Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Tolerance not Relativism

I have touched elsewhere in this site on the corrosiveness of a relativism that chips away at our country’s foundational values.  When we were confident as a nation and had a stronger sense of personal character, we also had firmer and perhaps less questioning beliefs. 

Two devastating world wars, the atom bomb, mass immigration of people from very different cultures have all challenged our confidence in the Judaeo-Christian values that held us together.  Instead, people cling to secularism to counter new challenges such as political Islam.  We look more to the Enlightenment than patriotism and the Church.

I think there is a danger here.  You cannot vacate the realm of belief and create some sort of neutral, vacuous public square, if you want to challenge the fanaticism we fear and saw manifested on the streets of Woolwich recently.  Rather, we must be confident in our own values and beliefs.

This lack of confidence can be traced to the damaging doctrine of multiculturalism, which tried to claim all ideas and beliefs were equally valid.  It then becomes very difficult to challenge any concepts we are definitely repelled by, across the political spectrum, such as forced marriage.  Most now acknowledge that for too long this problem was overlooked, because of the fear of imposing our own values on cultures new to these islands.  If we no longer know what we believe though, how can we argue against those who are all too sure?

Secularism, Pontius-Pilate like, doubts the existence of Truth and tries to wash its hands of judging between different views.  This is no way to counter views we all know to be wrong.

Rather we need our own concept of Truth and it is there for us, a baton from our ancestors held out to us.  Our values were not secularism.  We have not had a Revolution when Monarchy and Church were overturned and the state was declared secular.  Our constitution is instilled with the values of our Christian heritage.

Many on the Left will be uncomfortable with this.  They believe that it is somehow wrong to claim one belief system holds pre-eminence.  However, it is the attempt to claim all beliefs are equal that has led to the corrosive relativism, whereby we no longer have any foundations to our moral life other than individual freedom, for which read individual satisfaction of desires.

To reassert our own values with confidence does not mean oppressing those of other faiths, rather it means rediscovering the virtue of tolerance.  Tolerance means accepting people even if you disagree with them, it does not mean accepting that their views or lifestyle are right.  It can find its basis in Christian teaching, although often the Church has fallen short.  It is the principle that runs through the story of our Parliamentary democracy, where freedom of speech is prized and the established Church learnt to come to terms with dissenting denominations as they were given a voice in Parliament.

The relativism of liberalism, on the other hand, falls into the trap of condoning behaviour that is clearly wrong, by refusing to acknowledge things can be wrong.  Tolerance starts from a position whereby there is right and wrong, but you have patience and compassion not to persecute those who are wrong and rely rather on gentle persuasion, example or even minding our own business in our personal dealings, depending on the situation.  It gives society the moral authority to argue against that which is clearly unacceptable in terms of our common values.

Many will be aware of the danger of a sort of exceptionalism, which claims my faith, my nation, my beliefs are somehow singled out as right and special.  This nervousness about conviction leads many to opt for the easy neutrality of secularist, liberal abdication.

It all depends though on what belief system is being held up as exceptional.  We disagree with militant Islam not only because it claims to be right, but because we disagree with its specific tenets.  Our own values, however, do not mean the aggressive attack on the Other.  Rather, we look to a heritage of democracy and free speech, a tolerant religion with a place in the public square, which learnt to accommodate its own dissenting wings and a concept of the rule of law that cannot be overturned by political or religious fanaticism.  If we have confidence in those values, then people of different beliefs need not fear and we can restore an underpinning of values to our society.

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