Tolerance, compassion, empathy, charity…all are noble virtues and absolutely necessary for people to live in peace with one another. They are also necessary practices if one is to endeavor to follow Jesus Christ as a disciple…successfully or with difficulties. But none of these denote capitulation, surrender, or submission to the sins of others, let alone celebrating their faults. Even the call to forgive those who trespass against us is coupled with the necessity on the part of the offender to repent if the process of reconciliation is to be complete.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.”
Unfortunately, mere tolerance is not enough for some people looking to bend the world to their way of thinking and nothing short of capitulation will do. Sadly, many Christians and those seeking to live virtuous lives involving benevolence toward others have mistakenly felt the need to become everyone’s doormat…sheer nonsense that is actually counterproductive to living in harmony with others. Harmony demands a balance of interests between parties. Belligerence and docility on the part of either party breeds contempt. Only when both parties respect the legitimate rights of the other, and assertively defend their own, can amity be achieved and maintained.
This is not advanced philosophy. Any kid can grasp the idea. That’s why these themes were highlighted in lessons presented to 5th grade students in the core D.A.R.E. program. One of the negative attributes that were identified as contributing to drug abuse among teens was low self-esteem. Kids and adults who think little of themselves are susceptible to peer pressure and often try to make up for their perceived shortcomings with hostility towards others…and towards themselves. As a result, experimentation with drugs was often a misguided effort to attain acceptance by pleasing others or impressing others with false bravado. So, the problems associated with low self-esteem were added to the elementary school curriculum in an effort to head off those difficulties by frontloading the kids with information that illuminated potential risks they could soon encounter in themselves and in others. The antidote offered was to encourage self-confident behaviors and more self-reliant mindsets by explaining the benefits of assertiveness vs. the pitfalls of passiveness and aggressiveness.
Unfortunately, this relatively simple concept has been lost on many with traditional scruples in our society that have been bullied into believing that any effort to stand up for themselves and what they believe in is nothing more than stubbornness and close-mindedness. Some have gone so far as to reinterpret Scripture or, worse, commit blatant heresy in order to accommodate current secular social trends that minimize or deny sin. Those who stand firm risk being labeled with an array of nasty titles from “racist” to “homophobe,” and then some. Well, Jesus never promised us a rose garden and warned many times that following him demanded sacrifice and rejection by others.
“Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
Popular culture, dominated by the current edition of liberal “progressiveness,” insists that if you don’t want to be left behind in stodgy, unenlightened foolishness you better get onboard with the current program and embrace the groupthink promoted by much of the media and entertainment industries. This is nothing new, really. It’s just the latest application of propaganda and, dare we say, peer pressure that we taught school kids to be wary of “back in the day” before they were immersed in high school shenanigans.
Of course, open-minded objectivity is a must…but that is exactly what the purveyors of current modernity want to subjugate to their own agendas. Independent thought is dissuaded by cable news networks on the political right and left by those who have completely discarded the ethics of unbiased reporting that used to define professional journalism. Yes, any discerning mind would have detected the leanings of Cronkite and Reasoner, but at least they made an effort to keep their personal opinions out of their nightly summary of world events. Not today. And the results are intellectually stifling and difficult to reverse.
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
In a culture that is gradually sliding into the chaos of subjectivity and situational ethics, those who justify secular atheism by citing evidence of regrettable religious excesses of the past are desperately trying to kick Judean-Christian values to the curb. They must do so in order to give their philosophies any chance of survival. Only by denying God, or corrupting his Word, can their humanistic, self-modeled propositions have a chance of being anything other than stillborn.
Unwittingly, they throw out the baby with the bathwater, because if there is no divine origin of social mores, there is only personal preference by default. Hence, one’s preferences are no more valid than another’s and dominance is achieved by suppression of the other guy…by force, if necessary. It all comes down to which one has the loudest voice, the most aggressive tactics, the superior propaganda…and the most control of the media as a delivery service. In short, he with the biggest club and has the most help swinging it wins. The very intellectual freedom they so enthusiastically promote is lost to the mob. Worse than that, the mutual benefits of “tolerance” are jeopardized by the insistence of total surrender by those who hold traditional values, prompting a backlash that could destroy moderation and throw us into perpetual conflict. Conflict may be inevitable, but if it’s allowed to intensify to the extremes, no one will find peace.
Lest you think that this is a notion only held by the conservative side of thought…
“We have perversely taken our notion of tolerance to such extremes that we’ve become tolerant of intolerance.”
–Bill Maher, liberal satirist
But we mustn’t forget to practice what we preach. People complain about Christians beating others over the head with the Bible and, in truth, this has regrettably happened from time to time. While I must refuse to surrender (let alone revel) in the sin of others, it doesn’t give me license to “condemn” them, either. What to do? Well, if common sense is lost on us, scripture is unequivocal:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”
Just as “tolerance” is not “capitulation,” “admonishment” is not “condemnation.” If I point out sin to others and they reject or ignore the advisement, they shoulder the responsibility and the consequences.
“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.”
We should then leave the sin and those who are committed to it in our wake and preoccupy ourselves with moving forward:
“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”
–1 Timothy 6:11
I’m just as susceptible as the next guy (or gal) to the pressures of trying to survive in an increasingly godless culture and still serve Christ, but here’s my advice to those fighting the turmoil of personal conviction vs. social acceptance:
“Defend the defensible, reconsider that which is not, shun the irrational and ask God’s help with the rest. Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding, not in the Kool-Aid.” (Humbly submitted by yours truly.)