"To be able to discern that what is true is true, and that
what is false is false; this is the mark and character of
"No man thoroughly understands a truth until he has contended
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The best way of avenging thyself is not to become like the
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Last week we looked at why today's liberals are so intolerant.
The amazing thing is -- liberals aren't alone in their intolerance!
Those of us on the conservative side of the political spectrum are often
guilty as well. It can be difficult to see our own faults, yet I believe
that one of conservatism's strengths is its willingness to entertain
criticism of itself, and in so doing to become even stronger. In that
vein, and as a fellow traveler, I offer these observations of what often
leads conservatives down the intolerance path.
Blinders. Many conservatives see a rather limited view of
life, much like the horse picked to pull a buggy down the road was often
sheltered from distractions on either side with blinders. Conservative
individuals have often found a lifestyle that works well for them;
frequently as the result of a great deal of work, or perhaps after
graduation from the school of hard knocks. It is natural to believe that
the same lifestyle will work well for very different people in equally
different life situations. But lifestyles reflect values, and others may
value entirely different things than we do.
Conservatives are often financially successful, usually because
they've taken up the opportunities to work hard. This further isolates
them from much of humanity, both here and in the underdeveloped world,
who are less well-off (many of whom nevertheless work hard). And the
amount of time conservatives invest in their work can obscure
opportunities that would broaden their experience -- which in turn
reinforces a narrower view of life and people. This slice-of-life view,
to the exclusion of the rest of it, can and does lead conservatives to
wrong conclusions about their world and others in it.
Legalism. Largely because they see a narrow view of life,
conservatives frequently fall victim to legalism. Legalism condemns
people who are different from ourselves, or have not met the standards
we set for ourselves. Christians, unfortunately, are especially prone to
legalism, especially with other Christians. Jesus went to great lengths
to explain to the legalistic rulers of His day that God looks not only
at the actions we take -- but the motives of each individual heart. Too
often, we as Christians are prone to assume God's work of judgment; yet
we frequently do so based on having only half the picture. This is
because motive -- the intent of the heart -- is nearly always denied us.
This can lead to both incorrect judgments and impugned motives among
others -- not exactly a prescription for healthy relationships! Some
things God has said are wrong under any circumstances, and these we are
clearly called to oppose; but we should not go about expanding the list
at our own discretion.
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Selfishness. Alas, many conservatives join their liberal
neighbors in worshipping at the altar of personal peace and prosperity.
They become intolerant of anything that interrupts that worship -- be it
family members, a struggling friend, a homeless man in a doorway, the
drug-addicted and discouraged. Demands on one's time and money are
especially unwelcome. Liberals are, if anything, somewhat more generous
with their time and money, at least toward the causes they support;
perhaps because they are less plagued by the blinders and legalism that
so often ensnare us as conservatives.
Selfishness, it should be noted, is on the whole the natural
condition of mankind without God. It is the reason why all utopian
schemes devised by the mind and heart of man are destined to fail, why
the less-than-ideal continues to exist, and why in such a world
tolerance is a necessary virtue. It is God alone who sees the
motivations of the heart, as well as the actions of the individual, and
therefore judges correctly.
It is also God who changes the selfish heart, and enables it to
embrace the sea of selfish humanity surrounding it. Without a change of
heart our "tolerance" will never amount to more than the three monkeys
covering their eyes, ears, and mouths -- see no evil, hear no evil, and
speak no evil. Such "tolerance" is hardly a major-league virtue -- given
what we are called upon to tolerate today. And tolerance was never meant
to be approval and acceptance -- which is too often what those pleading
for "tolerance" are really after. Tolerance is a necessary virtue in an