Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tolerance: America’s Last Virtue

Supposedly the Greek philosopher Aristotle said that “Tolerance is the last virtue of a dying society.”  I believe America is on the verge of a rebirth of sorts, but to be reborn implies something died; and yes, the old glory of America is on its last legs.  She is indeed a dying society, and amazingly, Aristotle was also a prophet, because America’s last virtue is undoubtedly tolerance.

But we Americans are like the oblivious King Hezekiah who opened up himself and his entire nation to his enemies.  Indeed, “At that time Berodach-baladan a son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick.  Hezekiah listened to them, and showed them all his treasure house, the silver and the gold and the spices and the precious oil and the house of his armor and all that was found in his treasuries. There was nothing in his house nor in all his dominion that Hezekiah did not show them” (2 Kings 20:12-13 NASB).

America was sick (and is actually still sick) but recovering by divine intervention.  And the world has intervened and feigned to wish her well; and like Hezekiah, America listened!  There is a proper openness and transparency, and then there is an improper nakedness and shame.  Our internal policies should be opened behind our doors only, and our government ought to be transparent only to her citizenry; instead we air all our laundry and wonder why we are openly mocked and disgracefully treated by the rest of the world.

The prophet Isaiah basically rebuked Hezekiah and said that Babylon would one day take everything he had showed them to their nation.  Hezekiah was a king that God said walked in David’s righteousness; but in this matter he was extraordinarily obtuse and oblivious to its implications.  Does that sound like anyone you know today?  America, like Hezekiah, has—in her past—walked in righteousness; but is she now?  Did Hezekiah recover from his illness only to be a doddering old fool the remaining years of his life?  Will America, after she is recovered from her illness, be a doddering old fool?      
America, like Hezekiah, has been tolerant in the wrong way; there is, however, a right way, a righteous way.  But first we must redefine what was once defined without ambiguity.  Too many think of tolerance as meaning anything goes, even anarchy or license; a popular maxim says, “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”; and I believe that is always right, even when tolerating differing ideas and opinions.  Yes, be open-minded, but never to the degree that your brain falls out of your head! 

The irony in attempting to define the word “tolerance” is how tolerant people have become even in defining the word “tolerance!”  Here are just three (of many) definitions you can find all over the place today; note the vast variability: 1. “Tolerance or toleration is a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry” (Wikipedia).  2. “Willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own; the ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant” (Merriam-Webster online).  3. “TOL’ERANCE, noun [Latin tolerantia, from tolero, to bear.] The power or capacity of enduring; or the act of enduring” (Webster’s Dictionary, 1828, online edition).

Now I hold the last definition to be the most authoritative for the simple reason that Webster’s definition precedes the others and is directly derived from the Latin word it originated from, “to bear.”  Sure, we ought to suffer (bear or endure) fools, but we do not have to promote them to positions of authority and make their foolish ideas and stupid opinions the policy or law of the land.

Enlarging our hearts and being inclusive of everyone has shrunk our minds and excluded America herself from her own shores; by embracing everyone and everything we have shunned ourselves and the face of our nation which once launched a thousand ships upon a thousand seas of merciful occasion.

Postmodern America’s borders are vanishing like the parameters of the dictionary definitions of our native tongue; we are becoming as confused as those whom God scattered away from the base of their colossal error, the Tower of Babel.  They were confused about the gate of God (Jesus Christ is the gate; He always was, and always will be).  They tried to unify around the works of their own hands and the vain designs of their own imaginations; if God had allowed them to be successful, they would have forever eclipsed God’s better way of unification and design.  Likewise, if America does not awaken from the slumber of hyper-toleration, she too will be confused and scattered.  

Of course the Bible, as is ALWAYS the case, has the answer.  A great picture of true tolerance and openness of mind and perspective is found n this excerpt of Scripture: “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore” (1 Kings 4:29-30 NIV).  And that is extraordinary, something to consider; but notwithstanding this excellent upgrade, there is something even better to lay hold of.  Behold, something greater than Solomon is here: THE MIND OF CHRIST; we HAVE the mind of Christ!

Though we ought always to be patient with all men, and we ought always to bear long with people, even showing deference to them in love from the heart, we never need to subscribe to wrong thinking and vain imaginations (in us or others).  It is time to be wise as serpents, but innocent as doves.  Indeed, it is time to be wiser than our enemies, smarter than our teachers, and more discerning than our religious overlords or elders; this will only happen in proportion to how much we study the Bible and give ourselves to prayer.  “Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies.  I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.  I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts” (Psalm 119:98-100 NIV).

Righteousness exalts a nation, not tolerance, and righteousness is inherently restrictive of some types of beliefs and behaviors; in God’s economy, subtraction and multiplication increases things, and narrowness of entrance exits as enlargement of purpose and perspective.  Let us tolerate from the heart and discriminate from the mind; let us open our hearts to the masses and close our minds to the enemy.  Enlarge your tents for increased citizenry, yes, but also close your borders to decrease enemy infiltration.