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JANUARY 21, 2002
-- Martin E. Marty
No, it has not been a slow week on the public religion front; there is always more to sight than Sightings has room or time for. But, in response to some requests in your responses -- and we do profit from them, even when we do not answer them -- we are occasionally asked for perspective and elaboration.
On occasion we have written of tolerance as a weak virtue. Of course, tolerance is a strong one, but it does get sentimentalized. Listen closely and you will often hear people advocating religious tolerance on these lines: "If we can get you to believe little and lightly enough, and you see us believing little and lightly enough, we can get along fine." That's what we call weak.
Strong tolerance has a different cast. For years I've borrowed the concept of "counter-intolerance" from Gabriel Marcel, and I will draw on it again today. I've written on counter-intolerance several times and pleaded for a more elegant word to replace it. We welcome your ideas.
The following passages are particularly relevance ones from Marcel's Creative Fidelity (Crossroad, 1982), XII on "The Phenomenology and the Dialectic of Tolerance." Marcel takes the position, first, that a person shows herself to be tolerant "with respect to something," not just in general. Tolerance does not merely mean support of the "other" in his opinion. "In tolerance . . . there is not only the recognition of a fact but of a right, and this recognition can become an act of guarantee. This should lead us to perceive (and this is paramount) that tolerance is ultimately the negation of a negation, a counter-intolerance; it seems difficult for tolerance to be manifested before intolerance; tolerance is not primitive; it is to action what reflection is to thought. . . . The more it is tied to a state of weakness, the less it is itself, the less it is tolerance."
On the subject of opinion and religious belief(s): "To the extent that I hold to my opinion, am aware of sticking to it, it may be -- provided that I clearly envisage the other together with the tie relating him to his opinion -- that I put myself in the other's place such that I can conceive his opinion to be worthy just because of the intense conviction with which he holds it; it may be that my awareness of my own conviction is somehow my guarantee of the worth of his. . . "
Nothing good can happen "if I claim to place at the service of God's will instruments of force which by their nature cannot fail to engender in the other the conviction that I am acting out of self-interest and in order to satisfy my desire to proselytize; or what is still more serious, that I am a servant of a God of prey whose goal it is to annex and enslave. And it is precisely here that we find the frightful betrayal. . . : I impose on the person I claim to convert, a loathsome image of the God whose interpreter I say I am."
Let us not prey.