Professor Trainor’s Lesson in Theology 101

June 5, 1997

Recently my friend Ken Trainor ventured into the deep waters of theology in a discussion regarding bigotry and hatred, especially as it relates to the issue of homosexuality.

Along the way Mr. Trainor (who is always delightfully provocative) made one statement that cries out for some close analysis. “God, it seems to me, almost certainly is more intolerant of intolerance than of homosexuality, because intolerance is a greater violation of love, which by my reading of scriptures is the behavior God most desires in us.” Now there are several difficulties with that statement as it is worded. In the first place, it appears to be a tacit endorsement of the conservative view that God is (to one degree or another) intolerant of homosexuality. I happen to agree with that statement since the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality—a fact Ken admits when he writes “I know, I know, it’s in the Bible: men shouldn’t lie down with men, etc.” OK, if it’s in the Bible then we already know how God feels about homosexuality—which cancels out most of the rest of the column and its speculation about the “rich tapestry of diversity.”

But there is a much bigger problem with the statement that God is “intolerant of intolerance.” That’s a clever play on words, but it is hard to take seriously. Nowhere in the Bible are we told that God is “intolerant of intolerance.” Come to think of it, I’m not aware of any major Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox creed that makes such a statement. Although I’m not a Catholic and am quite willing to be corrected on the subject, that doesn’t sound like anything Pope John Paul II would say. To push it a bit further, does this statement come from Judaism or Islam? I don’t think so. It rather sounds like a page torn from the hymnbook of the New Age Church of What’s Happening Now. To be “intolerant of intolerance” is a very 90s kind of expression that has no real roots in classical theology of any kind.

The dictionary defines tolerance as “respecting the nature, beliefs, or behavior or others.” To tolerate someone means to respect a person’s opinions without necessarily agreeing with them. In that sense tolerance is a noble virtue because it allows us to live amicably with people who may be quite different from us. Indeed, without tolerance no society (or community or church or family, for that matter) could long endure.

Tolerance in the traditional sense requires that we hold our convictions firmly while at the same time respecting those who may disagree. Sometimes tolerance will mean enduring foolish comments and overlooking offensive behavior by others.

But there is another, darker definition of tolerance emerging. Tolerance today means that every view of truth and morality is equal to every other view. This view of toleration differs from the classic view in that it says that there is no such thing as absolute truth. If you dare to tell someone else that what they are doing is wrong, you risk being branded an intolerant bigot. In that view everything is right and nothing is wrong. Truth is determined by subjective feelings or by the shifting tides of public opinion.

It may well be that the next “unacceptable” group will be those who insist on the view that there is such as a thing as absolute truth—that some things are always wrong no matter who calls them right and that some things are true no matter who calls them false.

Over the years I have occasionally written letters to the Wednesday Journal regarding the homosexual issue in Oak Park. Almost every time I have made the same point I am making in this column—that the real debate isn’t about sex or gender or orientation. It’s not even about the domestic partnership registry. This debate is as old as the human race because it goes back to the question the serpent asked Eve in the Garden of Eden: “Has God indeed spoken?” The answer is yes He has, and He did not stutter. Oak Park would be a better community if we took His Word seriously.

I don’t expect to win over Ken Trainor with what I have written. But I do hope to remain his friend and will be glad to comment again the next time he wants to take a dip in the ocean of theology.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?