Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sorry, but tolerance isn't mercy

Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Many believe that a perfect world looks much like a Benetton advertisement. Multicultural children holding hands wearing ethnic clothes singing together in peace and harmony. Wouldn't it be just wonderful if the world worked that way? How do we get there? There are many today who believe that the answer lies with tolerance.

It is no wonder that tolerance is depicted as the most noble goal in life, the greatest virtue one can possess. Many Christians easily equate tolerance with our Christian idea of mercy. Though there may be similarities, the differences are considerable. Tolerance is seen as the ability to accept the right of others to hold differing opinions, have different lifestyles, and be different from you. It is regarded as the cement that holds together a politically, religiously, economically and ethnically diverse society. In the new religion of Diversity, tolerance has become its paramount dogma. Translated into a working ethos, it issues forth a new commandment that sounds like this – “you must never, ever, speak out against beliefs you disagree with. If you do, you will be labelled as intolerant and hateful.”

But when tolerance is absolutised, as is often the case when political correctness seems to be the hidden editorial sub-text that defines all and sundry, intolerance arises from such ideological tolerance. Ideological tolerance will not tolerate absolutes – absolute truths, absolute values. All ideas, all lifestyles are equal. Personal opinions, morals, and truths that contradict someone else’s opinions, morals or truths are intolerant, wrong and should be abandoned. Anyone who holds to a Truth or value which he regards as absolute is a bigot, maybe even a dangerous fanatic, a threat to this Utopian ideal of perfect society. The Church, with all its moral doctrines and dogmas, would certainly fall into this category, according to the hierarchs of tolerance. One can certainly recognise the irony and paradox here. Eventually, in the name of tolerance, one becomes intolerant to everyone who disagrees with your viewpoint. It’s a logical fallacy.

Tolerance does not only suffer from this oxymoronic fallacy, it has led to what some people describe as “acute tolerance confusion,” an institutionalised form of hypocrisy.  Literally, saying one thing, and doing another. For example, secular society, apparently siding with victims of clergy sexual abuse, often speaks boldly about zero tolerance for clerics found guilty of this despicable crime. That is quite understandable. What is not so easily understandable is when the same proponents of zero-tolerance for clergy abuse, mainstream media included, would often advocate tolerance for a multitude of differing opinions, lifestyles, and options.  There is a strong lobby advocating tolerance for abortion, same sex marriage, incest, euthanasia, surrogate motherhood, cloning and gender altering procedures, and thus, those who argue for traditional family life, for the sanctity of life in general, for traditional moral values, would end up being labelled as intolerant and bigoted.

The truth of the matter is that there are some things that are intolerable, some things that could be tolerated, and other things that must be tolerated. Tolerance is not a virtue, though it must be combined with the virtue of prudence if it is to be exercised properly. It is precisely this virtue of prudence, sometimes called wisdom,that enlightens us about how we are to undertake our responsibilities concerning tolerance in a particular situation. Neither is tolerance mercy. True mercy is where Charity meets Truth. It is never merciful to justify a lie in the name of charity, neither it is merciful to use charity as an excuse to compromise the Truth. And finally, mercy can never mean tolerating sin or a lie. Tolerance ultimately ends up denying sin. And when sin is denied, grace gets thrown out too.

When we truly desire to be merciful and charitable, sin and error can never be tolerated. The merciful and loving thing would be liberate people from sin and ignorance. It is no wonder that the first spiritual work of mercy is to admonish the sinner and the second is to instruct the ignorant. Our silence in the name of tolerance and being non-judgmental suffers from the gravest lack of charity, because though we have the opportunity to point the person back to the path of salvation, we have not only neglected to do so, we may  end up encouraging him to continue sinning in the name of tolerance. His damnation will be on our heads. The truth of the matter is that tolerance is not progressive. It is the acceptance of the status quo, whilst defending and entrenching it further.  Tolerance is, at best, an interim strategy. It is hardly an ideal.

What has all this to do with the Eucharist, the pronouncement of Jesus in the last few weeks and the crowd’s reaction in this week’s passage? Everything. Many of the followers of Jesus were themselves scandalised, in fact they found his words about having to eat his flesh and drink his blood “intolerable.” “How could anyone accept it?” It was a turning point in his ministry, either give the crowds what they want to hear, the “tolerable” or tell them the hard “intolerable” truth. At the end of the day, Jesus chose not to pander to views and opinions of the crowds who could not accept the veracity of his claims. To do so, to water down his teaching, to compromise the Truth about himself and his gift in the name of tolerance, would be to diminish the truth of the Sacrament. He would risk many of his own disciples leaving than to deny the absolute Truth of his total identification with the Eucharist.

Today, the Church is under pressure to compromise the Truth and condone sinful behaviour in the name of tolerance. The Eucharist has been a battlefield for such ideological wars. There are those within and outside the Church that demands all persons to be admitted to communion – unbaptised persons, Christians from Protestant denominations, divorced and remarried persons, notorious public sinners, on the premise that the Church has no right to judge, and with the further argument that the Church should learn how to be more tolerant to all these groups of people who have been hurt and marginalised by her actions and words. How should the Church respond to this? The answer is simple. The Church does what her Master has done and has instructed her to do. She merely speaks the Truth and can do no more. Notice that Jesus made no attempt to soften what he said, to keep the crowds. The Lord stuck to doctrine and refused to compromise on the grounds of, what today’s folks would term as, “pastoral reasons.” For to back down on his words, would be to be disobedient to the mission entrusted to him by His Father. To recant his words would be to deny the life-giving spirit, for “the words (He has) spoken to (us) are spirit and they are life.” No other words, no matter how soothing and pleasing to the ear, would suffice. In fact, these can lead to death and destruction.

That eminent theologian who became Pope Benedict XVI issued this warning, “Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labelled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and ‘swept along by every wind of teaching’, looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognise anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” St Paul in today’s second reading reminded couples and in fact all Christians, that though we are expected to be affable and be prompt to defer to others in humble submission, the ultimate criteria remains – all this must be done in obedience to Christ. It is always obedience to Thrice-Holy God, who is True, Good and Beautiful. To tolerate error, evil and ugliness would thus be disobedience.

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