Friday, February 3, 2017

A Dark Side of Tolerance©

Tolerance is only complacency when it makes no distinction between right and wrong.
--Louise Erdrich 

I have been re-reading a bit of one of my favorite preachers–a Baptist named Vance Havner. He is two things I like very much in my authors. He is thoughtful and he is eloquent. In recent reading I was stirred up by some of his comments about tolerance, light, darkness, sin and evil. So stirred up that I was moved to share just a few sobering paragraphs with you. His comments about tolerance, however, have nothing to do with race or politics. He said:
The devil never had a greater ally than this modern atmosphere of genial, amiable, pleasant tolerance, in which nothing is bad, everything is good, and black and white are smeared into an indefinite gray. Nothing matters if everybody is in good humor. (1)
Hardly anyone these days asks where all this goodwill of uncritical and also unexamined tolerance leads?  Havner did! He suggests that it ultimately leads to darkness. Jesus said he was the Light of the World, but he came into darkness. If it was dark back then, how much more so now. Here is Havner:
We are living in the dark. The closing chapter of this age is dominated by the prince and powers of darkness. Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. The night is far spent; the blackness is more extensive and more excessive as it deepens just before the dawn. Mammoth Cave is not limited to Kentucky; it is universal! 
Strangely enough, man never had more artificial illumination and less true light. Bodily, he walks in unprecedented brilliance, while his soul dwells in unmitigated night. He can release a nuclear glory that outdazzles the sun, and with it he plans his own destruction. He can put satellites in the sky, and left to himself, he is a wandering star to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.(2)
A gloomy view to be sure. But isn’t the fact that we find it so gloomy in itself illuminating?  What does it illuminate? Perhaps how desensitized we are to the reality of the darkness which surrounds us. How dare Havner call our tolerant and urbane civilization darkness! How dare he! In our quieter and more contemplative moments, however, we know he is right. You thought the above was gloomy?  Hear Havner's description of today’s evil and notice how we got there–little by little:
We not only live in the dark, we get used to it. There is a slow, subtle, sinister brainwashing process going on and by it we are gradually being desensitized to evil. Little by little, sin is made to appear less sinful until the light within us becomes darkness–and how great is that darkness! Our magazines are loaded with accounts of sordid crime, our newsstands with concentrated corruption. We are engulfed in a tidal wave of pornographic filth. Television has put us in the dark with Sodom and Gomorrah–right in the living room. We get used to it, acclimated to it. We accept, as a matter of course, its art, its literature, its music, its language. We learn to live with it without an inner protest.(3)
We permit the slaughter of over 60 million fetuses in the name of personal choice and liberty and consider it no different than if we were cleansing the dust from the top of the table. Talk about desensitized! Talk about darkness! Talk about evil! How do we get used to such darkness?  
One may live in a twilight zone, in conditions of low visibility, until he finds the practices of this world less repulsive. He mistakes the stretching of his conscience for the broadening of his mind. He renounces what he calls the “Pharisaism” and “puritanism” of early days with a good word for dancing, smoking, and even cocktails now and then. Instead of passing up Vanity Fair, he spends his vacations there.(4)
Why no protest? Because we are a tolerant, accepting, nonjudgmental, and civilized society. We live in the age of “do your own thing” and nobody will protest. In fact, if someone does, what happens? The political correctness police move into action. The ones to protest are the ones on the side of darkness. Not unlike the civilized people at the University of California at Berkeley. A very liberal place which one would think would be the epicenter of  “free speech.” In reality, however, it is the epicenter of political correctness and darkness--hooded thugs who protest, then riot, burn, and destroy in opposition to a conservative slated to give an address on their urbane campus.  

Havner got it just about right. Tolerance can lead to a serious desensitization–a tolerance of evil which leads to the worst kind of darkness–darkness in the mind and soul.

Let’s think together again, soon.


1.  Vance Havner, The Best of Vance Havner (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1980), p. 81.

2.  Havner, pp. 84-85.  

3.  Havner,  p. 85.

4.  Havner, p. 86.

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