Rehabilitating “Tolerance” (3)

How do we rehabilitate this word?

First, we must insist that tolerance does not mean agreement, nor does disagreement mean intolerance. Tolerance actually suggests disagreement, for when you agree with someone, you do not merely tolerate him, you agree with him and welcome his opinions. We must patiently explain that disagreement or disapproval of one another’s opinions and actions is expected in a secular society where we have been thrown together through the involuntary forces of birth and economics. Peace is preserved by tolerating the other person’s opinion, and even action, though we may, and should be permitted to, voice public disagreement or disapproval.

Second, we must distinguish between private intolerance and public intolerance. Private intolerance may be disassociating with someone, switching off the radio or closing the browser window, refusing to purchase or sell somewhere, or refusing someone admission to your home. These intolerances are part of the freedoms of individuals. For a government to mandate or forbid these freedoms for the society at large, or for individuals to call for such, is tyranny. I cannot expect a secular society to outlaw what I refuse in my own home or private company, if such is not destructive to the society at large, nor can I insist they mandate all that I tolerate or choose. Conversely, unless my speech or activity is physically destructive to persons or property, no government should outlaw what I tolerate in my private capacity. We must maintain a clear distinction between the private freedom to disagree and disassociate, from what governments get to do through force.

Third, public intolerance (for that is the kind people are really talking about) can only be enacted by human government. What a society deems to be intolerable to its existence (murder, theft, treason) can only be removed by the rule of law. Human government is established by God for the preservation of order in human society. However much Christians feel the evil of abortion, no Christian is authorised to enact some form of public intolerance: harming doctors performing abortions, blocking access to abortion clinics, or sabotaging the private property of such places. Vigilante justice only increases the chances of anarchy, which is always followed by tyranny. In times of confusion, Christians of all people should make it clear that public intolerance belongs to the civil authorities.

Finally, Christians should do their utmost to urge that civil law be based upon natural law. As societies abandon transcendent moral principles, they flounder to judge what is genuinely tolerable and intolerable to a society. At such moments, rulers are susceptible to popular opinion, particularly the increasingly vocal opinions of the liberal left. If enough people claim that Christian orthodoxy is hate-speech, rulers may imagine a real threat to society where there is none, and make publicly intolerable what ought to be a matter of private intolerance. People don’t have to listen to Christian radio stations or read Christian books, but Christians should have the freedom to state Christian ideas in public. As long as those ideas (whether implemented or merely considered) do not incite violence – i.e. public intolerance – the society should tolerate their expression. Natural law will consider whether ideas and their expression harm the public good, by considering if those ideas and expressions are good or evil, not if they are popular or current with the prevailing political correctness.

As long as Christians accept the way the word tolerance is currently used, we will become slowly strangled by its anti-Christian meanings. Let us graciously challenge error with truth.

Tolerance (2) – We Oppressed Left-Handers

It is becoming abundantly clear to many that the call for tolerance has in fact not been a call to tolerate all opinions everywhere, but to express agreement and endorsement of certain groups and positions. The LGBT community, feminists, non-Christian religions, minorities or previously oppressed ethnicities are usually those said to be suffering from intolerance from others and requiring greater tolerance from others.

This is a tad disingenuous, for two reasons. First, if there were no tolerance of such groups, their voices would not be heard in the media, and their marches would be illegal. They would be in jail or worse, as the non-tolerated often are in despotic countries. Once again, tolerance is not the same as agreement. Christians and non-Christians don’t agree on the meaning of life, but our children play in the same parks, and we peacefully stand in the same queues. This is tolerance.

Second, the eclectic nature of the group supposedly needing more tolerance or experiencing intolerance seems suspiciously close to the List of the Previously Non-tolerated produced by liberal Western professors. When Marxism was in the ascendancy, liberal professors classified everything according to class warfare and economic motives. Now the hip rhetoric is to speak of oppression, domination, and ‘ontologies of violence’. All things Western and Christian (and in some cases, white or male) tend to be cast as oppressors exhibiting physical or verbal violence on all things non-Western and non-Christian. The tolerazis posture as championing freedom for previously oppressed groups, but it is obvious to anyone with eyes to see that the crusade is not so much for freedom for all as much as it is about limiting (or extinguishing) the voice of historic Christian or Western views. The New Tolerance is not for Christians – you’ve been tolerated long enough, don’t you know – it is for those on the List of Previously Non-Tolerated. But the List is not consistent.

Here’s an example. I happen to be left-handed. Now consider just how oppressed we left-handers have been, and what sort of tolerance we are now entitled to.

First, in almost every language, the word for ‘left’ is connected with the ideas of evil, deception, inferiority, or things sinister, while the words for ‘right’ suggest trust, correctness, goodness, or ability. To think of how the rhetoric of violence has used language to prejudice the other ninety percent of the world against us just chills my blood.

Second, many societies have (and some still do) force left-handed children to write with their right hand, being told that the left hand is the dirty hand, or the hand for cleaning oneself. This has caused learning difficulties for many. We’ve been held back economically, to advantage the right-handed. I’d be richer right now, if it weren’t for this economic intolerance.

Third, the world has trampled on our rights, neglecting our needs when it has come to door-handles, scissors, cars, can-openers and potato-peelers, the direction of reading, writing, and books in the West, and computer mice. We have been struggling through a world set up to favour the right-handed.

We left-handers check all the boxes for the List of Previously Non-Tolerated:

* we are a minority
* our difference has been historically frowned upon
* people have tried to change us
* we have been at a social and economic disadvantage

To counter the vicious intolerance of left-handedness, and to promote society-wide tolerance of left-handedness, should I not march for left-handed equality? Should there not be a government-grant for left-handers to compensate me for the fact that I cannot cut straight? Should I lobby to have the terms “in his right mind” or “right-hand man” or “righteous” deemed culturally offensive and examples of micro-aggressions? Can we not classify the term “two left feet” as hate-speech? Should building codes and rezoning laws not be changed to reflect the reality of left-handers entering and exiting those buildings? Should right-handers not become automatically guilty of “handism” – a sin which I, as a left-hander, am completely immune to? Indeed, all right-handers are implicated in this systemic oppression which uses language, the media, and the economy to deny me my rights – my lefts, that is. Should they not contribute to some reparation tax?

Well, this illustration, as facetious as it is, shows the farce of the New Tolerance. The reason I don’t get to do any of those things is that left-handers are manifestly tolerated in the society I live in. I don’t need more tolerance, however much intolerance once existed. However much people might think us weird, no one imprisons us or executes us. We’re tolerated, in a secular society, precisely as many of the other groups on the List are tolerated. Perhaps some disapproval still exists. But no one, in the society I live in, is expelling left-handers from society itself by imprisonment, deportation, death-threats or execution.

More to my point, the fact that left-handers don’t make the List of the previously Non-Tolerated shows that the criteria for inclusion are eminently flexible, and ultimately, hypocritical. I have a hunch that the fact that left-handers are truly representative of every ethnicity, religion, and gender (including white Christian males) might be a reason we don’t make the List. In truth, I don’t want to be on the List – but I can’t see a very good reason, by their stated criteria, that I’m not.

To be clear, tyrannical intolerance is an evil. I am not mocking the genuine suffering that humans have inflicted on each other, or the true oppression (which God hates) that has happened and still happens. Racism, religious violence, or other acts of intimidation are evil, and Christians must shun them. What deserves our scorn is the hypocritical New Tolerance, which selectively tolerates, and is openly intolerant of Christians. It postures as a liberator, but it is a tyrant. It preaches freedom, but it means to enslave. It speaks of love, but it loves only those who love it – and woe betide those who do not.

Ten Mangled Words – “Tolerance”

Words are more than names. Words are things that either correspond to something in reality, or fail to. When words fail to correspond to something true about God’s reality, they become part of the darkening of human understanding. Like a sign pointing the wrong way, like a faulty map, the mangled word gives the human mind a false inner reality, and distorts the truth.

One of those words is tolerance. Tolerance, today, means something like embracing and approving of people and ideas without criticism. The tolerant man is the one who does not merely live peacefully with his neighbour, but muzzles any criticism he might have of his neighbour. That’s about as close as one can get to defining the modern idea of tolerance, because it is more of an elastic sentiment than a clear idea, one which morphs according to the target of its protectiveness, or, as the case may be, its inchoate resentments.

This idea of tolerance is incoherent, and not even internally consistent. It will soon be apparent why.

First, there is no such thing as absolute tolerance. No one tolerates everything. Every society sets limits on its tolerance, and those actions or ideas it finds intolerable, it punishes. Few societies, at least in principle, tolerate murder or treason. No school tolerates all behaviour, no employer tolerates all work, no country tolerates all views. When the point of intolerance is reached, some form of coercion follows: a spanking, a jail term, expulsion, public shaming, violence, or even execution. Sometimes this is evil; sometimes it is not. The question before us not, should we tolerate intolerance (for it is unavoidable)? The real question is: when should we be intolerant?

Second, modern tolerance tolerates only versions of itself. That is, it tolerates only those who have imbibed its idea of tolerance. Any person or group that holds different views on what should be tolerated and when, becomes a target of its ire. Indeed, Christians who hold to the authority of Scripture soon find that their view will not be tolerated. It is the transparent contradiction that the tolerazis cannot see: they are viciously intolerant of those who don’t embrace their view of tolerance.

Third, modern tolerance cannot distinguish between tolerance and agreement. If one agrees completely with another view, tolerance is not necessary. Tolerance, in fact, requires disagreement to make sense at all. Tolerance involves forbearance with a view as it is expressed, or even with a practice, without resorting to any of the coercive methods that stop it altogether. The modern idea of tolerance insists that one must agree with the view, and that disagreement counts as intolerance. To truly tolerate under this regime, only silent disagreement is permitted. Furthermore, publicly prosecuting your own view, if it conflicts with others, constitutes intolerance.

Much of this stems from secular relativism. If absolute truth is impossible or non-existent, then every man is right in his own eyes. As such, to express disagreement with his ‘personal truth’ becomes a kind of violation of his being, since it is apparently true only in his being. Once truth has contracted to exist only in individual brains, the only way to protect it is to prohibit public disagreement.

Were we to take this farce to its logical end, we should end all debate, discussion or dialogue. Again, the fact that the tolerazis would disagree with this post, demonstrates that they have to equivocate on the meaning of tolerance.

A Worship Catechism (15)

97. What is our ultimate hope?

Our ultimate hope is to see God’s glory in His realised presence (Rev 21:2-3, 22:4; Joh 17:21-26), where we will behold His beauty forever (Ps 27:4, 23:6).

98. How will we commune with God in His realised presence?

We will behold Him without the curse of corrupt bodies and partially blind souls (Rev 21:4-5, 22:1-3), without sin or other sinners (Rev 21:7-8, 27; 1 Cor 6:9-11), so there will be no confession of sin or cleansing needed.

99. Will the cycle of communion continue in Heaven?

Though we will be like Him, our beholding of Him will take us to ever deeper union and likeness (1 John 3:2, 2 Cor 3:18), as we develop from one degree of glory to another (Jo 17:22; Eph 3:18-19)

100. How should this hope affect our great priority and purpose?

The end we ought to propose to ourselves is to become, in this life, the most perfect worshippers of God we can possibly be, as we hope to be through all eternity.

A Worship Catechism (14)

91. What are the disciplines of perpetual worship?

The disciplines of perpetual worship are gratitude, discernment, fasting , and stewardship, which seek to behold, reflect, and magnify God’s glory in His works of creation, redemption and providence.

92. What does the discipline of gratitude entail?

Gratitude is receiving all that is good and lawful in creation with receptive enjoyment and conscious thanksgiving (1 Tim 4:4; 1 Thes 5:16-18; Jam 1:17).

93. What does the discipline of discernment entail?

Discernment is judging the meaning of all things in creation through an obedient examination of all things (1 Thes 5:22, Eph 5:10; Heb 5:14; Phil 1:9-11, 4:8), a pursuit of wisdom and understanding (Prov 2:1-7), and an immersion in the good judgement of others (Prov 13:20; Heb 13:7).

94. What does the discipline of stewardship entail?

Stewardship consciously consecrates objects and activities for the glory of God, seeing all as gifts and callings to be managed for Him (1 Cor 4:1-7).

95. What does the discipline of fasting entail?

Fasting is deliberate self-denial of the pleasures of creation to enable prayer and a spirit of humble supplication for focused seasons of spiritual need.

96. How will these disciplines enable the great priority of life?

These disciplines will nurture beholding, reflecting and magnifying the glory of God, whether in private, in society, or immersed in work or leisure.

A Worship Catechism (13)

84. What are the disciplines of public worship?

The disciplines of public worship are recognition, service, discipleship, and corporate worship, which seek to behold, reflect and magnify God’s glory in the society of others.

85. What does the discipline of recognition entail?

Recognition is repeatedly submitting to the biblical view of our neighbour as a means of loving God, and thinking of all men as such.

86. How is our neighbour a means of loving God?

We may behold God’s glory in our neighbour as that neighbour reflects and reveals the Creator (James 1:17, 3:9; Ps 19:1), as an act of loving obedience (Jo 14:15, 13:34; 1 Pet 2:17), and as a means of loving what God loves and hating what He hates (Mt 5:43-45; 25:31-46; Prov 6:16-19; Phil 4:8).

87. Who is our neighbour?

Our neighbour is our worst enemy, and everyone closer to us than him (Lk 10:29-37).

88. What does the discipline of service entail?

Service is sacrificially meeting the needs of other Christians by obeying the one-another commands, (Jo 13:34) and of our unsaved neighbours through doing to them as we would want done to us (Lk 6:31), and so loving Christ (Mt 25:31-45)

89. What does the discipline of discipleship entail?

Discipleship is increasing the number of fellow-worshippers through instruction (Mt 28:20), and the involvement of affection (1 Thes 2:7-9), exemplary living (1 Thes 2:10, 1 Co 11:1, 1 Ti 4:12, Tis 2:7), and patient, encouraging mentoring (1 Thes 2:11-12).

90. What does the discipline of corporate worship entail?

Corporate worship is assembling with a New Testament local church on the appointed day with circumspection (Eccl 5:1-2), to unite mind and heart with other believers to publicly read the Word publicly (1 Timothy 4:13, Colossians 4:16), preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2), pray the Word (1 Timothy 2:1-2, 8), sing the Word (Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16) show the Word publicly (the ordinances or sacraments) (Luke 22:19, Matthew 28:19-20) and respond in grateful giving (1 Corinthians 16:1-2.)

A Worship Catechism (12)

76. What disciplines will nurture faith and maintain abiding in God’s presence?

We must embrace disciplines of private worship, public worship, and perpetual worship.

77. What are the disciplines of private worship?

The disciplines of private worship are meditation, private prayer, and memorisation, which seek to behold reflect and magnify God’s glory in solitude (Mt 6:1-9).

78. What does discipline of meditation entail?

Meditation is beholding God’s glory in His Word, by reverently interrogating the meaning of Scripture, particularly in its analogies, for its interpretation and application, and often accompanied by journaling (Jas 1:25; Ps 1:2).

79. What do we seek in meditation?

We seek God’s mind on Himself, His people, and the world, wherein we will find His glory (Ps 119:15; 2 Tim 3:16-17).

80. What does the discipline of private prayer entail?

Private prayer responds to our meditations with adoration of God’s revealed glory, thanksgiving for His works, confession of our sins and consecration of our lives, supplication for our needs and intercession for others (Col 3:16; Phil 4:6).

81. How should we pray?

Vital, lively prayer is prayed in faith (Matthew 21:22), in full sincerity (Matt 6:7), and with persistence (Col 4:2).

82. What does the discipline of memorisation entail?

Memorisation is committing to memory Scripture passages and Christian verse, and regularly refreshing what has been memorised (Ps 119:11).

83. What may aid us in these disciplines?

An excellent hymnbook, a book of Christian verse, a book of prayers, devotional classics, a journal in which to write, prayer lists, Bible study aids, and an alarm to wake us.

A Worship Catechism (11)

67. How is faith nurtured?

Faith is nurtured through the grace-enabled practice of the spiritual disciplines (2 Pet 1:5-7).

68. What is spiritual discipline?

Spiritual discipline is imposing order upon disorder to nurture communion with God (2 Tim 3:3-6).

69. What is the first purpose of the spiritual disciplines?

The first purpose of the spiritual disciplines is to provide the opportunity for communion with God to occur, confessing our sins, consecrating our loves, and conforming our lives (Dan 6:10).

70. What is the second purpose of the spiritual disciplines?

The second purpose of the spiritual disciplines is to train the abilities, attitudes and habits fundamental to communion with God (1 Timothy 4:7).

71. What is the third purpose of the spiritual disciplines?

The third purpose of the spiritual disciplines is to structure and shape life so that its rhythms, routines and rituals shape the overall imagination and sensibilities towards communion with God (Deut 6:7-9).

72. What are the dangers associated with discipline?

On the one hand: laziness (Prov 26:13-16), lack of watchfulness (1 Thes 5:6-8; 1 Pet 4:7) and spiritual apathy (Mal 1:13, Rev 3:16-17); on the other: will-worship (Col 2:23), spiritual pride (Lk 18:11-12), and man-pleasing (Mt 6:1-18).

73. How do we avoid these dangers?

We understand that no progress is possible without discipline (2 Tim 2:3-6), while understanding that discipline is a means to communing with God, not the end in itself (2 King 18:4).

74. How is discipline related to the Gospel?

Discipline requires we, by the Spirit, mortify desires and habits hostile to faith (Rom 8:13), while reckoning ourselves alive to the empowering grace of obedience (1 Cor 9:27; Rom 6:1-23).

75. How do we reconcile desire and self-denial?

The Spirit will grant us desires (Phil 2:13), but these desires are fanned into flame and not quenched (2 Tim 1:6, 1 Thes 5:19) when we respond by working out those desires in vigorous, wholehearted action (Phil 2:12; Col 1:29, 1 Tim 4:12), which requires self-denial (1 Cor 9:25-27; Lk 9:23; Col 3:5).

A Worship Catechism (10)

cycle4

60. What is the Spirit’s work in this cycle also known as?

Grace: He grants the grace of conviction, the grace of cleansing, the grace of conformity, and the grace of illumination (Phil 2:13)

61. How is this grace received and the cycle maintained?

Grace is always received through faith (Eph 2:8) – the faith of beholding Him and blessing Him in communion, the faith of becoming like Christ in confession and consecration.

62. Of what is faith composed?

Faith is composed of a simultaneous humble submission to God’s supreme authority (Jas 4:6-7, 10) a brokenness over our sin (vv 8-9), and drawing near to God for all He is (v8).

63. How is our faith to be humbly submitted?

Faith forsakes beholding and glorifying self (Ps 115:1; 2 Cor 5:14-15) for a life wholly given to God’s glory (Rom 11:36; Eccl 12:13), and yields to loving God’s loves supremely (2 Cor 5:9).

64. How is our faith to be broken in spirit?

Faith confesses the ugliness of sin – hating what God hates – and counts itself dead to sin and alive to Christ’s righteousness (Rom 6:3-14)

65. How is our faith to be drawing near to God?

Faith seeks God’s beauty as its chief desire (Ps 27:4, 63:1-2; Ex 33:18-19), wholeheartedly (Jer 29:13), intentionally (Prov 2:1-6), persistently (Lk 11:5-13) and teachably (Ps 50:21; Job 42:5).

66. In what way does this cycle resemble the Gospel?

The cycle is initiated and maintained by God’s grace, and responded to with faith, wherein there is both the “deaths” of humble submission, brokenness, confession and consecration, and the “resurrections” of delighted beholding, becoming and blessing of God’s beauty (Col 2:6)

Adoration of the Shepherds

caravaggio

Take some time to consider Caravaggio’s Adoration of the Shepherds. Don’t scan and speed-read, but if you have the time, stop and stare.

First, where is the focal point of this painting? Where does our gaze go first, and where does it seem to land? Is there more than one focal point? Are we above, below, or eye-level with this scene? It seems the lines, the gaze of the shepherds, the direction of the hands points us to Mary and her Child. But a secondary focal point is the faces of the shepherds. Caravaggio wants us to look where they are looking. But once there, Mary’s face is in shadow, and the Christ-child is faced away from us, so we go back to the shepherds, who can see His face. Our eyes go back and forth from the Child to the Shepherds, and that is as the artist would have it. We are almost eye-level with this scene, which suggests Caravaggio wants us to come in as the shepherds, seeing, absorbing the scene, and beginning to crouch to see and adore more clearly.

Second, consider the colours used. What colour dominates? What colours have been used? Of the three primary colours (red, blue, yellow), which has been used? On a colour wheel, has Caravaggio used colours complementary to one another (i.e. opposite each other on the colour wheel), or analogous to one another (next to each other on the colour wheel)?colourwheel

Why?  Caravaggio has chosen a warm red for Mary’s clothes, and given the shepherd closest to her exactly the same colour for his robe, with nearly parallel lines directing our gaze to that section of the painting. The colours of the other robes, the skin tones of all, the colours in the stable, are all browns, yellows, beiges, and golden tones. The scene exudes warmth, and joy.  Caravaggio is avoiding contrasts at all costs, trying to evoke a very natural and life-like manger scene. And yet — the golden light is enough to alert us that something is not as natural as it normally would be. Some divine intervention is here, too.

Third, what sort of lines has the artist used? Are they sharp and geometrical? Are they curvilinear? Are they bold outlines? Using oil, Caravaggio avoids dark outlines, and creates very natural, biomorphic, curvilinear shapes. The lines are smooth and calming, but they flow towards the focal point. The painting is not symmetrical, but it nevertheless has a convergence point. Even the sharp bits of straw direct our eyes to Mary and the Child. The artist wants the scene to be as natural as possible, because it is in its very naturalness that we will absorb the supernaturalness of it.

Fourth, where is the light coming from? What does this suggest? What is illuminated and what is in shadow? The scene seems to be a night-time scene, and the light seems too bright for a candle, so the light seems to be a heavenly source. It is shining in from above. But, whether it is the Star of Bethlehem, the glory of angels, moonlight, we do not know. We can merely tell the light is beautiful, and illuminating a humble scene. Supernature and nature are combining in one scene of mystery.

Fifth, consider the symbols. Almost invisible, behind Mary are two figures with a long history in Christian portrayals of the Nativity – the ox and the ass, traditionally made to represent Jew and Gentile (Is 1:3), both rebellious, but now adoring Christ. In Caravaggio’s work, they are present, but not as icons of devotion. They are simply animals in the background. Caravaggio wants to stand in the tradition of Nativity scenes, but he is determined to portray this scene in all its humble realism. Two people have halos, Mary and Joseph (the man third from Mary’s right). But the halos are so thin as to be almost invisible. Carpenter’s tools and some dry bread in the front show us that this is a scene of realistic poverty. Caravaggio is not abandoning the symbols, but he is adapting them for his purposes.

Sixth, notice the physical gestures. Look at the hands – Mary’s, and the shepherds. What do they tell us of how to feel about this Child? Notice the postures – Mary’s draped and exhausted posture, the shepherds’ awkward stoop and crouch. Notice how Caravaggio has created a subtle divide between Mary and the shepherds through the parallel red cloaks, and the black cloth (the darkest thing in the painting) draped over her. She is everything normal, natural, and homely, but there is a Divine presence here, and the shepherds (and even Joseph) stop short of irreverently reaching past this divide with their hands.

Seventh, notice the men, and their expressions. They are dirty, scraggly, unkempt. The sun has aged them. Their clothes are almost rags, in one case. But what do these hardened, simple, poor men say with their eyes? Mary’s face is in shadow, for Caravaggio wants us to focus on the expressions of the shepherds: awe, gratitude, amazement. These are hard faces softening in the glow of what they are seeing.

Caravaggio is blending the supernatural and the natural, the divine and the human, the presence of grace within a fallen world. But his realism never becomes the gritty despair so common in the post-modern imagination: the grim and dark meaninglessness glorified in the anti-heroes of today’s movies. No, his deep realism is intended to provide a contrast: glory in the midst of humility. He wishes us to feel the awe of knowing that the glory of heaven was present in the dirt of a manger scene. This birth was normal, in every way, but it was glorious. This scene was humble – forgettable even, by the standards of the world. But it was simultaneously the most important birth ever. Caravaggio has masterfully imagined the truths of the Incarnation.