Of Truth and Tolerance at Easter
by Patrick J. Buchanan
April 3, 1994
"Truly, this was the Son of God." So spoke the Roman sentry on Calvary
on that first Good Friday as he saw the heavens darken at the death of
the Man on the Cross.
That soldier uttered the greatest truth ever spoken. He had looked up
and seen in that agonized face the answer to the question Pontius
Pilate had posed only hours before, on sentencing Christ to His death
on the cross: "What is truth?"
For two rnillennia, Christians have sought to conform their lives to
the truths revealed by Christ. None since has done so perfectly, but
many have suffered martyrdom rather than deny those truths.
Yet, for decades now, in this country to whose greatness and goodness
Christianity has contributed so much, it has been a violation of the
Constitution to teach these truths to children in public schools, or
to pay homage in our public square to the Man who taught us how to
live. Indeed, under our First Amendment, fallacies and falsehoods are
guaranteed the same, in some cases superior, protection to the truths
of the New Testament.
Consider the folly of what we have attempted.
We would not deny children the healthiest and most nutritious foods,
lest their growth be stunted, and permanent damage be done. Yet, by
court order, we starve them of a diet of the greatest truths ever
taught. We may instruct them in good manners in school, but not in the
greatest moral code ever put down on paper.
Because teaching them the truth would violate their rights.
Outside public schools, in the market place of ideas, morally ruinous
dogmas from racism to rancid pornography are accorded the same
protection as the Gospels. Indeed, for the American Civil Liberties
Union, the defense of pernicious dogma has become an obsession.
What is the effect of this doctrine of the moral equivalence of all
ideas -- except religious ideas -- on society? It is like granting
polluters the same right to dump sewage into the main water supply as
we grant the men who put in the chlorine that purifies it.
For generations now, we have denied the food of revealed truth to our
children; and we have permitted the moral polluters to dump their garbage
into our culture with abandon. Why then, are we surprised that ours
has become a stunted and sick society?
Under the hallowed doctrine of "academic freedom," all ideas are to be
accorded equal access to the university. Why? Because, or so we are
told, competition of ideas is the best way to discover truth. Fine.
But, what do we do when we find the truth? Do we yet continue to allow
the propagation of falsehoods? If so, why? When men learned the Earth
was round, did they allow their geographers to continue to teach that
it was flat?
Comes the answer: Well, in matters of science we may know truth, but
in matters of morality we can never know. In this realm, one man's
opinion is as good as another, and no one has the right to impose his
morality on someone else. And any attempt to give the moral code of
Christianity superior status is "intolerance."
Six decades ago, a great moral teacher saw it all coming. In a
provocative 1931 essay, "A Plea for Intolerance" Fulton J. Sheen
wrote, America it is said is suffering from intolerance. It is not. It
is suffering from tolerance, tolerance of right and wrong, truth and
error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so
over run with the bigoted, as it is over run with the broadminded.
What is true tolerance? "Tolerance," wrote Msgr. Sheen, is "an
attitude of reasoned patience towards evil . . .a forbearance that
restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment. Tolerance
applies only to persons...never to truth. Tolerance applies to the
erring, intolerance to the error.... Architects are as intolerant
about sand as foundations for skyscraper as doctors are intolerant
about germs in the laboratories." And just as those who build
skyscrapers and perform surgery must be intolerant of foolish and
false ideas so too, must those who would build nations -- or preserve
"Tolerance does not apply to truth or principles. About these things
we must be intolerant, and for this kind of intolerance, so much
needed to rouse us from sentimental gush, I make a plea. Intolerance
of this kind is the foundation of stability."
"If you would see his monuments, look about you! is the epitaph
chiseled on the tomb of London's master builder, Christopher Wren. If
you would see the monuments of a society that has come to consider the
truths that Jesus Christ taught as one among an indefinite variety of
moral codes by which to live, look around you.
Amen, and Happy Easter
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