The gentleman saint

The annual Red Mass for the Diocese of Wilmington was celebrated earlier this week. The celebrant was our bishop, Bishop Francis Malooly, and with him around the altar were numerous priests, deacons and altar servers.  As has been the case for the past 25 years, the congregation included many members of the “bench and bar,” Delaware’s judges and lawyers who come for the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit as they prepare to exercise their judicial and legal responsibilities in the ensuing year.

The patron saint of the Diocese of Wilmington is Saint Francis de Sales, the wise and tolerant bishop of Geneva in the early seventeenth century revered for, among other attributes, the gentle but clear way in which he addressed the religious divisions  consequent to the Protestant Reformation.

It was fitting therefore that the homilist at the Red Mass was Fr. James Greenfield OSFS, Provincial of the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province of the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales. With the gentle clarity for which his Order’s Founder is known, Father Greenfield offered, among other worthy suggestions, the observation that, if unmoored in truth, the virtue of tolerance is counterproductive in a vibrant society. His comments prompted the following reflections on the part of this listener.

Clearly where tolerance does not exist diversity is impossible. Consider those places in today’s world where only the religion sanctioned by the state or crown is allowed to be practiced. Ironically, though, diversity is also threatened when there is too much tolerance –  or, actually, too much of what now passes for tolerance, that hollow “sensitivity” void of truth and unrelated to absolute reality.

When diversity is encouraged multiculturalism presumably results. Herein hides the threat to diversity itself. Multiculturalism occurs when many cultures are permitted to coexist. However, in the name of tolerance some people genuinely – and no doubt some disingenuously –contend that each culture embraced by multiculturalism is as valid and as worthy as every other. In the name of tolerance then, or really in the name of the eviscerated tolerance mentioned earlier, they allow themselves to conclude that no culture – and therefore no value espoused by that culture – is “more true” or more legitimate than any other. Every way of life, every belief system (or system of no belief) is equal in merit. As a consequence of this logic these ‘tolerant’ individuals become critical of those who may respect the beliefs of others but fail to attribute to them the same validity they do to their own. This criticism turns to accusation of intolerance and then becomes intolerance itself. In the name of tolerance the tolerant become intolerant.

Consider the absurdity here. A theist accepts the existence of God. In the name of this ersatz tolerance he is expected to give equal credence to the atheistic belief that there is no god.

Or, look at it within a sociological perspective. In this environment of empty tolerance justice takes on a warped nature, Equality of necessity means similarity. To be equal things must be the same. Think of how we tend now to eschew the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ and instead say ‘spouse’. Instead of ‘father’ or ‘mother’ we hide behind the non-descriptive ‘parent’.  Or, consider how more and more we conflate equality of opportunity with equality of outcome. What matters today isn’t the distinction of effort but the uniformity of result.

Diversity necessarily implies distinction. Where distinction is not respected excellence is discouraged. Rather than celebrate accomplishment we eliminate the means by which it is measured so that comparison with the less accomplished cannot be made. An example would be abandoning academic grades in schools. In our laudable campaigns to promote the dignity of all we foolishly denigrate the distinction of the few with the unfortunate result that everyone is awarded the same degree of tepid respect.

So, tolerance – or tolerance unmoored from truth – becomes a threat to diversity because distinction, that quality fundamental to diversity, is discouraged with the result that the lowest common denominator prevails.

Benevolent tolerance has transmogrified into dominant mediocrity.  Oh for the gentle clarity of the Gentleman Saint!

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