Of Truth and Tolerance….at Easter

by Patrick J. Buchanan – April 3, 1994

“Truly, this was the Son of God.” So spoke the Roman sentry on Calvary on that first Good Friday as he saw the heavens darken at the death of the Man on the Cross.

That soldier uttered the greatest truth ever spoken. He had looked up and seen in that agonized face the answer to the question Pontius Pilate had posed only hours before, on sentencing Christ to His death on the cross: “What is truth?”

For two rnillennia, Christians have sought to conform their lives to the truths revealed by Christ. None since has done so perfectly, but many have suffered martyrdom rather than deny those truths.

Yet, for decades now, in this country to whose greatness and goodness Christianity has contributed so much, it has been a violation of the Constitution to teach these truths to children in public schools, or to pay homage in our public square to the Man who taught us how to live. Indeed, under our First Amendment, fallacies and falsehoods are guaranteed the same, in some cases superior, protection to the truths of the New Testament.

Consider the folly of what we have attempted.

We would not deny children the healthiest and most nutritious foods, lest their growth be stunted, and permanent damage be done. Yet, by court order, we starve them of a diet of the greatest truths ever taught We may instruct them in good manners in school, but not in the greatest moral code ever put down on paper.

Because teaching them the truth would violate their rights.

Outside public schools, in the market place of ideas, morally ruinous dogmas from racism to rancid pornography are accorded the same protection as the Gospels. Indeed, for the American Civil Liberties Union, the defense of pernicious dogma has become an obsession.

What is the effect of this doctrine of the moral equivalence of all ideas — except religious ideas — on society? It is like granting polluters the same right to dump sewage into the main water supply as we grant the men who put in the chlorine that purifies it.

For generations now, we have denied the food of revealed truth to our children; and we have permit the moral polluters to dump their garbage into our culture with abandon. Why then, are we surprised that ours has become a stunted and sick society?

Under the hallowed doctrine of “academic freedom,” all ideas are to be accorded equal access to the university. Why? Because, or so we are told, competition of ideas is the best way to discover truth. Fine. But, what do we do when we find the truth? Do we yet continue to allow the propagation of falsehoods? If so, why? When men learned the Earth was round, did they allow their geographers to continue to teach that it was flat?

Comes the answer: Well, in matters of science we may know truth, but in matters of morality we can never know. In this realm, one man’s opinion is as good as another, and no one has the right to impose his morality on someone else. And any attempt to give the moral code of Christianity superior status is “intolerance.”

Six decades ago, a great moral teacher saw it all coming. In a provocative 1931 essay, “A Plea for Intolerance” Fulton J. Sheen wrote, America it is said is suffering from intolerance. It is not. It is suffering from tolerance, tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so over run with the bigoted, as it is over run with the broadminded.

What is true tolerance? “Tolerance,” wrote Msgr. Sheen, is “an attitude of reasoned patience towards evil . . .a forbearance that restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment. Tolerance applies only to persons…never to truth. Tolerance applies to the erring, intolerance to the error…. Architects are as intolerant about sand as foundations for skyscraper as doctors are intolerant about germs in the laboratories.” And just as those who build skyscrapers and perform surgery must be intolerant of foolish and false ideas so too, must those who would build nations — or preserve societies.

“Tolerance does not apply to truth or principles. About these things we must be intolerant, and for this kind of intolerance, so much needed to rouse us from sentimental gush, I make a plea. Intolerance of this kind is the foundation of stability.”

“If you would see his monuments, look about you! is the epitaph chiseled on the tomb of London’s master builder, Christopher Wren. If you would see the monuments of a society that has come to consider the truths that Jesus Christ taught as one among an indefinite variety of moral codes by which to live, look around you.

Amen, and Happy Easter