“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33)
Compliance with a system of lies for fear of persecution or conflict elevates the false virtue of “niceness” over the substantive good of personal integration. Often, even those of us who believe in truth and seek to pursue it in our lives fail to extend that pursuit to the public sphere; this failure undermines the credibility of our claims and conveys the impression that we are ashamed of the truth.
In Issue 4, Editor-in-Chief W. Joseph DeReuil decried the lack of courage to do what is right in a culture of untruths and the widespread inability to speak against such untruths. This lack of courage only fuels our opponents.
The silence of individuals in the liberal monoculture is intrinsically connected to the pervasive Lockean conception of freedom as individual license, which is unbounded short of impinging on others’ freedom. The response to this phenomenon, therefore, cannot be solely individual but must transcend the strict private–public distinction; to respond solely in a private or individual manner would be to capitulate to those who claim that references to objective truth do not belong in public discourse.
As Christians specifically and as persons generally, we seek integration—first within ourselves, then with others, and finally with God—over any modern sense of freedom. And integration is the right response to a culture—and the fallen individual desire—that tells us to hide, whether it be behind words, titles, or something else. This includes integration between our words and our personal life and between our words and our actions.
Toleration, for Locke, becomes the dominant civic virtue (and therefore the dominant virtue, since private conduct seems to be outside the scope of moral judgment, so long as it does not impede upon others’ interests) such that it is even elevated to the point of being the “chief Characteristical Mark of the True Church.” Why bother with being one, holy, catholic, or apostolic, so long as we can retain some semblance of peace, even if superficial?
One could also see toleration in this system as the replacement for the classical Christian notion of charity: For Aquinas, charity is the chief of the virtues, since it belongs to the theological virtues, which crown the intellectual and moral virtues, and which alone lead man toward God. Charity also animates the other theological virtues: just as, for Thomas, hope and faith are not virtues without the animating force of charity, so for Locke, no action taken—public or private, civic or ecclesial—can be approved of unless motivated by and informed by toleration. Toleration, then—not truth, internal consistency, beauty, or goodness—is the mark and metric of right action.
The charge against those who claim to speak from or at least seek the truth is not only a charge of intolerance but often a charge of arrogance and pride. This charge must be fundamentally wrong (and it is our responsibility to prove it wrong) because ultimately anyone who truly pursues truth can do so only from a recognition that reality, and therefore truth, is received. We must not claim the truth toward the end of self-indulgence or power over others but so that our life might become more aligned with reality.
An obsession with toleration leads us to accept our situation of fragmentation as a given and even raises it to the level of necessity. And this acceptance of fragmentation is a yielding to its power and an acknowledgement of its victory. But Christ says, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). We make a mockery of Christ’s victory over the world when we capitulate to fear and, in order to keep intact the perceived virtue of niceness, we fail to boldly proclaim the truth. We adopt a mentality of fragmentation when we refer to the Church as a “denomination.” We ratify the secular liberal relegation of faith to the private when most sentences in our conversations about faith begin with, “In my opinion…” We re-tell the demonic lie that our sexuality is shameful when we avoid speaking of sexuality at the pulpit, in the confessional, or in the home.
In all things, we are enjoined to respond to Christ’s command: “Be not afraid.”
Joshua Gilchrist is a senior PLS and theology major who lives off campus. When not singing for the Liturgical Choir or assisting as a team member for Short Course, Joshua is either reading or trying to come up with editorial ideas. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.