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The New Religion of Tolerance, The Threat to Freedom

The New Religion of Tolerance, The Threat to Freedom*

Alberto M. Piedra Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, the Institute of World Politics

“We must not let ourselves be affected by the superficial obligatory optimism of certain trends, but, equally, we must not yield to the temptation to overlook the positive elements in the total complex of our age”.1
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger


Once again, Cardinal Ratzinger is right when he relates the problems of drugs and terrorism and their false promises of wellbeing and happiness to modern intellectuality.  In other words, “all traditional moral criteria are dragged before the tribunal of positive reason, ‘called into question’ and ‘seen through’ as unproven.  Morality does not lie in Being but in the future.  Man must devise it himself.  The sole moral value that exists is the future society in which everything that does not exist now will be fulfilled.  Thus morality in the present consists in working for this future society.  Accordingly, the new moral criterion states: ‘Moral’ is what serves to bring about the new society.”2  Utopia in the form of a new religion based on tolerance even at the cost of freedom?  Yes, but it will be done insidiously under the guise of tolerance and what is now called “political correctness.”                                                                                                                                                                              

“In the name of tolerance, tolerance is being abolished, this is a real threat we face.  The danger is that reason – so called Western reason – claims that it has now really recognized what is right and thus makes a claim to totality that is inimical to freedom. I believe that we must very emphatically delineate this danger. No one is forced to be a Christian. But no one should be forced to live according to the ‘new religion’ as though it alone were definitive and obligatory for all mankind.”3

A new type of intolerance is spreading under the name of political correctness.4 New standards of thinking are imposed on everyone. They are then presented to the public under the name of “negative tolerance” or what is also called the desire not to offend anyone.  As an example, Cardinal Ratzinger mentions the case that there must be no crucifix in public buildings so as not to offend non-Christians. “With that we are basically experiencing the abolition of tolerance, for it means, after all, that religion, that Christian faith is no longer allowed to express itself visibly.”5

Our contemporary world of the 21st century does not cease to preach tolerance, but hardly ever mentions the paradox of tolerance. In the absence of any constraining control, the powerful will not only take advantage but abuse the weak.  In fact, unlimited tolerance will inevitably lead to the disappearance of tolerance.  A well-known German scholar once wrote: “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed and tolerance with them.”6  We should therefore claim the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

In this formulation, claims Popper, “I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise.  But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.  We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”7

Romano Guardini, professor of philosophy and theology at the University of Munich, claims that the real and immediate threat that Christianity faces today is that Western man has finally recognized what is right and, as a result, makes a claim to totality which is a rejection of freedom. ‘’The new culture taking shape in Europe bred an outlook which thrust into prominence the increasing opposition to the Church.  European man was adopting as self-evident truth the point of view which gave politics, economics, government, science, art, philosophy, and education principles and criteria imminent to themselves.  In doing so men planted the seeds of non-Christian, even anti-Christian, ways of life in the soil of Europe.”8

The question that Cardinal Ratzinger asks and we must also ask ourselves is whether the question of truth and the question of good can be separated from each other. “If we can no longer recognize what is true and can no longer distinguish it from what is false, then it becomes impossible to recognize what is good; the distinction between good and evil loses its basis.”9 This is the fundamental problem of our time, the question of truth and toleration. There is an urgent need to bring back into the public domain the essential bond between Truth, the Good, and Freedom. Present day culture has largely lost sight of this essential bond.  As a result, helping man to rediscover it represents nowadays the greatest challenges to both clergy and Christians in general.  Truth is sacrificed on the altar of relativistic theories which reject or even deny the precepts of the moral law as established by God in the Decalogue and the Gospels; the Natural Law.  Rational reflection and daily experience demonstrates the weakness which marks man’s freedom; a freedom that is real but limited.  Freedom, the greatest gift of God given to man, cannot be reduced exclusively to a mere freedom from tyranny, oppression, and abuse. The stress should be placed primarily that for which we want freedom.10

C. S. Lewis, the well-known professor of medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford and Cambridge universities, with his delightful humor and prose, uses the term the Tao to explain the need for Natural Law.  He writes: This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value.  It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory.  There never has been, and never will be, a radically new judgment of value in the history of the World.  What purports to be new systems or (as they now call them) ‘ideologies,’ all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess.”11

The role of human reason in discovering and applying the moral law must be emphasized.  However, reason draws its own truth and authority from natural law (ius naturale) which is the light of understanding infused in us by God whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided.  Its precepts are in exact correspondence with our natural inclinations and follow the same order. This truth is indicated by the divine law, the universal and objective norm of morality.12  Positive law (ius positivum) is the result of custom or the will of man.  In the name of a false interpretation of tolerance, evil acts cannot be accepted under its banner. The principle of a “rightful autonomy” of man who is the personal subject of his actions does not exempt him from doing the right thing and avoiding what is wrong.  The moral law, John Paul II reminds us, has its origin in God and always finds its source in him and not in man.

As mentioned earlier, a new and dangerous type of intolerance is being spread in our contemporary society under the name of political correctness.  Pope John Paul II reiterates this danger: “The saving power of the truth is contested, and freedom alone, uprooted from any objectivity, is left to decide by itself what is good and what is evil.  This relativism becomes, in the field of theology, a lack of trust in the wisdom of God, who guides man with the moral law.”13

A few years ago, Dr. Jude Dougherty, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America, commenting on Oswald Spengler’s multivolume study The Decline of the West wrote the following: “For more than 200 years Western intellectual tradition has been subjected to the nihilistic criticism of forces launched by the Enlightenment. The result: we are now experiencing in the social order the repudiation of the classical and Christian sources of Western culture.  There is little doubt that Europe is living off a dying past, perhaps nearing the end of a great culture, not unlike that experienced before the fall of Rome when internal corruption made possible barbarian invasion.”14  Is a similar trend occurring in America?

Thus, let us not be fooled by false interpretations of tolerance, camouflaged under the appearance of political correctness, which can accelerate the process of relativism and moral decay so characteristic of modern America.  Each of us can see the seriousness of what is involved not only for individuals but also for society as a whole if we fall into the trap of the so-called political correctness.  The universality and immutability of the moral commandments must be reaffirmed, particularly those which prohibit always and without exception those acts which are intrinsically evil.

Let me conclude this brief article with these enlightened and much needed words in this age of confusion written by John Henry Cardinal Newnan: “Pray God to enlighten you with a knowledge of the extent of your duty, to enlighten you with a true view of this world.  Beware lest the world seduce you.  It will aim at persuading you that itself is rational and sensible, that religion is very well in its way, but that we are born for the world.  And you will be seduced most certainly, unless you watch and pray that you enter not into temptation.  You must either conquer the world, or the world will conquer you.  You must be either master or slave. Take your part then, and ‘stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.'”15

With these wise words of Newman in mind let me repeat that we must be aware of the forces of evil cloaked, as it were, under the cover of political correctness which are leading us to ignore or reject the Natural Law.

*Please note: The views expressed by Amb. Piedra do not necessarily reflect those of The Institute of World Politics.

1. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Turning Point for Europe“, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, i991, P. 17.

2. Ibid, p. 22

3. Benedict XVI,  Light of the World, The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Time, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2010,  p..53

4. The notion that tolerance is a virtue, as some scholars are implying, is far from being true.  The German philosopher Joseph Pieper in his excellent book The Cardinal Virtues does not mention tolerance as one of them  On the contrary, he brings out in this instructive book the overvaluation of moderation that is affecting negatively contemporary morality. Neither do such great minds as Aristotle and the stoics in ancient Greece speak of it as a virtue.

5. Benedict  XVI, The Light of the World, op.cit., p. 52                                      

6. Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Routledge, 1945.  Karp Popper was a well known Jewish German scholar who fled his native country shortly before the rise of Nazism.

7. Ibid, Karl R. Popper

8. Romano Guardini, The End of the Modern World, Wilmington Delaware, Intercolegiate Studies Institute, ISIS, 1998, p.96.

9. Cardinal Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance, San Francisco, Ignatius Press,, 2004. p.214

10. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, Chapter Three, paragraps 84-86  pp.129-132.

11. C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Chapter Two, The Way, San Francisco, A Touchstone Book, 1996, pp.55-56.

12. Etienne Gilson, The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, New York: Barnes and Noble, 1993.   See also : John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, paragraphs 50 and 60 and Alberto M. Piedra , Natura] Law and the Age of Reason, Chapter 1,  Lanham, MD. 2004. 

13. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, op..cit., paragraph 84,. p.129

14. Jude Dougherty, “Tolerance, Virtue or Vice

15. John Henry Cardinal Newman, Newman Reader, Belief in One God, from ChapterV of A  Grammar of Assent,  New York, Image Books, A division of Double Day, 1955.  P.339