Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Tolerance is for external conduct...

"For generations now, we have denied the food of revealed truth to our
children; and we have permitted the moral polluters to dump their garbage
into our culture with abandon. Why then, are we surprised that ours
has become a stunted and sick society?" - Patrick J. Buchanan

In his book "Apologetics: A Philosophic Defense and Explanation of the Catholic Religion," Monsignor Paul J. Glenn, Ph.D, S.T.D., writes, "Let Catholic apologists..not surrender the cause of a milk-and-water philosophy of tolerance. Tolerance is for external conduct; it is not for the mind; the mind cannot tolerate error for an instant." (p. 278). And this because error and truth are not "equally good." In other words, we must always strive to tolerate people [including those who disagree with us; and our worst enemies], but we cannot tolerate error. Differing opinions are not equally valid.

And in his important work "The New Tower of Babel," Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand explains that, "Although the dethronement of truth manifests itself in the most drastic and radical way in Nazism and Bolshevism, unfortunately many symptoms of this spiritual disease are also to be found in democratic countries. For example, in discussions we sometimes hear the following argument: 'Why should your opinion be more valid than mine? We are equal and have the same rights. It is undemocratic to pretend that your opinion is preferable.' This attitude is extremely significant because it reveals the complete absence of the notion of truth, the tacit elimination of truth as the determining norm for the value of an opinion....The immanent theme of every opinion is truth; the only thing that matters here is whether or not it is in conformity with reality..This brings us to another slogan disclosing the dethronement of truth. It is the often repeated statement 'It is true for me, but it may not be true for you.' The truth of a proposition is essentially objective; a truth which as such would be valid for one person only is a contradiction in terms. A proposition is true or false, but it can never be true for one person and false for another. The statement that a certain action is morally good may be true or false; but if it is true, it can never be false for any other person.." (pp. 56-58).

Some might be tempted to believe that the rejection of error and falsehood [ and here, again, we are speaking of ideas not persons] is something "negative" and even cult-like. But such is simply not the case. Again, Dr. Hildebrand explains: "Perhaps never before has there been as much intellectual fraud as there is today. In the mass media - and even in discussions on university campuses - this intellectual fraud appears chiefly as the manipulation of slogans designed to bluff the hearer or reader, and prevent him from thinking clearly. For a typical example, let us consider how the terms positive and negative are now most often used to discredit the refutation of pernicious errors and to give credit to the most shallow speculations. The intellectual swindlers who play such an important role in public discussions will often denominate as 'positive' propositions and attitudes they favor. They thereby seek to forestall questions of truth and value by enveloping their prejudices in a vague suggestion of 'creativity,' 'originality,' 'openness,' 'unaggressiveness.' This is the device of the cuttlefish. The moment one tries to grasp it, it emits a murky substance to confuse and deceive.

In reality, the popular slogan usages of positive and negative is a distortion of the genuine meanings of the terms. In proper usage they can refer to existence and nonexistence or to value and disvalue. They can refer to desirability and undesirability, or to answers to questions and demands, or to results of tests and inquiries. But when these terms are applied to attitudes of mind or to theses - by way of suggesting an evaluation - an intellectual fraud is committed; for they are then being used to evoke vague associations that distract from the question that alone matters - namely: Is this attitude objectively called for? Or: Is this thesis true?...It is the nature of truth to exclude every contradiction of itself. Thus, the rejection of errors and falsehoods can never be separated from the affirmation of truth. The one implies the other...

To give the impression that affirmations are 'positive' and denials 'negative' is to misrepresent completely the nature of judgments and propositions. This abuse of the language transforms the terms positive and negative into deceptive slogans and thus amounts to an intellectual swindle..." (The Charitable Anathema, pp. 45-47).

When others falsely accuse you of seeing only "black and white" because you accept the authoritative teaching of Jesus Christ as made known through His Church's Magisterium, remind them that you aren't dealing with "black and white" but right and wrong. Remind them that while we must respect persons, still "..the task of authentically interpreting the Word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.." (Dei Verbum, No. 10 of the Second Vatican Council).

If we insist that 2 + 2 = 4, this does not make us cult-like or "negative." If we respect the demands of truth while still respecting the person who disagrees with us, we are not cult-like. We are being faithful to Christ and His Church.


Michael Cole said...

Closed-mindedness interferes with learning. It will lead to intellectual and moral stagnation. But while we must avoid self-satisfaction - like the Pharisees of old - being open-minded doesn't mean accepting all opinions as equally true. As G.K. Chesterton remarked, "The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid."

I'm a bit concerned as well about Michael Brown's article. To suggest that there is "gray area" when it comes to truth and that we must search for "common ground" sounds a lot like Cardinal Bernardin. Remember his "Common Ground Initiative"?

We already possess common ground: It's called Magisterial teaching.

Stewart said...

"I know that seven plus three equals ten, not just now, but always; it never has been and never will be the case that seven plus three does not equal ten. This incorruptible truth of number is common to me AND ALL WHO THINK." (St. Augustine, On Free Choice of the Will, Bk 2, Ch. 8).

No gray area there.

Anonymous said...

This post is very timely for me, Paul...

Just had someone accuse me, indirectly/implicitly, of "negativity" when I told them about the upcoming movie with Anthony Hopkins called The Rite -- based on a true story of Fr Gary Thomas -- that illustrates how he learned firsthand through assisting in exorcisms in Italy about the reality of personified evil -- and how this deepened his faith:

Anyhow, this person said something like this in response: I don't believe it. I don't believe in it. It's too negative..... I think this stuff was just created by the Church to keep people fearful and in line....

This phrase "I don't believe it: it's too negative" shocked me and fascinated me. I kept thinking about it. I couldn't quite consciously catch all of the ramifications/implications of it -- was planning to just sit with it for a while and sort of hold it in my mind -- and then I saw your post....

Thanks! I needed that. :-)


Derek said...

At times, Michael Brown's articles are just confusing. He says in this article that he's "talking about tolerating other legitimate viewpoints (as the Vatican does)."

So he's not talking about tolerating persons. He's talking about tolerating other "legitimate viewpoints." But how can a vewpoint inconsistent with Church teaching be "legitimate"? Is Mr. Brown promoting relativism now? What are these "other legitimate viewpoints"?

Fuzzy thinking is not what the Church needs right now.

Paul Anthony Melanson said...

Thank you for your kind note Catherine. If the person you were speaking with found himself driving along a road and came up to a sign which read, "Danger, bridge out ahead," he might find this "too negative" as well. I wonder if he would ignore that warning and continue to drive down the road?

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