are not allowed to have all the candy they want, determine their own bed time, and such. We try teaching them what is good for their bodies and for their souls, and having/allowing consequences when they make wrong choices – that is LOVE.

I believe society has tried to change the definition of ‘LOVE’. Too bad for them they can’t rewrite the actions of Jesus in the bible.

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