I was already planning to write on the topic of tolerance. Then my friend Chuck sent me an article by a writer we both like, and voila!, my article came into focus.

A few decades ago Chuck and I were both on staff at a small college. He was older and wiser and a professor. I was younger and a little callow and a coach. But we had things in common.

One of those was what some regarded as a rebellious streak. Chuck’s streak was orange. Or at least that was the color of his SAAB 99. My streak was blue, which was the color of our Triumph TR7.

In the intervening years Chuck has, like most, suffered loss and success. Through it all he has remained — and this is a big part of what we have in common — curious.

Perhaps that is why we both like the writing of David Brooks. It was a column by Mr. Brooks, whose words often appear in the New York Times and The Atlantic, that Chuck sent.

There, his is probably considered a conservative voice. But I don’t know, because I’m only an occasional reader of those publications.

Thankfully, Chuck, who does subscribe to the Times, sends along a column now and then. And I had a couple of nits with this one.

The liberalism dilemma

Mr. Brooks begins by saying that “the central struggle in the world right now is between liberalism and authoritarianism.” Those who embrace liberalism, he says, believe in democratic values.

I’ll take his word for it, but I haven’t seen it. Perhaps I’ve missed it.

Mr. Brooks says authoritarians (“pseudo-authoritarian populists like Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Narendra Modi… or straight-up dictators like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping or theocratic fascists like the men who run Iran and Hamas”) don’t believe in democratic values. But, he goes on to say, authoritarian figures such as those have done something liberals have missed. He writes:

The great strength of the authoritarians who oppose liberal principles, from Trump to Xi to Hamas, is that they play straight into the primordial sources of meaning that are deeper than individual preference — faith, family, soil and flag.

Mr. Brooks knows that faith, family, and country are important. He concludes by saying:

Liberal politicians need to find ways to defend liberal institutions while also honoring faith, family and flag and the other loyalties that define the purposes of most people’s lives.

For him, how to do that is the liberalism dilemma. Part of his solution says:

We need to be liberals in public but subscribe to transcendent loyalties in the depth of our being — to be Catholic, Jewish, stoic, environmentalist, Marxist or some other sacred and existential creed.

“Close, but no cigar.”

The dilemma with liberalism is not that it is a lousy substitute for faith, family, and country, which Mr. Brooks admits. It is that liberalism ultimately destroys any deeply held belief that even seems to oppose liberal tenets.

Note above the potential option to be Catholic “in the depth of our being” while being liberal in public. If the liberal position is to approve all abortions, even up to birth, and the Catholic belief is that life is sacred, including life in the womb, which do you choose?

Does Mr. Biden, a Catholic, believe that life is sacred, or does he believe parents (especially mothers) can kill an unwanted child with impunity?

In reality one belief will always prevail. Imagine Mr. Biden publicly announcing, “I’m politically and socially liberal, but I’m privately Catholic, so I will not support a carte blanche federal right to abortion.” What would happen? Could he say, “In my heart I’m against it, but in my office I’m for it?” No.

The real problem with liberalism isn’t that it disallows sacred beliefs, though it often replaces them, it is that it demands tolerance.

Mr. Brooks says one author explains what makes liberalism so attractive. In Brooks’ words, “We respect autonomy and personal space, dislike hypocrisy and snobbery, and strive to achieve a live-and-let-live tolerance.”

Ah yes, tolerance

Liberals often say they are very tolerant. But the pro-Palestinians who walked out on Jerry Seinfeld before he spoke were not tolerant. Ask any conservative who has been cancelled about liberal tolerance.

As an article in Politico states, both liberals and conservatives are about equally intolerant of beliefs that contradict their own.

We all tend to be tolerant when the people involved believe like us, and we all tend to be intolerant when they don’t. That includes liberals and conservatives, David Brooks and Donald Trump.

Decades ago I was asked by a young man if he should be more tolerant. I replied that the only thing I was intolerant of was tolerance. Here’s why.

By definition tolerance is “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.”

But tolerance over a period of time leads to acceptance, and acceptance leads to normalization.

I might tolerate behavior from a child once, but if I continue to tolerate it two things will happen. The child will think it’s OK, and I will begin to accept the behavior. Once I accept it, I will eventually think of it as “normal.”

Being tolerant poses as doing good, but in many cases it does great harm.

The answer

The answer to the liberal problem — and the conservative problem — is love.

I have friends whose lifestyle/beliefs/behaviors — you name it — I disagree with. They know it, but they also know I love them. I will not tolerate their behavior, but I will love them. That means I’m not cancelling them, I’m not walking out on them, and I’m not burning down their business.

Jesus got it right when he said, “love your enemies.” Love is a virtue (tolerance is not), and we all would do well to love more.

The central struggle in the world right now is not between liberalism and authoritarianism. It is between good and evil. Do good.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Randy Wolff

    Well stated my friend. I must love someone enough not be be tolerant of their belief that there is no God or that there are many gods. Why should I be tolerant of someone who will be in anguish and eternally separated from God if I do not tell him or her what Jesus said. Why should I be tolerant of someone walking off a cliff who may even say there is no cliff and to mind my own business. We must never be tolerant of something that is not absolute truth. Now have a nice day.

    1. Lewis Greer

      Society says, “Be tolerant.” And we do it because it is easy and we think it lets us off the hook. Besides, anyone who speaks out against something when they are supposed to be tolerant is labeled as “intolerant.”

      We know that and don’t like it. We don’t want it to happen to us. So we “go along to get along.”

      Love, on the other hand, is hard. But not loving, as you point out, puts us on the hook.

      Learning how to love while not tolerating bad behavior adds another dimension to it all. But doing that will make the world a better — and much less divided — place.

      In other words, it is worth the effort. It can even make a day nice. 🙂

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