Wednesday, August 1, 2012

On Tolerance, Political Correctness, and Relativism

It’s no secret that it’s a politically correct world we live in.  And among the highest of modern virtues is something people flippantly refer to as “tolerance.”  I’m referring of course to the revised definition of the word, which says one should not only respect and uphold the rights of others to have differing beliefs (the traditional definition of tolerance) but that we must also accept all beliefs and truth claims and acknowledge them all as equally valid.

This type of approach to belief demonstrates logical naïveté in the least and is the very antithesis of sound logic and reason.  Two contradictory truth claims cannot both be true at the same time and in the same way.  More than a little ironic, I think, since this a view often esteemed by none other than the self-proclaimed “intellectual elite” of our day.  And this popular definition of “tolerance” is ingrained and reinforced in our everyday lives more and more: at work, at school, and everywhere we turn in the public arena.  I think the wise old saying is apropos: tolerance will be the last virtue of a scoundrel.

It seems we can't take a stand, make a truth claim, or express an idea or belief plainly for fear we might offend someone.  It makes us a shallow and superficial people.  Political correctness has changed the very the fabric of how we define reality, with no clear consequence for believing one way or the other about much of anything.  It is the ol’ wolf in sheep’s clothing we could plainly call pluralism, which today expresses itself in the forms of relativism and post-modernistic thinking.  On that note, at the risk of overgeneralizing, it also seems to be an unwritten normative rule these days that the only people entitled to express their beliefs and be critical toward anyone, without being derided for it, are legal minorities and Democrats. The only people who can be spoken ill of without fear of reproach are Christians and Republicans. This double standard is brazen and deplorable.

To be clear, I uphold the view of tolerance under its classical and original definition.  All truth claims have an equal right to expression, but not all truth claims are equally valid.   Believe what you like, but at the end of the day, you’ll find it’s a bit like pregnant or non-pregnant – it can’t be both at the same time.  In addition, I think it makes sense to note that we can still demonstrate the important virtue of prudence while still taking a stand for unadulterated truth.  Being brash and unaware in how we convey the truth is not only unwise but wholly ineffective.
In Christian circles I’ve often heard it said “love the sinner but hate the sin.”  And while there is an undeniable element of truth there, it’s not actually found anywhere in the Bible - at least not in this way.  God's Word does clearly say we should hate sin and evil (Psalm 97:10, Romans 12:9); it also clearly says God loves all people (John 3:16).   So we should despise sin – starting with our own.  But the Bible makes it clear that we’ve all fallen short (Romans 3:23) and we’re all like filthy rags before a perfect and holy God.  So when we say things like “love the sinner; hate the sin,” to whom exactly are we referring?  Chances are the “sinner” won't see the line of demarcation so clearly as we think.  Their logical interpretation will likely flow something like this:

Premises 1: You say God hates ___ sin but that He loves me.
Premises 2: You say You hate___ sin but that you love me.
Premises 3: I believe____sin is a part of who I am.
Conclusion:  You and your God hate ME.  I want nothing to do with either.

Now, I’m not suggesting the interpretation on the part of said "sinner" is accurate, but I am saying it’s not hard to see a fundamental flaw in the approach here.  The outcome of how it will often be interpretted is not exactly desired.  Am I suggesting that we should move toward being politically correct, then??  Heavens no!  I am saying that if we take time to examine the Bible, we’ll note that most of Jesus’ hot scorching words were for the hypocritical religious elite of His day, not for those broken sinners who responded to His truth and love and acknowledged they were in need of a Savior.  Now some will refuse the truth, and that is also a possible outcome regardless.  My point is that while Jesus hates sin, He loved first.  He dealt with sin on the cross and left it there.  I believe we too can love first, without coming across as hateful, bigoted, or hypocritical.  We should refuse to call any sin, as so defined in the Bible and not culture, acceptable.  We can speak the truth without compromising or relativizing it.  It's sometimes a balancing act, but that doesn't mean we have to become pluralistic, relative, or politically correct to uphold truth.

1 comment:

  1. thank you, SRM, for your well thought out ideas about these issues. I think many people are coming to similar conclusions. Without seeing ourselves in the context of God's world and God's love, we are rudderless. I struggled for many years with the false notion that one could not be scientific and religious at the same time, but that is a false argument. Actually the more you know about science, the more one is inclined to become religious. But belief or faith is just that, having faith is a Way and not a matter of rationality. Science is a technique of logic and rationality and is not a Way. We, as reasonable humans, must define an absolute to have a moral framework to live together. Seeing the world without any divinity or sacredness deprives us of our connection to our essential nature as part of the larger whole world of life, which is absolutely precious, and the larger world of God. We cannot insist on defining everything only from a scientific or man-oriented point of view without denying not only God, but the absolute reality of the whole earth and all the rest of life on the planet. The modern dilemma of pluralism is it seeks to define a moral standard from a relativistic set of values; and that is why it keeps tripping over it's own feet, so to speak, for any purely logical system followed to it's extreme logical end, results in it's opposite. Modern progressives have not realized that by taking God out of the equation, they have eroded the very foundation for all of their moralistic ideals. Until God is put back into the center of our world view, we will struggle to define a true measure of our relationship to each other and to our world of precious life on this planet.