Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: intolerance

The value of history

Some folks dream of the coming of a golden age, when the gospel will have created a state of peace and benevolence on earth almost approaching that of heaven. Most of us dismiss such ideas as folly, the pride of man.

What about the good old days? Many folks believe things were better in the past. Such an idyllic view of the past is evidence of a selective memory which chooses to ignore the wars, oppression, violence, immorality and cruelty that have marked the history of mankind. There are sincere Christians who think that is how history should be taught; future generation will be better off if they learn nothing about wars and conflicts of the past. I believe there is a fatal flaw in that line of thought.

Most people consider their own country to be the greatest example of human civilization. China, for example, has called itself the Middle Kingdom since 1,000 BC, the centre of the world around which everything else revolves. There is a similar tendency in the USA. I am a Canadian, but my roots in the USA go deep. When my grandparents came to Canada with their sons in 1908, the Goodnough family had been in the USA for 270 years, going back to before there was a USA.

When we reminisce about a golden era in US history, let us not forget that there has never yet been a golden era for black people, or native people. We put people of the past on pedestals, telling ourselves that they were the very models of Christian public figures. Take the Puritans of New England, for instance. (This includes my ancestors who landed in Massachusetts 18 years after the Mayflower.) They were such kindly, peace-loving people; didn’t they have the wonderful Thanksgiving meal with the native people? That was nice, to be sure; but it didn’t last.

The Puritan settlers believed that they were God’s elect and therefore could take any land they wanted for their growing settlements with no consideration for the original residents. Their attitude eroded the trust of the Indian peoples and finally led to what is called King Philip’s War in which thousands of Indians were killed.

Neither did they tolerate any variation in Christian doctrine. When Roger Williams, one of the Bay Colony (Boston) preachers, advocated believer’s baptism he was forced to flee for his life in the dead of winter, with only the clothes on his back. The few Quakers in the colony talked about non-resistance. They were expelled from the colony, but some came back. Two of them were burned at the stake.

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Roger Williams (right) being sheltered by Native Americans after fleeing Massachusetts Colony to avoid arrest, 1636. Image from Shutterstock 

“I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know,” Thomas Jefferson, 1819. Jefferson considered Jesus to be the greatest moral teacher of all time, but rejected anything that smacked of the supernatural, or the divinity, the miracles or the resurrection of Jesus. He was the main author of the Declaration of Independence, which begins by saying:

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, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Jefferson most definitely did not believe that black people were created equal, nor had they any unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Lafayette urged Jefferson on several occasions to free his slaves. His response always was that black people were not fit for freedom. That did not prevent him from fathering six children by one of his slaves. Four of those children lived to adulthood and were the only slaves that Jefferson ever freed.

Those children were only one eighth black ancestry. Their great-grandmother was an African woman who was made pregnant by a British ship captain. The daughter who resulted grew up as a slave on a Virginia plantation and was in her turn made pregnant by the plantation owner and gave birth to Sally Hemings. When her master’s daughter married Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings went to Monticello. When Jefferson’s wife died, he turned to Sally Hemings to satisfy his carnal lust. She was only 14 at the time, a half-sister to Jefferson’s wife and three quarters white ancestry. As a slave, she had no choice in the matter; this cannot be termed a romantic relationship.

For years people have argued passionately that someone else was the father of Sally Hemings’ children. A few may still hold to that argument, but the evidence seems conclusive that Jefferson was the father.

Slavery was brutal, people were forced to work long and hard, with poor food and whipped savagely if they faltered or dared to ask questions. From the time slavery ended until well into the 20th century, at least 3,000 black people were lynched in the US South. These were not clandestine events, carried out in the dark of night. They were publicised, postcards with photos of lynchings were sold in the stores, in one case an excursion train was arranged for people wanting to witness a lynching. Law enforcement officers looked the other way.

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Anti-slavery poster of 1780

In the “Red Summer” of 1919 there were anti-black riots in more than three dozen cities across the USA. In 1943, with auto plants converted to war production, the Packard plant in Detroit promoted two black workers to supervisory positions. The white workers walked out and a riot ensued as the news spread. In the evening, unemployed white youth traveled to black residential areas, looting and vandalizing homes. The police ignored the white vandals and arrested black men trying to protect their homes and families.

It is good for us to read history, especially those parts of history that jar our illusions of the sweetness and light of our forefathers. We are not better than the people of past generations. The most important lesson of history is that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. My heart is no different than the heart of any of the villains of the past. It is when I ignore the true nature of my heart that I become a villain, while believing that I am doing some great and noble good. As Blaise Pascal wrote: “Man is neither angel nor beast; and the misfortune is that he who would act the angel acts the beast.”

Solomon said: “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).

Newspeak at work

There is an article in Montréal la Presse today about the horrified reaction of some women to the Dico des filles 2014 (2014 Girls dictionary). This is a book, published in France, written to help girls aged 12 and older face questions of conduct and morality. What is it that some women find so inappropriate? Here is a free translation of a few quotes from the book:

On the subject of abortion: “Although this is permitted by law, that does not make it just and moral. Abortion is a serious act which brings into question the value of human life.  . . .  An abortion always causes a wound that takes a long time to heal.” And: “Moral authorities and the major religious families all have something to say [on the subject of abortion] because it is their role to set out the priniples for guiding human activities. . . . . It is true that abortion is a serious act. But it is possible to condemn the act without condemning the person who had an abortion.”

On the subject of homosexuality: “It is true that some stable homosexual couples do exist. But the relationships are often ephemeral and unstable.” And: “Life is not simple for homosexuals and the road to happiness is full of pitfalls.”

Such words as these, which seem so mild and tolerant to me, are judged as being hideously intolerant by certain women’s groups.  They want the books removed from public libraries and anywhere that girls might have access to such retrograde ideas of right and wrong.

George Orwell coined the word “newspeak” in his dystopian novel 1984.  He foresaw a world where the thought police would take a word and make it mean the the direct opposite of what it originally meant. Are we there yet? It seems that we are getting close when some people  label as intolerant any hint of a view that is different than their own and try to prevent it from being heard, then say that they are the tolerant ones.

Nevertheless, the Dico pour filles appears to be selling well, bookstores are sold out of the 2014 edition and awaiting the arrival of the 2015 edition in a few weeks.

What has happened to tolerance?

George Orwell’s dystopian vision, expounded in his novel Nineteen Eighty-four, appears to be slowly and inexorably taking shape around us.  The thought leaders of our society have constituted themselves into an unofficial Ministry of Truth, changing the meaning of words and inventing new words.  The result — and make no mistake about it, this is the intended result — is that we are gradually losing our ability to think clearly.

Some of the same women who deplore the supposed subjugation of women to men in marriage will proclaim that the degradation of women by prostitution is evidence of the liberation of women, because a woman’s body is her own and she has a right to use it as she pleases.  Orwell labelled this kind of thinking as doublethink: the ability to believe two opposing ideas at the same time and to believe that each one is entirely true.

In like manner, it appears to be possible to be an advocate for women’s “liberation” and at the same time be a supporter of the application of Sharia law in western society.

When it comes to homosexuality, the only acceptable point of view in our society today is unqualified approval and admiration.  This is called tolerance, and no other point of view is tolerated.  This sounds remarkable like the old definition of intolerance.  Those of us who do not endorse the homosexual lifestyle but who harbour no hostility or ill will towards individuals caught up in that lifestyle are labelled intolerant.  The meanings of tolerant and intolerant have been completely reversed.

Christians are labelled as intolerant if we actually believe and live as the Bible tells us.  Any hint of disapproval of things approved by society is called intolerance.  How can I be tolerant of things that I know to be wrong?  I believe that it is right and good to be tolerant to the extent of not using force to prevent others from engaging in immoral conduct.  That is not the same as approving such conduct.  “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11).

On a slightly different aspect of tolerance, is it enough for a Christian to be tolerant when it comes to cultural differences that are neither right nor wrong?  The apostle Paul wrote: “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

If Christ is all, and in all members of the church, then cultural differences (not sin but ordinary differences in outlook and practice that distinguish cultures) should not be seen hindrances to Christian fellowship, but as evidence of the grace of God to all mankind.  They are significant in allowing us a broader vision of how saving faith in Jesus Christ is, and always has been, accessible to all people, anywhere, in every era

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