Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Dilemma of Tolerance


"Why can't we all just get along?"

"Whatever you think is right, is right, and whatever I think is right, is right."

"To each his own."

"I know you think that's truth, but that's just what you think. There are plenty of other people out there who think truth is something else, and they are just as right."

"You people are so intolerant and unaccepting. Why can't you just love?

"There are so many religions and they basically believe the same thing."

This is what I'm calling the "philosophy of the streets." This is how much of everyday life is. I'm sure many of us have said something like these statements in some way. These are statements that are said as we are living in an increasingly pluralistic culture whose god is named Tolerance. What's fascinating is that most people I talk to believe they somehow arrived at these thoughts on their own. It's kind of like choosing a song for a wedding. Stacy has a friend who sings at at ton of weddings. The couple really wants to pick a song that's different than all the other weddings, something that stands out. So, to them, they do. Her friend, the singer says, "It's hilarious because that's the song all the couples that want to be 'different' choose." Unbeknownst to the couple, they are thinking the same way as everyone else. Rarely do we question how the growing populace comes to these beliefs that form firm convictions.

I'm reading a very helpful book by professor and philosopher, Luc Ferry, called A Brief History of Thought. His project is simple: Provide a sketch of the history of philosophy to people who don't really have any training. He uses the working framework of theoria, or "seeing the divine," ethics, and salvation as, according to Ferry, it is the method for pursuing what philosophy is all about, "the quest for salvation without God."

While I don't have space to sketch out how we got to where we are today, the point I'm making is that we don't come up with our thoughts in a vacuum, entirely on our own. We learn them. And there are an enormous number of existing forces of thought that impose themselves on the way we think. The quotes above represent, in a very basic, crude way, the project of deconstructionism led by Friedrich Nietszche leading to what is called materialism. It is a philosophy that sought to destroy all the "idols" of thought from philosophy past, that we are all products of nature and history, and that we are only left  to what is real in the here and now. This, for the most part won out. So at the street level, many of us are left with the thoughts and lifestyles represented by the quotes above.

Now I know I'm oversimplifying, but if the quotes above sound at all familiar, then there are at least hints of materialism in the way that you think. This then makes Ferry's critique valid.

Ferry doesn't believe we can live in a strictly materialist world (and, as far as I can tell, this guy is not a Christian nor advocating for any religion). This is why: materialism has no problem with looking at the beauty of this world for happiness, but when there are any problems whatsoever - catastrophes or sheer human injustice - it provides no answers.
Faced with imminent catastrophe - a sick child, the rise of fascism, an urgent political or military decision - I know of no materialist sage who does not instantly turn into a vulgar humanist, weighing up the alternatives, suddenly convinced that the course of events must in some sense depend on his free choices.
Ferry is saying that the materialist's philosophy is dependent on our lives being determined by outside forces (nature or history), but when problems come, the philosophy breaks down because the materialist has to make "free choices." So while the materialist wants to "embrace whatever happens and just be cool with life," what do we do with "life" at Auschwitz? Or, hitting closer to home, what happens when a woman finds out her husband has committed adultery? Or when a family member has cancer?

So here comes the problem with all of the language we use today and the attitudes we carry of "just be tolerant" or "let's all get along" and it's outlined beautifully by Ferry:
The materialist says, for example, we are not free, though he is convinced, of course, that he asserts this freely ... He says that we are wholly determined by our history, but he never stops urging us to free ourselves ... He says that we must love the world as it is, turning our backs on the past and future so as to live in the present, but he never stops trying, like you or me, when the present weights upon us, to change it in the hope of a better world. In brief, the materialist sets forth philosophical theses that are profound, but always for you and me, never for himself. (emphasis mine)
All along the way the materialist is forced outside of the philosophical framework he or she espouses into something greater, more transcendent. It sounds good for everyone else and the only exception to it is ourselves.

The point is that all of what is said today about tolerance may sound good, but nobody, absolutely nobody, actually lives that way.

We need a better way...

By His Grace.

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