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Are Christians Intolerant? | Michael O'Brien | An excerpt from
A Landscape with Dragons:
The Battle for Your Child's Mind
Christmas is approaching as I write the final passages of this book. The
stores are full of the very merchandise that these lines have examined.
The malls are packed with shoppers. They are, like me, trying to beat
the Christmas rush or tap into the pre-Christmas sales, or maybe just
get into the spirit of things early. You may have noticed that life in
the twentieth century is somewhat tense, and who can be blamed for rushing
the season of peace just a little. There's a holiday feeling in the air:
the potted pines and the shop windows are all decked out; the robot Santas
and the synthetic jingle on the loudspeakers are jolly in about equal
portions. As is usual at this time of year, people are more patient with
one another, will allow complete strangers to enter elevators before them,
will overlook the irritating behavior of the occasional aggressive bargain
hunter, and will smile more easily at mothers with small, noisy children.
It is the season of tolerance.
then, it would not hurt to be reminded that the Incarnation was, in fact,
an act of colossal intolerance on the part of God, by which I mean to
say that it was an act of immeasurable love. He loved us so much that
he would not let us die in our sins. He was intolerant of our slavery
and was born among us for the express purpose of doing something rather
drastic about it.
I realize that to use the word intolerance is a risky business, for it
cannot help but conjure up visions of religious and racial hatreds or
the specter of grim moralizers Judging their neighbors (and who has not
felt the sting of those tongues?). Moreover, it may well be asked if such
a tainted word can be properly used to describe a characteristic of God.
He is, after all, rich in mercy and slow to anger. But it must be remembered
that both the Old and New Testaments speak of times when the Justice of
God must actfor he will not permit evil to devour everything.
The early Christians were not squeamish about political incorrectness.
They knew firsthand that sin meant death to the inner and the exterior
life of man. Most of them were converts from paganism, for their world
was almost entirely pagan. They had known the effects of falsehood at
work in their own minds, hearts, and flesh. They knew that they had been
rescued by God's intolerance of their bondage. They exulted in the glorious,
shattering good news that Christ was real. He was not a mere theological
abstraction or just another deity in all idol-crowded world He was the
one true God, and he was life! That awareness has waned in our era, partly
because most people no longer feel endangered by the world of evil, by
the possibility of personal slavery to invisible forces or servility to
their own fallen nature, Nor do they consider for a moment that a totally
paganized society might one day reinstitute an external form of slavery
(though, no doubt, it would call it by a more attractive name).
But we must understand the lateness of the hour and the urgency of the
crisis. My parents' generation struggled with a culture that was losing
its spiritual sense; my generation had to struggle with a despiritualized
world, and our children must now struggle with a radically dehumanized
one. A society that systematically destroys millions of its children through
abortion and in which so many young people take their own lives and take
each other's lives is already far gone. Modern man is struggling under
a cloud of despair that "spreads and spreads". He has lost the mystery
and wonder of being that the eye of childhood knows so well. He has been
cheated of the real adventure. He has not known joy. He is now cut loose
to stagger about his landscape, his apparently "real" world, in search
of his own lost face. Because it is impossible to sustain this unbearable
world view for long, lie must flee from it into the distractions of sexual
immorality, distorted fantasy, the macabre, violence and, in the
worse cases, into cultic religion.
A society sliding back into paganism may try to reassure itself that it
is in no worse condition than a society crawling out of paganism. Like
two travellers going in opposite directions on a road, for a brief moment
they share in passing a common point. But the end of the road for each
is very different. The convert from paganism has known darkness and has
turned toward the light. Our society has known the light and is turning
back toward darkness. This is the crucial difference. It is into the core
of this difference that we must speak if we wish to re-evangelize the
Travellers from the realm of darkness state loudly and clearly that the
land which the lapsed or lapsing Christian is travelling toward is in
fact a land of death and degradation. They have been there. They know.
When they tell us that few leave that land, that none finds happiness
there, and that it is a world of shifting illusory images they can sound,
yes, intolerant. But this intolerance is the intolerance of the physician
who has seen an epidemic ravage a people. He is prejudiced against deadly
viruses. This is the intolerance of a mother who fiercely protects tier
little ones from predators. She suffers from a bias against rattlesnakes
and wolves. This apparent narrowness is the wisdom of those who have known
many roads and have found only one sure route out of the regions of desolation.
What such pilgrims have to tell us can sound hard. But their word is true.
The Christian's task is now to rediscover a firm commitment to this truth
and to show how it can be combined with an effective love of our neighbor.
It goes without saying (although in these confused times it may need repeating)
that the urgent need for truth does not mandate us to go rushing about,
tearing into our neighbor or our enemy, delivering harsh lectures to this
or that erring soul. In the true Christian meaning of the word charity,
we are to love the personhood of each and every individual human being.
This does not mean, however, that we should remain paralyzed and silent
regarding acts and ideas that are killing us (and are killing the perpetrators
as well). That is not Christian charity. We have a right and a duty to
speak the truth with simplicity and calmness, clearly and fearlessly,
without rancor or personal condemnation, wherever untruth invades the
life of our family.
If modem man is starved for love, he is equally starved for truth. Would
it be too much of an exaggeration to say that almost everyone is infected
to a degree by the atmospheric lie? The remedy, of course, is exactly
what it has always been: Open the doors of our hearts to Jesus Christ,
live the Gospels without compromise, love the Church, which is the Mystical
Body of Christ, and pray for the flowering of love mid the renewal of
truth within our communities, churches, families, and oneselfyes,
If I had to choose an image to sum up our times, I would not choose from
among the usual ones, such as the Nuclear Age, the Technological society,
the Age of Anxiety, the Computer Generation, the Affluent Society, or
the Space Era. I would call it the Age of Noise. In the entire history
of mankind, there has never been such a continuous battering of the human
brain. The ever present background throb of machinery, the roar of traffic,
the high-pitched buzz of fluorescent lights and computers, Musak in
elevators and supermarkets, herds of joggers wearing Walkmans, a gaggle
of talk shows. A world drowning in chatter! Words, words, words! A thousand
voices competing for our attention every day: the communications media,
junk mail, candidates for political office, telephone solicitations, and
so on and so on . . . the long, sustained roar (and sometimes screech)
of our century. Exterior noise and interior noise. The clamor of our anxieties
and our skirmishes with the seven deadly sins and a host of lesser evils.
The endless inner debates we conduct against real or imagined enemies;
and the sweet, rotten allure of the soap operas of the fallen imagination.
And of course there is the voice of the accuser, whispering in our cars
about our sins and faults. We turn quickly away from that voice, unable
to endure more feelings of guilt in an already guilt-ridden society that
tells us (again through the media) that Christians are abusers, backward,
judgmental, patriarchal, overpopulating, and a menace to the ecology.
Burdened with such an array of exterior and interior pressures, we can
find it extremely difficult to face the objective guilt of our fallen
natures and open ourselves to the saving power of Jesus Christ. Yet the
mere thought of resisting the power of an entire culture with our own
strength is utterly exhausting. Overwhelmed, we can be deluded into choosing
a less demanding form of faith, a seemingly more "compassionate" kind
of religion. We can become the creatures of a powerful conditioning mechanism
and, like well-fed slaves, accept a sort of comfortable bondage as our
lot in life. We can gradually conic to think that the torrent of noise
is normal. And when the pressures become intolerable, we might even begin
to agree with what the noise is saying.
Saint Paul writes in Romans 12:2: "Do not be conformed to this world but
be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is
the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." But how can
the mind be renewed if it is continually reeling under a bombardment of
false words and images? The mind is not renewed simply by packing more
and more into it; rather it is renewed by grace and by habits of discernment
and by a sincere search for what is good and beautiful and true. Silence
is the natural habitat of truth. Prayer is the dwelling place of right
seeing. That is why we must reduce the noise in our lives and open the
ears of the heart to real listening. We parents especially need moments
of complete stillness. We must take great care to make these moments for
ourselves and for each other and for our children.
We cannot assume that we will be immune to the massive apostasy that is
taking place in the Western world. Never in human history has there been
such a wholesale loss of faith, nor one that has come about with such
startling speed. Much of its momentum is due to the unprecedented power
of television, film, and video-of the image recreate our understanding
of the very shape of reality. Thus, large numbers of Christians simply
do not realize that they are apostacizing, and still larger numbers do
not understand that they are being prepared mentally to follow. This is
the power of impressionism; it is also "peer pressure" on a colossal scale.
How very difficult it is to resist an entire culture, and especially for
children to do so, because it is a right and good thing for children to
grow into awareness of being members of a broader community. They need
culture in order to grow properly. It is one of their primary means of
learning what it is to be a fully human person in a community of fellow
human beings. That is why the solution will never be simply a matter of
criticizing the false culture surrounding us. The absolutely essential
task of parents is to give their children a true culture, a sure foundation
on which to stand.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:
Thought Crime Becomes a Reality in Canada | Michael O'Brien
Truth and Tolerance | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Is Tolerance Intolerant? | Dr. James Hitchcock
On Adapting to "Modern Times" | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Michael D. OBrien is the former editor of the Catholic family magazine,
Nazareth Journal. He is also the author of several books, including
his seven volume series of novels published by Ignatius Press, notably the
Elijah. For more than thirty years he has been a professional artist.
Michael's most recent novel is Sophia House, the sixth novel in the acclaimed "Children of the Last Days" series.
It is the prequel to Father Elijah and is set in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation
Michael and his wife Sheila have six children. He writes and paints full-time
at his home near Combermere, Ontario.
His paintings and published articles can be seen at his gallery website:
Visit Michael's page at IgnatiusInsight.com
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