Intolerance is the quickest route to social leprosy on the modern university campus. Intolerance simply cannot be tolerated. So argued University of Chicago Professor Allan Bloom in his courageous book, The Closing of the American Mind. By his account, a student could be known for promiscuity, drunkenness, profanity, laziness, and dishonesty and still be popular among his peers. But if he argued that homosexuality, Wicca, or any other deviant lifestyle or belief system was mistaken and harmful, then he was a marked man. At best, he was shunned, at worst, expelled and sued.
Bloom’s title was, at first sight, a curious one, for the book seemed to describe a very open-minded culture, one free from “Victorian” and “Puritanical” strictures. No longer restrained by “cold orthodoxy,” the university celebrated all sorts of formerly disparaged convictions and practices. But, as Bloom argued, their minds were so open that their brains had fallen out. Doubting the existence of truth, they found no cause to pursue it. So the mind stopped working, its activities replaced by those of the vocal chords, fists, and loins.
Traditionalists charged with intolerance are seldom guilty of that crime, for they passionately defend others’ rights to hold and champion their own positions, however bizarre or obviously self-destructive they might be. No, their crime is to claim that they have truths that others lack, much as Jeremiah proclaimed the faith of the Patriarchs at the expense of idol worship and as Paul preached the gospel at the expense of legalism.
Unfortunately, the issue is scarcely one of truth. It is, rather, a matter of feelings, esteem, and power—a post-modern pantheon. And so it was not surprising that Harvard Law School was convulsed at a professor’s claim that feminists, Marxists, and blacks had contributed little to a particular sector of legal theory. Instead of examining the claim for veracity, they formed a Committee on Healthy Diversity. A new sensitivity course was put in place, and a new speech code considered. It was as though a new right had been added to the original Bill of Rights, the right not to be offended.
Truth is taking a beating, but even more fundamentally, the canons of logic are dismissed. For centuries, logicians and rhetoricians have insisted on fealty to the principle of non-contradiction—one cannot both assert a thing and its opposite; you must be consistent. Now that is counted as an oppressive standard, one that serves only the interests of exacting, disciplined leaders, those more committed to persuading than emoting, those disinclined to “revel in contradiction.”
Through the years, professors have steered their students away from ad hominem argument (attacking the person instead of his case) and the genetic fallacy (dismissing something because it had a flawed beginning). These are no longer “sins”; now they are “virtues,” the very stock in trade of “deconstructionists,” scholars who read an oppressor and his victim into every line of text. When they hear, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights . . .” they can only muster contempt for the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Instead of appreciating fine words by a flawed man (Thomas Jefferson), they read the horrors of patriarchalism (“all men”) and religious bigotry (“Creator”) from the pen of a slave holder. Forget the objective truth of the text; focus on its nefarious subtext.
Alas, this perspective operates beyond the walls of the academy. For instance, Canadian Hugh Owens was fined $4,500 by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission for placing a newspaper ad citing Scripture which was critical of homosexuality. Though such an act of “sensitive” intolerance may be shocking, Paul projected this sort of thing 2 Timothy 3:1-4, when he wrote, “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves . . . unholy . . . without self-control . . . not lovers of the good . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God . . .”
Under these circumstances, the Church would most naturally stand in stark contrast with the culture. The pastors would be prophets, their congregations, warriors. But Paul anticipated a shocking spectacle: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
As error flies all about the Church, the pulpit must become a fount of truth. If any churchman would presume to insist that the sacred desk avoid offense, then that man has gravely misunderstood both the times and the preacher’s sacred task. He needs to repent and then defend Paul’s mandate to his successors—“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).
The world will not tolerate this; the Church must tolerate nothing less.