Forget apathetic religious stances. I am willing to say here and now that Peter Johnston is a good person. But what do I mean by “good person”? And would Johnston, author of the “Love, not tolerance, makes one righteous” editorial (1/9), agree?
Much to Peter’s chagrin, I am not a Christian, and consequently I found entering into the realm of his argument challenging. To me, “righteous” is the adjective that precedes the word “dude” in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” not a synonym for virtue or morality. Hence, Peter might find fault with my lack of moral context, but I will attempt to respond to his article merely as an individual living in the world — not “ignobly indifferent” (“The ignoble indifference of the individualist,” 10/25), but not quite a modern Malvolio, either.
After long nights of reading for section and frolicking around Old Campus, I tiptoe into my 7′ x 11′ bedroom in Lanman-Wright, place my shoes somewhere in the middle of the floor, and collapse onto the bottom mattress of my obnoxiously squeaky bunk, leaving a trail of papers and clothing in my wake. I have no doubt that this might inspire a “negative judgment” from some, yet Peter, who happens to be my roommate, seems to refrain from commentary. Should I chastise him for his tolerance? Hardly. In fact, I find it so refreshing that I am inclined to change my habits of habitat for his sake.
Aside from dormitory dynamics, this concept works on a larger scale as well. In this age of globalization, wealthy nations have tolerated the economic shortcomings of others with mutual progress in mind (the European Union, NAFTA, etc.). In a time when our own national security is under increasing scrutiny, tolerance of Islam allows the hope for peace to remain alive. And though I hesitate to pass judgment on Christianity, it seems that recognition that we are all inherently flawed creatures and the subsequent acceptance — yes, tolerance — of oneself and of others is central to the Christian identity.
All religion is a form of tolerance, really. Other animals may inhabit this world without pondering their existence for significant amounts of time, but we humans enter this strange universe and feel alone, feel scared, feel the weight of our own mortality bearing down on us. We ask, “Why?” and we create religion as a response. I am not suggesting that God does not exist, but in order to believe in God, we have to “tolerate” a certain amount of uncertainty. We have to pray that God keep our loved ones in good health, and if one of them falls sick, we must pray that He prevent their death. We study ancient religious texts full of ambiguities and impossible occurrences, yet we must accept their counter-intuitive claims as part of our faith. We read the news and hear of tsunamis in Asia, hurricanes in Louisiana and genocide in Africa, yet through it all, we smile and say, “God still loves His children.”
Tolerance is a powerful thing. And we cannot brush it off as a passive quality. It is active. It takes effort.
But what of intolerance? There are certainly times when we cannot allow someone’s purse to be snatched away, or when we cannot accept another country’s human rights violations, or when our roommates make us pick up our jeans off the couch. But think, for a moment, on the legacy of intolerance. One need only recall the religious wars and Imperialistic quests of bygone centuries to realize the countervailing — and dangerous — power of intolerance (especially with regards to negative judgment, and especially throughout the history of Christianity). Thus, when I hear the words “God,” “Christian” and “intolerance” in any close proximity, I cannot help but smell trouble.
Again, Peter is a good person, and thankfully he would not leave us with such a hopeless dichotomy. As an alternative, he offers love as one of God’s potential moral standards. Yet as he presents it, one would imagine a spectrum of moral righteousness with love at one end and tolerance at the other. Even the Bible says otherwise: “Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes” (1 Cor. 13). To love is to excuse, and to excuse is to tolerate. Therefore, if righteousness is what we seek, then tolerance must be our practice.
I am not qualified to judge righteousness; if God really exists, that is His place. But if I should ever find myself in front of the pearly gates, I’ll sleep better tonight knowing that I, when faced with choosing tolerance or intolerance, chose the former.
Alexander Dominitz is a freshman in Saybrook College.