One of the most common charges leveled at “progressives” or “liberals” when they make any criticism of, or raise any objection against, a “conservative” or “reactionary” is that they are being hypocritically intolerant or exclusive. This happened here in a comment left on one of my earlier posts. This accusation of viciousness gives me the opportunity to make a number of observations on the matter of vice and virtue.
First, tolerance is, properly speaking, not a virtue but a political strategy or policy. Tolerance, in this political sense, is the willingness to allow others to express opinions or hold beliefs with which one (or the majority) disagrees. Thus the Church of England eventually came to tolerate the practice of Roman Catholicism, without in any way affirming it.
Second, there is a difference between toleration of the right to hold an opinion or belief, and any suggestion that this need extend to action. Thus, I am perfectly tolerant of the opinions of Bishop Duncan, Iker, &c., but I do not approve of those of their actions which I believe to be illegal under Canon law.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, tolerance is not a religious virtue, though it may call upon the exercise of some of those virtues, such as patience and fortitude, as well as charity. But I do not expect the Roman Catholic Church or The Episcopal Church to be tolerant of those who wish to remain members while teaching things at variance with their corporate beliefs. Thus, while it may be intolerant of the Pope to discipline a Jesuit for teaching something at odds with the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, he is well within his rights to do so. The same goes for The Episcopal Church, though this authority is very rarely exercised. I would thus say that TEC is relatively more “tolerant” of the expression of contrary opinions than is the RCC; that is, we rarely discipline clergy merely for holding or even teaching a contrary opinion, at least if it stops short of action such as attempting to lead a parish or diocese into secession.
Fourth, the fact that one tolerates an opinion need not mean that one agrees with it, nor, on the contrary, does disagreeing with an opinion — even strongly — mean that one is intolerant. Toleration has to do with people’s rights to have opinions, not to be right.
Thus I can strongly disagree with Duncan and Iker without being intolerant of them; but at the same time I do not have to tolerate actions I believe to be illegal.
Which brings me to the whole idea of inclusivity. Someone once said that anything can be tolerated but intolerance — but I’m not sure that is true. As I note, the English eventually came to tolerate the existence of a relatively intolerant body, the Roman Catholic Church, as long as its intolerance was directed towards the discipline of its own members — a thing they have every right to do; that is, the Roman Catholic Church does not have to put up with (i.e., tolerate) its clergy teaching doctrines at odds with the magisterium.
The same can be said of inclusivity — which I also do not see as a virtue in and of itself, though, like toleration it may call upon the exercise of real virtues. Obviously it is difficult to include within any body a person set upon the overthrow of that body — this is why the political freedoms granted to Americans stop short of any right to foment revolution or insurrection.
It is quite true that many speak of inclusiveness as if it were a virtue in and of itself. I do not accept that theory. The same goes for tolerance. Neither of these things requires or implies agreement with what the one being tolerated or included thinks or says. It is neither intolerant nor exclusive sharply to critique any notion advanced or position argued. And if a state, or a church, is required to exercise discipline when an opinion or a teaching goes beyond the pale into insurrection or disobedience, well, the state or church has the right no longer to tolerate the behavior, and to exclude the member.
So, I do not disagree with the Roman Catholic Church, or the Mormons, or the more conservative segment of TEC, for example, for being “intolerant” or “exclusive” — they have every right to be so! However, I think they are wrong — and I have every right to critique them in the strongest language — though, I think, I am really rather forbearing in my tone. Of course, I could be wrong on this as well.
Tobias Haller BSG