Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Against Tolerance and Broadmindedness

May 23, 2012

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.;wap2

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19 Responses to Against Tolerance and Broadmindedness

  • J.Gresham Machen’s “Christianity and Liberalism”, written around the same period about similar issues, is well worth reading, too.
    Mick Balder

  • Thanks Mick. Yes his 1923 volume is a great book which I often refer to, as in here:

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • “Tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society. When an immoral society has blatantly and proudly violated all the commandments, it insists upon one last virtue, tolerance for its immorality. It will not tolerate condemnation of its perversions. It creates a whole new world in which only the intolerant critic of intolerable evil is evil.”
    -Hutton Gibson, Father of Mel Gibson

    “It is not the evil itself which is horrifying about our times — it is the way we not only tolerate evil, but have made a cult of positively worshipping weakness, depravity, rottenness and evil itself.”
    -George Lincoln Rockwell

    Julian Coelho

  • Thanks Julian – good quotes those.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • And here’s another worthwhile quote:

    “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.” [Dorothy L. Sayers]

    Murray R Adamthwaite

  • Romans 12:2. “And be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind proving the good acceptable and perfect will of God”

    And how often has God rewarded such faithfulness and courage with His deliverance, showing thereby not only His Mercy and goodness, but also the strength of His arm?
    Do we trust Him enough to stand firm like the 3 young men, friends of Daniel who were thrown into the furnace due to their stand but they were not alone. We are not called to open our minds, but have our minds transformed by the plumbline of God’s word.

    If we learn anything from history, we must know that we dare not bow down and conform to the world, for history has shown time and time again that exactly that action had led to the captivity of the church and to tyranny. Esther chapter 4, Mordecai hits the hammer on the nail; “think not with thyself that though shalt escape in the kings house more than all the Jews, for if thou altogether hold thy peace at this time, then shall their enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place. But thou and thy fathers house shall be destroyed. And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this”. It was this response that prompted Esther to do what she did and what she is most famous for.
    Paul also says in one of his epistles to make the trumpet call a clear trumpet call, so the soldier knows he has been called to war.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • Thanks Murray

    Yes that is one of my favourites – one which I am so often willing to run with. Some quotes just do not wear out their welcome, even with constant repetition.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Quite so Ursula.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Relativists try to say that there are no absolutes.
    To which you can reply “Are you absolutely sure about that?”
    John Bennett

  • It’s good to read your quotes from Bishop Fulton Sheen.
    I remember reading one of his books in the fifties, and he was bigtime on US Television. He was the popular face of religion, yet had such important things to say.
    I can see why you treasure his thoughts on tolerance and intolerance
    Des Connors

  • Apologies for referring to works you have already referred to, Bill. I am still a newbie to your site!! 🙂

    Mick Balder

  • Hey no probs Mick. Great minds think alike, and it is good to be reminded of good books!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dear Bill,

    This article brings so much clarity to the issue of tolerance! Well done, and well researched and presented here. We’re to be tolerant of people, but intolerant about truth and principles – brilliant!

    And too right about the church standing up – each and every one of us that calls Jesus “Lord”- and declaring GOD’S truth – it is not our own to change and twist and modify to make it more acceptable to our culture.

    I always enjoy reading what you present. Keep up the wonderful work.

    David Sampson

  • Many thanks indeed David

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill, many thanks for this article, it definitely brings clarity to the issue of tolerance as already expressed by David, and as a Family Therapy student, it helps by clarifying the two (tolerance and intolerance) giving me a greater understanding of how they can be applied in therapy, tolerant of people, but questioning/challenging of their views.

    Is the good Bishop’s book still available?

    Fred Merlo

  • Probably in second-hand book shops Fred.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The television talks by Bishop Fulton Sheen are currently being replayed on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network).

    We have installed the dish which picks up many Christian TV networks, not just EWTN.

    Madge Fahy

  • Dear Bill, Pope Benedict calls your concerns “The Dictatorship of relativity”. Different definitions, same concerns.
    Regards, Franklin Wood

  • I think this is what it means to take the Lord’s name in vain, that is to call yourself Christian and be far from it. Christians are followers of Christ yet some just take on the form of Godliness but deny His power. Sadly.
    Greg Sadler

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