Wednesday, April 04, 2007

TOPIC: The Dangers of Liberal Toleration
By Jim Tonkowich
In the polarized world in which we live, the most praised virtue is toleration. We must be tolerant of all people, we are told—all races, genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, religions, and cultures. Fair enough, but while I'm trying to be tolerant, somehow abortion rights, same sex “marriage,” and New York City residents changing their gender on their birth certificates seems to have come in the back door all under the rubric of toleration. Exactly what is going on?
At the recent annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Washington, D.C., Dr. J. Budziszewski of the University of Texas addressed this question in a lecture entitled, “True Toleration and the Failure of Liberal Neutrality.” In it, he concluded that the toleration that has been foisted on the American public is not tolerant at all. Toleration, which is hardly a new idea, has two possible rationales, according to Budziszewski. The first comes from the early Church fathers. This rationale grounds toleration on a paradox — the nature of the good is such that it demands that we put up with (tolerate) some bad. Their point of view centered on religious freedom. God does not coerce belief, and we cannot coerce belief either. People’s consciences may not be violated in the name of the good and the true and thus we must tolerate that which is not good and true, lovingly persuading others, but never forcing compliance in belief. This, said Budziszewski, is proper toleration.
The second rationale, claimed Budziszewski, grounds toleration on an “incoherence.” While the Church fathers urged toleration because of the nature of the good, liberals argue that we must suspend public judgments about the nature of the good. After all, as liberal philosopher John Rawls argued, while the Christian sees the good in one way, the Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Marxist, or hedonistic pleasure-seeker each see it in other ways. Rawls calls each system a “comprehensive doctrine.” And since comprehensive doctrines can’t all be true, and each is more or less reasonable, the only solution for public discourse is to privatize them all, that is, ban all comprehensive doctrines from the public square. This, the argument goes, creates an environment of moral neutrality in which to make public decisions. Rawls, said Budziszewski, considers his approach tolerant and just because he treats everyone in precisely the same way — not endorsing anyone's comprehensive doctrine.
But in truth, Rawls is not being tolerant at all. His view privileges some comprehensive doctrines and suppresses others. Any doctrine that is easily privatized is privileged while any doctrine (Christianity for example) that by its very nature has public implications is suppressed. The liberal argument is nothing more than a camouflaged grab for power. We see this in the abortion debate. Women, we’re told, want and need legal abortion. Arguments to the contrary from religious, natural law, or common good perspectives are ruled out of order. These are comprehensive doctrines with values that must not be imposed on others and should be privatized in the name of toleration. You are free to choose not to have an abortion, but you must be tolerant with others who choose otherwise. And so, without a debate about the actual issue of taking unborn human life, abortion is the law of the land. Is this toleration? Certainly not.
First, said Budziszewski, this liberal toleration doesn’t live up to its own notion of toleration. Choice can never be neutral; it always discriminates between visions of the good. Same sex “marriage” is just as discriminatory as traditional marriage, because it repudiates traditional marriage. Legalizing abortion is just as discriminatory as prohibiting it because it runs roughshod over those who believe that abortion is an act of murder. Nor is liberal toleration “tolerant” in the proper sense of the word.
Advocates of liberal toleration don’t admit that they are judging, so they cannot possibly be judging justly.
Since it violates others to judge them without admitting your criteria for judgment, liberal toleration is, in fact, thoroughly intolerant. Reasons can be debated, challenged, and overcome. Liberal toleration cheats by enforcing standards it will not admit to having.
This lack of candor, according to Budziszewski, leads to the great danger of a liberal confessional state. Our country has traditionally enjoyed a confessional state in that we have propounded public ideals. These ideals, our confession, have been declared, not coerced. In Communist states such as North Korea or Islamist states such as Saudi Arabia, the confession is declared and coerced. In the liberal confessional state, for the sake of toleration, the confession is not declared, merely coerced. This led Budziszewski to conclude that “in this country, for the foreseeable future, the chief danger to religious toleration arises not from our avowed religions, but from the unavowed and illiberal religion of liberalism itself.And it is a danger to us all.

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