Monday, September 05, 2011

A Brief Reflection on the Catholic Definition of Tolerance

Brethren: peace and good to all of you in the name of Jesus.

A few posts ago I formulated a Catholic definition of tolerance derived from biblical and theological first principles. The definition was as follows:

Tolerance is that good habit – that is, the virtue – through which the Catholic Christian actively and consciously loves his neighbor, especially when the neighbor lives in grave sin, by avoiding judgment and showing him the same mercy the Lord shows us for our sins, as we choose the right means to eliminate or ameliorate the evil incurred in this world by the neighbor’s (and our own) actions, through the right exercise of the theological and cardinal virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that both our neighbor and us might attain salvation and everlasting life in the world to come.

I wish to reflect briefly on this definition with the aim of triggering some conversation here or elsewhere on the net, and also to move as many fellow Catholics as possible to enact this virtue in their lives. These are the reflection points:

• Tolerance is a good habit, that is, a virtue, which needs to be practiced repeatedly until it becomes second nature as it were. This is where I active cooperation with grace comes. We embrace the grace each and every time we practice the virtue in our lives.

• We must remember that tolerance, as understood by a Catholic, is not merely a natural virtue or good habit. Tolerance must be based upon the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, in order for the virtue to achieve its supernatural end on us and on others. Otherwise it would be ineffective and supernaturally dead, a “dead work” so-to-speak.

• The subject of the virtue is the acting Catholic; the object of the virtue, the object of our “tolerance” is always the human being who is acting against God’s law as transmitted in revelation or reflected in natural law. The “act” itself is not the object of toleration, but of moral evaluation. The act is good, evil, or neutral. Accordingly, once morally evaluated, our reaction to the act is of approval and furtherance; of disapproval and resistance; or indifference.

• Some well-intentioned souls may be inclined to describe the previous approach as “hate the sin, love the sinners.” I’ve always thought that cliché as dangerous, because “hate” is a dangerous emotion to lay claim to. It is very easy to transfer the hatred from the sinner to the sin. Many of us do it habitually. It is also dangerous to “hate a sin” the way Scripture tells us God does. We can’t “hate” like God does, we are incapable of going beyond the Scriptural anthropomorphism.

• Instead, we should focus on loving as God does, as being compassionate which is, to listen to the neighbor and to procure his or her healing with their salvation (and ours) as the ultimate end.

• The Catholic virtue of tolerance does not exempt us from stopping, correcting, or reversing the evil caused by our neighbors moral falls, particularly when these evils cascade through culture and society. We resist these evils by first, evangelizing our culture and society. We must continue to proclaim the message of conviction, repentance, and conversion contained in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Lay people in particular are called to resist evil by being involved in the political process and working for the enactment and preservation of laws enacted in accordance to natural law, and the derogation of legislation violating natural law. All Catholics in public service must support legislation in favor of natural law and the Catholic electorate must work with particular force to remove from power those Catholic leaders who refuse to write laws supportive of human life, natural marriage, and the like.

• An objection to the above definition of tolerance may take this form: “Would you tolerate a serial/murderer rapist?” Our answer should be “yes”: we tolerate them in jail. Should we tolerate abortionists? Of course, we should. We should tolerate them as unemployed. To be tolerant toward a person in grave sin does not mean giving them a “free pass” from the moral or legal consequences of their actions. Tolerance is no substitute for prosecution, judgment, verdict, and punishment, or for the future obsolescence of the abortion-provided market which will leave all providers in search of new employment.

• The virtue of tolerance points toward the realization of that, when observing our neighbor sin grievously, “there but for the grace of God go I.” Due to the wound of original sin, and absent our willingness to cooperate with God’s grace, we can sin in the same ways or worse. This should keep us humble and realistic toward our own capacity to resist mortal sin.

• Finally, we must remember that the core of Catholic tolerance lies in our duty to refrain from judging our neighbor as to his or her ultimate eternal destiny. We don’t know the myriad of ways God’s grace will triumph, nor at what moment in a person’s life. Our duty is to scatter the seeds and let God do the rest.
Thank you all for your attention. May the love of the Father, the grace of Christ, and the koinonía of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.