A PLEA FOR INTOLERANCE
by Venerable Fulton J. Sheen
America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance. It is not. It is suffering from tolerance: tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so much overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broadminded.
The man who can make up his mind in an orderly way, as a man might make up his bed, is called a bigot; but a man who cannot make up his mind, any more than he can make up for lost time, is called tolerant and broadminded.
A bigoted man is one who refuses to accept a reason for anything; a broadminded man is one who will accept anything for a reason—providing it is not a good reason. It is true that there is a demand for precision, exactness, and definiteness, but it is only for precision in scientific measurement, not in logic.
The breakdown that has produced this unnatural broadmindedness is mental, not moral.
The evidence for this statement is threefold:
the tendency to settle issues not by arguments but by words,
the unqualified willingness to accept the authority of anyone on the subject of religion, and,
lastly, the love of novelty.
Voltaire boasted that if he could find but ten wicked words a day he could crush the “infamy” of Christianity. He found the ten words daily, and even a daily dozen, but he never found an argument, and so the words went the way of all words and the thing, Christianity, survived. Today, no one advances even a poor argument to prove that there is no God, but they are legion who think they have sealed up the heavens when they used the word “anthropomorphism.” This word is just a sample of the catalogue of names which serve as the excuse for those who are too lazy to think. One moment’s reflection would tell them that one can no more get rid of God by calling Him “anthropomorphic” than he can get rid of a sore throat by calling it “streptococci.” As regards the use of the term “anthropomorphism,” I cannot see that its use in theology is less justified than the use in physics of the term “organism,” which the new physicists are so fond of employing.
Not only does the substitution of words for argument betray the existence of this false tolerance, but also the readiness of many minds to accept as an authority in any field an individual who becomes a famous authority in one particular field.
Another evidence of the breakdown of reason that has produced this weird fungus of broad‐mindedness is the passion for novelty, as opposed to the love of truth.
Belief in the moral law are considered passing fashions. The latest thing in this new tolerance is considered the true thing, as if truth were a fashion, like the hat, instead of an institution, like a head.
At the present moment, in psychology the fashion runs towards Behaviorism, as in philosophy it runs towards Temporalism. And that it is not objective validity which dictates the success of a modern philosophical theory, is borne out by the statement a celebrated space‐time philosopher of England made to the writer a few years ago, when he was asked where he got his system. ʺFrom my imagination,ʺ he answered. Upon being challenged that the imagination was not the proper faculty for a philosopher to use, he retorted: ʺIt is, if the success of your philosophical system depends not on the truth that is in it, but on its novelty.ʺ
In that statement is the final argument for modern broad‐mindedness: truth is novelty, and hence ʺtruthʺ changes with the passing fancies of the moment.
Truth does grow, but it grows homogeneously, like an acorn into an oak; it does not swing in the breeze, like a weathercock.
The nature of certain things is fixed, and none more so than the nature of truth. Truth maybe contradicted a thousand times, but that only proves that it is strong enough to survive a thousand assaults.
But for any one to say, ʺSome say this, some say that, therefore there is no truth,ʺ is about as logical as it would have been for Columbus, who heard some say, ʺThe earth is round,ʺ and other say, ʺThe earth is flat,ʺ to conclude: ʺTherefore there is no earth at all.ʺ
The giggling giddiness of novelty, the sentimental restlessness of a mind unhinged, and the unnatural fear of a good dose of hard thinking, all conjoin to produce a group of sophomoric latitudinarians who think there is no difference between God as Cause and God as a ʺmental projectionʺ; who equate Christ and Buddha, St. Paul and John Dewey, and then enlarge their broad‐mindedness into a sweeping synthesis that says not only that one Christian sect is just as good as another, but even that one world‐religion is just as good as another.
The great god ʺProgressʺ is then enthroned on the altars of fashion, and as the hectic worshipers are asked, ʺProgress towards what?ʺ The tolerant answer comes back, ʺMore progress.ʺ
All the while sane men are wondering how there can be progress without direction and how there can be direction without a fixed point. And because they speak of a ʺfixed point,ʺ they are said to be behind the times, when really they are beyond the times mentally and spiritually.
In the face of this false broad‐mindedness, what the world needs is intolerance. The mass of people have kept up hard and fast distinctions between dollars and cents, battleships and cruisers, ʺYou owe meʺ and ʺI owe you,ʺ but they seem to have lost entirely the faculty of distinguishing between the good and the bad, the right and the wrong.
The best indication of this is the frequent misuse of the terms ʺtoleranceʺ and ʺintolerance.ʺ
There are some minds that believe that intolerance is always wrong, because they make ʺintoleranceʺ mean hate, narrow‐ mindedness, and bigotry. These same minds believe that tolerance is always right because, for them, it means charity, broad‐mindedness, American good nature. ‐‐‐
What is tolerance?
Tolerance is an attitude of reasoned patience towards evil, and a forbearance that restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment. But what is more important than the definition is the field of its application.
The important point here is this: Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to truth. Intolerance applies only to truth, but never to persons. Tolerance applies to the erring; intolerance to the error.
What has just been said here will clarify that which was said at the beginning of this chapter, namely, that America is suffering not so much from intolerance, which is bigotry, as it is from tolerance, which is indifference to truth and error, and a philosophical nonchalance that has been interpreted as broad‐mindedness.
Greater tolerance, of course, is desirable, for there can never be too much charity shown to persons who differ with us.
Charity, then, must be shown to persons, and particularly to those outside the fold who by charity must be led back, that there may be one fold and one Shepherd. Thus far tolerance, but no farther. Tolerance does not apply to truth or principles. About these things we must be intolerant, and for this kind of intolerance, so much needed to rouse us from sentimental gush,
I make a plea.
Intolerance of this kind is the foundation of all stability. The government must be intolerant about malicious propaganda, and during the World War it made an index of forbidden books to defend national stability, as the Church, who is in constant warfare with error, made her index of forbidden books to defend the permanency of Christʹs life in the souls of men.
The government during the war was intolerant about the national heretics who refused to accept her principles concerning the necessity of democratic institutions, and took physical means to enforce such principles.
The soldiers who went to war were intolerant about the principles they were fighting for, in the same way that a gardener must be intolerant about the weeds that grow in his garden.
The Supreme Court of the United States is intolerant about any private interpretation of the first principle of the Constitution that every man is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the particular citizen who would interpret ʺlibertyʺ in even such a small way as meaning the privilege to ʺgoʺ on a red traffic‐light, would find himself very soon in a cell where there were no lights, not even the yellow — the color of the timid souls who know not whether to stop or go.
And if we admit intolerance about the foundations of a government that at best looks after manʹs body, why not admit intolerance about the foundations of a government that looks after the eternal destiny of the spirit of man?
On all sides we hear it said today, ʺThe modern world wants a religion without dogmas,ʺ which betrays how little thinking goes with that label, for he who says he wants a religion without dogmas is stating a dogma, and a dogma that is harder to justify than many dogmas of faith.
A dogma is a true thought, and a religion without dogmas is a religion without thought, or a back without a backbone.
All sciences have dogmas. ʺWashington is the capital of the United Statesʺ is a dogma of geography. ʺWater is composed of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygenʺ is a dogma of chemistry. Should we be broad‐minded and say that Washington is a sea in Switzerland? Should we be broad‐minded and say that H2O is a symbol for sulfuric acid?
We cannot verify all the dogmas of science, history, and literature, and therefore we are to take many of them on the testimony of others. I believe Professor Eddington, for example, when he tells me that ʺEinsteinʹs law of gravitation asserts that ten principal coefficients of curvature are zero in empty space,ʺ just as I do not believe Dr. Harry Elmer Barnes when he tells me that ʺthe cockroach has lived substantially unchanged on the earth for fifty million years.ʺ I accept Dr. Eddingtonʹs testimony because, by his learning and his published works, he has proved that he knows something about Einstein. I do not accept Dr. Barnesʹs testimony about cockroaches because he has never qualified in the eyes of the modern world as a cockroach specialist. In other words, I sift testimony and accept it on reason.
I then accept these truths — truths which I cannot prove, as was Professor Eddingtonʹs statement about Einstein — and these truths become dogmas. There can thus be dogmas of religion as well as dogmas of science, and both of them can be revealed, the one by God, the other by man. Not only that — these fundamental dogmas, like the first principles [elements] of Euclid, can be used as raw material for thinking, and just as one scientific fact can be used as the basis of another, so one dogma can be used as the basis for another. But in order to begin thinking on a first dogma, one must be identified with it either in time or in principle.
The truth is divine; the heretic is human.
Right is right if nobody is right, and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong.
- Entire article here: http://www.northamericanmartyrs.org/pdf/Plea-for-