Worshipping at the Altar of Tolerance

As people more and more reject the notion of absolute truth and universal morality, they do not remain without belief. The religious sphere, like nature, abhors a vacuum, so people will always find something to take the place of the old verities. Thus today in the West the number one religion is that of “tolerance”.

All over the Western world people are turning in droves to this new religion. It is a most suitable religion in an age in which truth is jettisoned and fear of offending anyone becomes the primary concern. As Os Guinness wrote in 2005, “Ours then is a world in which ‘Thou shalt not judge’ has become the new eleventh commandment, and tolerance the last undisputed virtue.”

The speech given by Liberal frontbencher Joe Hockey last night is a classic example of the religion of tolerance. I do not mean to pick on Joe, because millions of other Westerners hold to equally silly and incoherent ideas. However, since his speech is getting so much media attention, it is worth looking at in a bit more detail.

I of course have already examined aspects of his speech here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2009/11/09/biblical-illiteracy-in-public-life/

But a fuller transcript of his talk is now available. And if anything, it makes Mr Hockey’s beliefs look even worse than when I wrote them up previously. While the speech is entitled “In Defence of God,” it really is no such thing. What it is in fact is a defence of the religion of tolerance.

It seems that every silly and nonsensical thing that has ever been said in favour of this religion can be found in his speech – and what we have is still only an edited version of his talk. I would hate to see the entire discourse. But consider this contender for politically correct paragraph of the year:

“Australia has embraced religious diversity. It must always remain so, and as a Member of Parliament I am a custodian of that principle of tolerance. That is why it is disturbing to hear people rail against Muslims and Jews, or Pentecostals and Catholics. Australia must continue, without fear, to embrace diversity of faith provided that those gods are loving, compassionate and just.”

Where can I begin? Bear in mind that he has just spent a page or two denouncing in the strongest of terms the harm caused by those who dare to take their religious Scriptures “literally” – whatever that means. He has just informed us all how bad it is to take religious texts in any sort of a literal sense.

How in the world can he then turn around and say “it is disturbing to hear people rail against Muslims and Jews, or Pentecostals and Catholics”? Does he not realise that this in fact is the very thing he has just done in his speech? He has just been railing against all four groups – and any other religious groups – for holding to a serious view of their Scriptures. Perhaps a majority of believers in these four groups do indeed take their holy books “literally”. Thus the very ‘tolerance’ that he pleads for is withheld from those with whom he disagrees. So much for tolerance.

His speech simply highlights the fact that we of course cannot really live in such a world of non-judgment and sheer tolerance. That is because neutrality is impossible, and no one goes a day without making numerous judgments. In fact, the very notion of tolerance presupposes the fact that you disagree with someone.

You do not tolerate someone that you fully agree with. You do not tolerate an idea you fully embrace. You can only tolerate something if you happen to disagree with it in the first place. That is the older and correct understanding of the word tolerance. It said, “I don’t agree with you, but I respect your right to argue your case”.

The new understanding of the term says this: you must fully agree with me, my ideas, my beliefs, my practices, my lifestyle, my ideology, etc, or you are being intolerant. That of course is not tolerance – that is coercion: ‘embrace me and my beliefs or else’.

But this warped understanding of tolerance is all the rage in modern secular societies. J. Budziszewski calls this religion of tolerance the “illiberal liberal religion”.  In his important new book, The Line Through the Heart (ISI, 2009), he explains why such “tolerance” must be intolerant and illiberal:

“Does liberalism live up to neutrality? The answer is no, because neutrality is logically impossible. It is not a bad idea; it fails to rise to the level of an idea. One must choose what to tolerate, what to accommodate, what to encourage – and choice, by its nature, is never neutral.”

He nicely demonstrates the complete nonsense of Joe Hockey’s statement quoted just above: “If you really believe that the meaning of tolerance is tolerating, then you ought to tolerate even intolerance. If you really believe that the best foundation for toleration is to avoid having strong convictions about good and evil, then you should not try to harbor the strong conviction that intolerance is bad.”

Mr Hockey clearly has some strong convictions about certain things, and he wants his listeners to share his convictions. And it is quite clear that he is very intolerant of those who disagree with his position. But this is all done under the guise of ‘tolerance’.

Evidently he does not see the glaring incoherence and inconsistency of his position. This is because his faith turns out to be little more than the modern, vacuous religion of ‘tolerance’. His beliefs fully encapsulate the spirit of the age, but bear little resemblance at all to historic Christian teachings.

He, like so many other trendy moderns, has completely ditched the notion of absolute truth, and with it, the laws of logic, and common sense. All he is left with is his mushy, sentimental concept of tolerance which has taken on the place of religious conviction.

Dorothy Sayers once well described such wishy-washy nonsense: “In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”

Or as GK Chesterton once put it, “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” Mr Hockey may hope that his religious embrace of tolerance will put him in good standing with the electorate. It may well, if the electorate no longer has any place for logic, truth, common sense, and hard thinking.

But for those of us who value such goods, the speech of Mr Hockey simply demonstrates what a downward spiral modern public life is on. It is not something to celebrate, but to weep over. It really means the death of a culture, and the embrace of nihilism, anarchy and irrationality.


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17 Replies to “Worshipping at the Altar of Tolerance”

  1. I agree Bill. This extract is even worse than the early reports suggested. I was struck by the similarity between some of Hockey’s statements and those of Obama especially where they talk about the Bible. A friend just told me that Hockey was supporting Obama during the Presidential election, had Obama posters up in his electoral office and even threw a party in his office to celebrate Obama’s election!

    And your guess was right, that Hockey was indeed referring to biblical creation when he claimed the Bible contained outdated and questionable facts. Again we see that when a person abandons belief in the Bible’s history that the whole package goes.

    Ewan McDonald.

  2. I think what Joe Hockey was trying to say that it is wrong to use religion to leverage hate and violence. However, in tolerating religious diversity, one may find themselves obliged to tolerate those who feel inclined to inflict hate and violence on others who entertain thoughts that are at variance with their own. I think it goes to show that the liberal left is forever in pursuit of utopian wishful thinking. It is more important to impose a fair moral order that clearly identifies acceptable rights, duties and actions. See: http://intergon.net/tsw/sustainableceos.pdf
    Lionel Boxer

  3. On the basis of my own reading and experience I agree with the gist of your essay. The ideal of tolerance is being debased by a form of double-talk. It’s a cover for a new form of conformity of which political correctness is the malodorous symptom. We are being given a whole new class of sacred cows that are not to be questioned. I do not see how this agenda will succeed in the age of the Internet. There’s an awful lot of questioning going on there.

    I got “The Line Through the Heart” in the mail last week and just finished it. Lots of ammunition in it. Quite easy to read too.

    John Snowden

  4. What amazed me was the part where he says that as a layman he struggles with the logic of applying the Bible literally and mourns the fact that when people do, it provides ammunition to the likes of Hitchens and Dawkins. His own subjective, non-literal inconsistent method of interpretation makes no logical sense; in fact, on the strength of his comments it is difficult to know what his position would be on any given issue. The idea that a literal interpretation of the Bible cannot be intellectually defended ignores the fact that Jesus applied the Old Testament literally, or, if Joe would prefer a less “outdated” example, he could check out Doug Wilson debating Hitchens in Collision.
    Steve Walker

  5. It would probably be helpful to differentiate different types of tolerance? Its one thing to take the view that other people are also entitled to their beliefs and views (whether political religious, social, etc). It would seem to be quite another thing to assign moral equivalence to all views. If people mean by tolerance the former perspective, then I am all in favour of it. If by tolerance they mean a wishy-washy moral equivalence, then that is something that ought to be fought against.
    Stephen Frost, Melbourne

  6. Thanks Steve

    Yes his entire speech is thoroughly riddled with contradictions, sloppy thinking and non-sequiturs. It is an ideal exercise in how not to write an article and how not to think straight.

    I could write several more articles just pointing out all this messy reasoning and rampant illogic. Consider just one example: He begins his speech by saying that faith in the West is in decline because of the “literal” reading Scripture (a concept which he leaves undefined). Yet later on he says “a number of fast-growing evangelical Christian churches in Australia take a literalist approach to the scriptures”.

    Sorry Joe, but you can’t have it both ways. It is exactly because these churches have a high view of Scripture and take it seriously that they are growing. Indeed, he goes on to say that “most leaders of the older churches have moved away from such a position”. Exactly, and that is why so many of the mainstream churches are dying.

    In fact whole books have been written documenting this very theme. Churches which embrace theological liberalism and a low view of Scripture are in decline everywhere, while churches with conservative theology and a strong view of Scripture are everywhere growing.

    But Mr Hockey evidently is not worried about such contradictions. As long as we are all tolerant – that is the main thing!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  7. Thanks Stephen

    Yes quite right, which is why I sought to distinguish between the old – and correct – notion of tolerance, and the new.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  8. Bill, said: “Does he not realise that this in fact is the very thing he has just done in his speech?”

    This is a perpetual source of frustration and amazement to me. They never seem to see their own internal irony and contradictions.

    The forces of ‘tolerance’ are shockingly intolerant and believe me, you will only be ‘equal’ if they like you.

    I suppose it comes down to the plank and speck.

    Stuart Mackay, UK

  9. Surely “tolerant” people are only tolerant of that which they believe in, and very intolerant of people beliving in what they find unacceptable. It depends on who holds the power; they can parade their “tolerance”, but just try seriously disagreeing with them, or exposing the hypocrisy (as it usually is) of their high ethics … Incidentally, Bill, do you have the full refence to that Chesterton quote?
    John Thomas, UK

  10. Joe’s philosophy bears alarming similarity to the teachings of the Freemasons, and like all Tolerantians, he’s tolerant of everything except Bible-believing Christianity, aka ‘Fundamentalism’.
    Bob Thomas, UK

  11. Sorry for being a bit opaque in my previous comment. Further to my URL for the hymn “I the Lord of Sea and Sky,” here is a document (pdf, small) which I created, listing verse references exclusively from the OT for each line/concept in the hymn: http://www.kepl.com.au/lord_sea_sky.pdf

    It shows how gracious and loving the “OT ogre” really is. It is in a form that can be easily downloaded and shown to “skeptical believers” 🙂

    John Angelico

  12. Joe Hockey is ‘very brave’ for someone who wishes others to one day say to him ‘yes, Prime Minister’. He is at the same time championing his honesty whilst leading with a ‘False Doctrine of tolerance’.
    Stan Fishley

  13. Since Joe Hockey comes from my part of the world – the Middle East – where people do take their holy books literally – it shows how acclimatised he has become to the religion of tolerance here in Australia. While seeking to appear fair-minded and reasonable, his assertion that ‘literal’ Christians are the reason for the decline of Christianity in the West is simply not correct. In fact, it is the opposite: the churches that have ditched the plain teaching of Scripture are shrinking while those who stay faithful to the text are holding their own or are growing.
    Kameel Majdali

  14. “…provided that those gods are loving, compassionate and just.”

    This phrase was alluded to but not directly commented upon as yet, I don’t think. It effectively says this:

    “I will be the arbiter of whether your definition of god fits my definition of a god I would like to tolerate belief in”

    Or in the negative, “if I don’t approve of your god I won’t tolerate you…”

    Could the view be any more insidious?

    Peter Grice, Think Christianity

  15. Thanks Peter

    Yes I certainly did notice that line as well, and also found it to be most troubling.

    How do we define “loving, compassionate and just”? And who determines this? Politically correct tolerance freaks like Joe?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  16. Dear Bill, Thankyou for your excellent article. You have dealt with Joe Hockey’s stance succinctly and accurately. Heaven help us if we ever have him as PM. He will be even more of a ditherer than the one we have. God Bless Always.
    Patricia Halligan

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