Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Truth or 'Tolerance'

Things have a way of coming up through odd sets of linked circumstances on the internet.

The other day, I found us to have been linked to as a "angry neo-Cath" reaction to Fr. McBrien's column on conversion by a 'progressive theologian' by the name of Fr. Joseph O'Leary. In reading around this fellow's site, I found an interestingly angry reaction to the motu proprio, and among the good father's many objections to such was the fear that the use of the classical use on Good Friday would result in offense to Jews (since we know that a great number of our spiritual forebears always show up to Tridentine Good Friday services...?) because of the following intention which is present in that liturgy (though of course, in the Tridentine liturgy it's in Latin):
"For the conversion of the Jews. Let us pray also for the Jews that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ.

"Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, You do not refuse Your mercy even to the Jews; hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of Your truth, which is Christ, and be delivered from their darkness."
Keep in mind, the Jews are hardly singled out. After working through the various states of life within the Catholic Church, the Good Friday intentions mention Protestants (and pray for their return to the Church), those who do not believe in Christ, and those who do not believe in God. (In the new rite, at any rate. I've never been to a Tridentine Good Friday service, and my chances are probably low of ever doing so.) By the end, we've prayed for everyone on earth, and that all of them who are not currently in the Church will some day be so.

The issue of the Tridentine Good Friday liturgy is more of an inciting incident; what interests me here is the different meanings that people assign to the phrase "religious tolerance".

What I would tend to think of as the "liberal" approach focuses on minimizing (or not mentioning) any differences between religions, and emphasizing that all religions can serve as paths to salvation. This approach was very much in evidence in Fr. McBrien's column mentioned above, in which he basically says there's no good reason (other than family ties) to convert to Catholicism from another religious tradition.

The problem with this approach is that it seems to de-emphasize the importance of the truths involved. In an effort to help everyone get along and avoid causing offense, it devalues everyone's beliefs equally to the point where beliefs hardly matter. It seems not so much a matter of "tolerance" as "indifference".

But then, what exactly should "tolerance" consist of? We're often told these days that tolerance is a virtue. But what is it? If I were to say, "I differ from my sister's taste in musicals, but I tolerate it," that seems to suggest that although I see her taste in musicals as foolish and wrong-headed, I'm going to at least refrain from forcing her to change her views. Wow. Some virtue.

Often, when people use the word "tolerance" they seem to actually mean "affirmation". In this usage, "tolerating" my sister's taste in musicals would mean celebrating the fact that she enjoys Les Miserables (which I don't).

When we move on from taste in musicals to something important such as deeply held religious beliefs, the deficiencies of either "tolerance" or "affirmation" seem to become greater. Tolerating the beliefs of my Hindu co-workers hardly seems much of a virtue. Not only am I not in a position to do otherwise than allow them to be Hindu, but for me to do something other than "tolerate" (in the word's definitional sense) their Hinduism would be to violate their free will, and thus destroy the worth of any "faith" that I might force them into instead. At yet, at the same time, if I take seriously the idea that there is such a thing as truth and that religion touches on issues of truth, I can hardly affirm them in their Hinduism, since if I want them to believe the truth (a good that we should wish for all people) and I believe Hinduism not to be true, then I must clearly wish that they cease to be Hindu.

The genuine good which I think many people are seeking to get at under the label of "tolerance" is actually respect: respecting others based both on their worth as a person and also respecting their beliefs to the extent that (even if you believe those beliefs are in fact false) they are arrived at honestly and lived up to earnestly. In this sense, one can and should at the same time hope that someone of another faith will at some point in the future change his beliefs, and yet at the same time (assuming that he holds and lives up to those beliefs honestly) respect him for holding the beliefs that he does.

Which is why a prayer by Catholics for the conversion of the Jews (or a prayer by Jews for the conversion of Catholics) should not give offense in the context of a true respect for both the truth and the beliefs of others.

UPDATE: Scott Carson has some wise additional thoughts on the same topic over at Examined Life.


rhinemouse said...

You don't like Les Mis? Die, heretic scum!

Tim said...

The one good thing to be said for Les Miserables is that it lived up to its name. If such truth in advertising were used on Broadway more often I'm pretty sure The Phantom of the Opera and Cats would have had quite different titles.

And not to think I didn't read the post, I agree and thank you for the language (affirmation, respect) with which to talk about this issue.