April 16, 2001
Christians called to reclaim definition of toleration
___By Mark Wingfield
___WACO--Christians should help society recover the proper meaning of toleration, which has been distorted since the Enlightenment, according to a panel of scholars speaking April 9 at Baylor University.
___"Christianity and Toleration" was the topic of a symposium sponsored by Baylor's Center for Christian Ethics. The event was built around the recent publication of "The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and Profit," written by Truett Seminary Professor Chip Conyers.
___Conyers' thesis, which was affirmed by the two other primary speakers at the symposium, is that toleration became distorted through the Enlightenment as efforts were made to keep the peace between competing ideological views, knit together strong governments from diverse communities and create strong economic markets.
___His purpose, Conyers said, is "not to discredit tolerance but to bring credit to it once again."
___Through the influence of John Locke and other Enlightenment figures, religion was assigned to the domain of "private" affairs and thereby lost its moral authority, he asserted. "Public life belonged to the state."
___Somewhere along the way, society bought into the notion that all views had to be considered of equal value in the name of toleration, he and the other speakers explained.
___But for the Christian, Conyers said, true toleration should mean believing firmly in the eternal truth of God but being willing to listen to other points of view. Christians can engage in conversations with those of other viewpoints, seeking to discover points of truth that can be agreed upon, he said.
___In contrast, the type of toleration advocated today is "logically impossible," said J. Budziszewski, a political philosophy professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
___To determine that all views are equally true is not possible, he said. So in reality, one view does prevail, but not in a fair competition.
___"The modern version ... of toleration operates like a Trojan horse," he said. "It shuts out every view but one--while claiming to be neutral."
___Under the guise of toleration, one view gets smuggled in, Budziszewski said. "Which view is smuggled in? Well, it depends on who's doing the smuggling."
___In too many cases, modern appeals for toleration are merely disguised attempts to keep competing ideas off the playing field, he said.
___Christians must find a way to overcome the assumption that the modern view of all-views-are-equal toleration is necessary to prevent violence, added William Cavanaugh, assistant professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.
___"Modern toleration assumes we can't disagree without doing violence to each other," he said.
___In any solution that is crafted, "non-violence will have to have a central place," Cavanaugh said. "We must demonstrate that we can in fact differ without killing one another."
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