I Took The Man Literally

"To hold a pen is to be at war."

I do.  I do take the man literally.  Having watched thousands of years' worth of men picking up pens and overthrowing and building up worlds with them, I do take Voltaire literally on this score, and I have to draw my quill from its sheath for a moment.

I read a single line on a social media network which made me pause.  The line was, simply, "Tolerance takes the place of convictions."  It rang odd in my mind but it sounded more plausible than not and, as my mind was occupied with other things at the moment, I let it slide.  But now that I think about it, the line is too simple - and, at the same time, the line is too dangerous.  I found I largely disagreed with it.  Allow me to explain my reasoning.

I believe the idea behind the saying is that, if we "tolerate" a position or paradigm we know to be wrong, though we don't actually say anything we will be tacitly understood as approving of that position.  And of course we don't want to be misunderstood.  We hold fast to our convictions.  As Christians, we don't want there to be any mistaking what line we hold and we want everyone to go away from us assured that we are in hard pursuit of holiness.  Let me be the first to say that such a conviction is admirable to the highest degree.  However, it is perfectly in our capacity to make our own position clear without being intolerant of the positions of others.  Believe me when I say I have watched the affects of "intolerance" on a human being: more often than not it only drives the offending party deeper and deeper into his paradigm, not out of it.

I have recently studied in brief a juxtaposition of the religious tolerance of England in the 1600s and the United States of the late 1800s to early 1900s.  The juxtaposition was very brief but very remarkable.  The tolerance of the 1600s (characteristic of the tolerance in the preceding centuries and many after it) was fairly nonexistent.  No matter the sect, no matter the denomination, when it made an outcry for freedom and tolerance, it could not bring itself to extend the same freedom and tolerance to anyone who chose to think differently.  The results stand out: the Spanish Inquisition, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day Eve, the Bishops' Wars, the Kappel War, to name only a very few.  In those days, differing opinions could not be tolerated.  Religious or civil (religious and civil, as in the case of, say, the Anabaptists), deviation from the official view was rigorously stamped out.  The history of Europe is a great study in how to be intolerant.  I do not believe this is a Christ-like mindset.

So what do I believe?  I believe that "tolerance" and "compromise" are not the same thing.  For the sake of civil peace and for the peace of men's souls I will, in most cases, advocate tolerance - but greatly for the sake of men's souls I will not advocate compromise.  On matters of our faith, "who are you to judge the servant of another?  To his own master he stands or falls; and stand. he. will. for the Lord is able to make him stand...  Every man must be convinced in his own mind."  Furthermore, I believe in the power of the work of the Holy Spirit, who works in us the righteousness of Christ and reveals to us in his own time in each of our cases his person and his will.  Thomas a Kempis most excellently said, "If one who is once or twice warned will not stay, contend not with him but commit all to God, that His will may be done and He, who well knows how to turn evil into good, may be honoured in all His servants."

What of the defects of those outside the believing body?  Well, do we live in a theocratic state, or are we citizens of the incoming Kingdom of Heaven living as aliens in a foreign country?  Those outside the Kingdom are yet operating under the old law, the law of sin, and cannot do otherwise.  If we were to be intolerant of them the death camps would pale in comparison.  For ourselves, we see as our example in Jesus a most excellent charity, never of compromise, but in as far as possible living at peace with all men, "encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near." 

3 ripostes:

  1. I appreciate the distinction you make between tolerance and charity. I am learning about this distinction as well and I find that tolerance is a tricky word. Tolerance cannot simply mean an open-mindedness to any and all comers, because the world is too full of polarizing conflict. Tolerance of one thing may automatically entail intolerance of the opposite thing, not by design but simply by default. As Wittaker Chambers once wrote: "In effect, the open mind is always closed at one end." (And yes, I read the book in which that statement was made!) I've run into far too many people intolerant of intolerance, who therefore defeat the purpose of their own open-mindedness. At the same time, as Christians we do have to realize that, "but for God's grace, there go I." That does not mean we have to accept sin, just that we can sympathize with the weakness (as Christ does) and point others to deliverance.

    To sum up, if we tolerate certain things, we would never attempt to change them, because tolerance implies that something is acceptable "as is." Oppositely, if we love truly, we want the best for others and DO attempt to facilitate change where change is necessary, for the good of the other person.

  2. Yaasha Moriah, I am sure I could write a whole post concerning the nature of the spread of the Gospel and the incoming Kingdom and the men who "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). By its very nature the Kingdom must impinge upon, overwhelm, and overthrow, the prince of the power of the air and his domain. We are assured of the Church, vanguard of the Kingdom, that "the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." We truly are at war and, as Jacob Marley said, our business is mankind. But it is a funny sort of war, a war against ideas ("How do you fight an idea? I'll tell you how: with another idea."), against an army unencumbered by physical frames, against the natural drive to sin against ourselves. Our business is to put to death ourselves, and, having done so, to live in so opposite a manner to our former selves that the world cannot help taking note and being offended. The business of this war is the plundering of the prince's storerooms and we are become as "stones of a crown, sparkling in His land."

    Tolerance does seem to imply things are acceptable "as is," but if that is what it seems like even when I don't mean it, I can't always help that. The human being is a very delicate instrument and only the Holy Spirit plays it with any skill. There is place for discipline, there is ample room for exhortation (what do you suppose I am doing now?), but at the end of the day, while you still hold your ground on your own convictions, I have found the quietude of constant charity far more healing than man's drive to "fix things" for the other person's good according to his own wisdom. "Those things that a man approves not in himself or others, he ought to suffer patiently, until God orders things otherwise." Of the Imitation of Christ. Let us never underestimate the discerning power of a godly charity.

  3. I see your point that we can't fix everything by our own puny power. That is God's work, and a heavy work it is. Furthermore, godly charity (as you call it) can be the erosive power of water that works the miracle better than a firm warrior's stance. Still, I see a balance. There is a time to break down and a time to build up. Some times call for gentleness and some times call for the turning over of tables. Only the Holy Spirit discerns the difference between the times and I think we do ourselves and our world a disservice if we tolerate (ha!) only one method and not the other. If there's one thing I've learned about God, it is that He balances duality exquisitely.