Saturday, June 24, 2017

Tolerance: The Utopia That Wasn’t

Recently, conservative commentator David French wrote in a National Review article titled "We’re Not in a Civil War, but We Are Drifting Toward Divorce," about the increasing polarization of our citizenry. According to Mr. French, our nation has seen a continuing trend, which has accelerated in the last 20 years, of people self-segregating into like-minded enclaves around the country. If you look, for example, at the now famous electoral map, you will understand what he means. The country is sharply divided between red and blue states, a fact that indicates not only what the politics of a particular region are, but also its general ideology.

According to Mr. French, whereas it used to be that communities would segregate generally along income and life style lines, it has become increasingly common for communities to be isolated based on their politics and ideology as well. The interesting fact about all this, however, is that income and life style are still the driving engines of this segregation, but ideology and politics now go hand in hand with the life style that a particular community has. Thus, the wealthier among us are generally liberal and irreligious, whereas the middle class and poor are primarily conservative and religious. Hence, the wealthier sections of the country, the east coast, Silicon Valley, the Pacific Northwest, are overwhelmingly liberal. On the other hand, the areas of the country that are considered poorer, the deep south and the central southern states, are much more conservative.

So what does all this mean? It is not surprising that people would seek to be among "friendlies." During the American Civil War, escaped slaves generally sought to travel north since that was the area of the country that was most amenable to the elimination of the slave trade. Although the north cannot be said to have been "free" territory for slaves in the absolute sense, it nevertheless was much freer than the south. If we look at religion, from the inception of the church, believers have sought to live together in communities, especially during times of severe persecution where the synergy that could be found in being together lent special support to their quest for holiness.

The question that needs to be asked, and which Mr. French brings to the fore, is whether this trend can be successfully arrested. I would go further and ask whether it is something that should be arrested. Is it a problem for a nation to be so fragmented? In general terms, yes. According to Mr. French, the solution to this conundrum does not lie in separating or "divorcing," but in learning to tolerate each other. And that is where the rub comes in. We have seen how certain segments of society have become increasingly bold in their insistence that the rest of society comport to its norms and to what it considers "right." Tolerance is one of those things that, unless it goes both ways, it will never solve anything.

But a greater issue is whether tolerance can be the balm that heals our wounds. The most important issue is not tolerance in itself, but the fact that unless you're willing to tolerate just about anything, it will be impossible to achieve the utopia that such tolerance promises. Take liberalism as one example. Liberals have gone about trying to recreate our country in their own image. In the name of tolerance, they have pushed for laws and judicial pronouncements that impose their particular view on the rest of the country. It is not enough that you "tolerate" homosexuality, you must affirm it. It is not enough that you have compassion for those who believe they are a sex other than what they in fact are, you must accommodate whatever perversion of common and decent norms they may want to engage in ("use whatever bathroom you feel you need to use"; "identify as whatever sex you feel on a particular day and participate in sports of the other sex"; and so it goes).

The bottom line in all this is that we, as believers in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, are and have been at war with the world since our conversion. It is impossible for us to accommodate or tolerate the world the way it wants to be accommodated and tolerated. We are called to be light (Matthew 5:14-16), but we cannot be lights, or at least effective ones, if we do not shine that light where it needs to be shined. It is impossible for the Christian to "live and let live" since we have been commanded to "go and teach all nations." (Matthew 28:19) That fact will invariably bring us into conflict with the powers of this world.

It may be that, in the not too distant future, the church will find itself waging a defensive battle unlike any other we have experienced in this country. Already there are some, such as particular professors at major universities, who are denied tenure or other benefits of employment unless they kowtow to the prevailing paradigm and affirm the social mores of the day. Others have been sued for refusing to compromise their religious beliefs in the face of perversion and sin. Although these, up to now, have been rather isolated incidents, the war against the church has always been a reality and the trend is not likely to improve, but rather become more difficult and challenging for those who sound the alarm.

Many will be the ones that will accuse us of fear mongering. But the time to sound the alarm is now, before society becomes so calloused and hardened that we find ourselves surprised and unprepared. And it is especially essential for us to teach our children the why's and the how's of the faith in order to arm them against the influences they are constantly coming face to face with in their interactions with society. It is them, more than likely, that will have to battle the real "hot" war against the powers of the darkness of this world (Ephesians 6:10-12). We have a responsibility to leave them a legacy of knowledge that will serve them well in their struggles (2 Peter 3:18). May God find us faithful and may He grant us the strength to overcome.



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