Against Tolerance and Broadmindedness
American pastor John Piper once wrote: “Relativism is a revolt against the objective reality of God. The sheer existence of God creates the possibility of truth. God is the ultimate and final standard for all claims to truth—who he is, what he wills, what he says is the external, objective standard for measuring all things. When relativism says that there is no standard of truth and falsehood that is valid for everyone, it speaks like an atheist. It commits treason against God.”
He got that right. But such treasonous actions are found not just in the world, at atheist conventions, or in secular universities. Increasingly, and most tragically, they are being found in our churches as well. Far too many Christians today live and act as if they were secular humanists.
They have simply soaked up all the nonsense from the surrounding culture, be it relativism, or political correctness, or the faulty notions of tolerance making the rounds. They sound just like pagans as they decry truth, wallow in moral relativism, and effectively deny their own Bibles.
They are as soft in the head as they are theologically mushy. They have lost the ability to discern, to spot truth from error, and to tell right from wrong. They are Christians in name only, holding to a worldview which any secular humanist would proudly cling to.
The rise of postmodernism and epistemological relativism has greatly contributed to this, as well as a dumbing down of the average Christian, who tends to be biblically illiterate. Many of these shallow believers simply imbibe of whatever trendy fashions the world is now offering.
In light of all this, someone just recently sent me a terrific essay by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen called “The Curse of Broadmindedness”. It comes from his book Moods and Truths (Garden City Publishing, 1932). It is hard to believe that it was actually penned so very long ago (80 years ago to be exact).
It is a sharp and prophetic rebuttal to the mushy thinking which surrounds us – and even surrounds the church. It is a perfect rejoinder to the postmodern nonsense we find so rampant today, even amongst believers. It is a clarion call for truth and certainty in times of falsehood and unbelief.
Obviously, writing as a Catholic, he has Catholics primarily in view here. But his comments can well apply to all Christians, and are certainly so very relevant in our modern truth-denying and tolerance-deifying times. Let me offer some large slabs of this very helpful essay to you.
He very rightly and tellingly speaks of “the intolerance of Divinity”. The unique claims of Christ were just as grating 2000 years ago as they are today. They seem so very intolerant and close-minded. And people seemed to dislike notions of absolute truth back then as much as they do now. Says Sheen:
“It is the claim to uniqueness that brought the blow of the soldier against Christ, and it is the claim to uniqueness that brings the blow of the world’s disapproval against the Church. It is well to remember that there was one thing in the life of Christ that brought His death, and that was the intolerance of His claim to be Divine. He was tolerant about where He slept; and what He ate; He was tolerant about shortcomings of His fish-smelling apostles; He was tolerant of those who nailed Him to the Cross, but He was absolutely intolerant about His claim to be Divine. There was not much tolerance about His statement that those who I receive not in Him shall be condemned. There was not much tolerance about His statement that any one who would prefer his own father or mother to Him was not worthy of being His disciple. There was not much tolerance of the world’s opinion in giving His blessing to those whom the world would hate and revile. Tolerance to His Mind was not always good, nor was intolerance always evil.
“There is no other subject on which the average mind is so much confused as the subject of tolerance and intolerance. Tolerance is always supposed to be desirable because it is taken to be synonymous with broadmindedness. Intolerance is always supposed to be undesirable, because it is taken to be synonymous with narrow-mindedness. This is not true, for tolerance and intolerance apply to two totally different things. Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to principles. Intolerance applies only to principles, but never to persons. We must be tolerant to persons because they are human; we must be intolerant about principles because they are divine. We must be tolerant to the erring, because ignorance may have led them astray; but we must be intolerant to the error, because Truth is not our making, but God’s. And hence the Church in her history, due reparation made, has always welcomed the heretic back into the treasury of her souls, but never his heresy into the treasury of her wisdom.”
He continues: “Such indifference to the oneness of truth is at the root of all the assumptions so current in present-day thinking that religion is an open question, like the tariff, whereas science is a closed question, like the multiplication table. It is behind that queer kind of broadmindedness which teaches that any one may tell us about God, though it would never admit that any one but a scientist should tell us about an atom. It has inspired the idea that we should be broad enough to publish our sins to any psychoanalyst living in a glass house, but never so narrow as to tell them to a priest in a confessional box. It has created the general impression that any individual opinion about religion is right, and it has disposed modern minds to accept its religion dished up in the form of articles entitled: ‘My Idea of Religion,’ written by any nondescript from a Hollywood movie star to the chief cook of the Ritz-Carlton.
“This kind of broadmindedness which sacrifices principles to whims, dissolves entities into environment, and reduces truth to opinion, is an unmistakable sign of the decay of the logical faculty.” Exactly right. The truth is, a lot of open minds need to be closed for repairs. He goes on:
“The remedy for this broadmindedness is intolerance, not intolerance of persons, for of them we must be tolerant regardless of views they may hold, but intolerance of principles. A bridge builder must be intolerant about the foundations of his bridge; the gardener must be intolerant about weeds in his gardens; the property owner must be intolerant about his claims to property; the soldier must be intolerant about his country, as against that of the enemy, and he who is broadminded on the battlefield is a coward and a traitor. The doctor must be intolerant about disease in his patients, and the professor must be intolerant about error in his pupils. So, too, the Church, founded on the Intolerance of Divinity, must be equally intolerant about the truths commissioned to her. There are to be no one-fisted battles, no half-drawn swords, no divided loves, no equalizing Christ and Buddha in a broad sweep of sophomoric tolerance or broad-mindedness, for as Our Blessed Lord has put it: ‘He that is not with Me is against Me’.”
He concludes, “The world may charge the Church with intolerance, and the world is right. The Church is intolerant-intolerant about Truth, intolerant about principles, intolerant about Divinity, just as Our Blessed Lord was intolerant about His Divinity. The other religions may change their principles, and they do change them, because their principles are man-made. The Church cannot change, because her principles are God-made. Religion is not a sure of beliefs that we would like, but the sum of beliefs God has given. The world may disagree with the Church, but the world knows very definitely with what it is disagreeing. In the future as in the past, the Church will be intolerant about the sanctity of marriage, for what God has joined together no man shall put asunder; she will be intolerant about her creed, and be ready to die for it, for she fears not those who kill the body, but rather those who have the power to cast body and soul into hell.”
Wow, you don’t hear much writing like this anymore – and this was penned eight decades ago! Where are those who will stand for truth today, and ignore with disdain the passing fads and trendy worldviews of the day? It will be costly of course, because standing with conviction in an age of mental and moral mush is going to be quite unpopular.
And Christians can also expect to be criticised big time by others who claim to be Christians as well. We will be slammed by both the world and by worldly Christians. As Tozer once put it, “The most fervent devotees of tolerance are invariably intolerant of everyone who speaks about God with certainty.”
But speaking about God with certainty is exactly what we are called to do.