As theologians, apologists, cultural analysts or what have you, we quickly identify the frailty of charges of intolerance when they occur. The outcry to abstain from any semblance of judgmentalism has turned into a collective whine. Discrediting their arguments has become routine and even kind of irritating as sometimes we are left to wonder how many times it needs to be said, your cry for tolerance rests in your intolerance.
Until you remember real lives are involved, until you recognize that there is nothing new under the sun and good ideas and bad ones will repeat themselves til the end if time. So we persist.
If you have teenage kids—and if you actually talk to them—you’ll discover that these lackluster, intellectual heresies are alive and well, not only in the classroom, but in the hallways and lunch rooms in schools everywhere. While refuting some of these arguments has become old hat to many of us, engaging charges of intolerance is an every day battle for the Millenials who choose to take a stand for truth among their peers. We know that our teens need to be trained to recognize the ideas that oppose their faith, but with this knowledge needs to be developed the courage, confidence, and love to confront the hopelessness of the philosophy that declares all things are good.
I haven’t decided yet who my favorite apologist is….it’s somewhere between Joe Carter, Greg Gutfeld, and my teen son who announced in the car a few days ago “There is no tolerance.” Profound thoughts coming from the backseat; I couldn’t stop myself from blurting “wow” as I continued to drive home. I had to know more and learned that my son judged a life decision of one of his friends as unwise, as in “its not smart to get pregnant in high school.” Who can argue with that, right? This will probably go down as one of his most memorable moments in life—or at least high school—the day he was labeled intolerant.
He is right, tolerance simply does not exist. At best, its an idea used as a ploy to make vices virtuous and virtues vicous. One only needs to look at the recent ambitions of Miley Cyrus to know this is true. And while my son’s Reality TV generation touts the fact that they don’t want to be manipulated, his generation struggles in their relationship with this unbelievably inauthentic, yet ultimate “virtue” that seeks to commit violence against all that is good and true.
Obviously this isn’t my first experience with this topic, it was a guiding philosophy among the students at the local community college as well. This being the case, I had them read this essay by the late Jean Bethke Elshtain each semester on the issue of judging. I appreciate her wisdom in this piece as she concludes,
Let’s pursue this just a bit further, depressing as it is, because the elimination of the possibility of judgment, the evacuation of the very capacity of judging, would spell the end of the human subject as a self-respecting, accountable being. Judging is a sign, a mark, of our respect for the dignity of others and ourselves.
If judging (intolerance) is for the purpose of revealing with is good, true and beautiful—and is accompanied by a spirit of love and compassion instead of pride and arrogance—how could judging not be a beneficial component of cultural engagement? Indeed, tolerance has led to an abandonment of truth which prevents its adherents from truly honoring others.
It isn’t just that charges of intolerance have proven to be self-refuting due to what they seek to accomplish, but the entire “don’t judge” enterprise demands much more from Christians in our response than we are accustomed to offering. We need to do better than to point out the flaws inherent to this misguided attempt at moral generosity, we need to show them how they arrived there and why that path ultimately lets them down.
In the wider culture, the secular sphere seeks to oppress the biblical worldview and our response has been the plea for equal treatment. It’s become easy to be satisfied as one voice among many, but now the expectation is the self-silencing of the Christian worldview. All too often, we capitulate by not giving the real reasons for our moral declarations, we just make them and move one, or sometimes look for secular reasons to meet their demands of reasonableness instead of providing a Christ-centered framework for working through their failed moral epistemology.
With intellectual and spiritual integrity, we need to be prepared to give an answer, not one that meets the demands of the unbeliever and perpetuates violence against what is truly virtuous, but one that actually meets their needs.
Sarah Flashing is a freelance writer and speaker in the areas of theology, apologetics and Christian ethics. She is the author of “Preparing Women to Walk Worthy of the Call” and writes at SarahFlashing.com. She has written for The Gospel Coalition, Solid Reasons, Servants of Grace, Christianity Today, and the Christian Apologetics Alliance. Sarah is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with an M.A. in Christian Thought (2005).