When might becomes right

December 13, 2004

FRAUDULENT ELECTIONS. A POISONED PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE. GOVERNMENTAL CORRUPTION. We easily associate such news items with former communist countries. What else should we expect after decades of godless philosophy?

And yet, those of us in western nations often don’t realise how much the cry for ‘tolerance’ of recent years is undermining righteousness, justice and social stability. Tolerance used to mean being prepared to live with that with which you disagreed. Voltaire’s famous statement on tolerance was that while he may totally disagree with you, he would defend to the death your right to hold your belief.

Today, with the widespread acceptance of relativism, tolerance has come to mean that we can’t say anything is wrong or false – or right or true. Relativism, and her consorts-pragmatism and ‘tolerance’-claim all values and beliefs to be equally legitimate. We cannot judge between them, so we shouldn’t try to change anyone’s mind. Evangelists have become heretics in an age of tolerance. In the long run, all and any beliefs become questionable.

Tolerance, said G.K.Chesterton, was the virtue of the man without convictions. But when we can no longer say whose ideas are right, the guy with the most votes, the biggest guns and the most power gets to decides what’s right. Might becomes right.

The murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Moslem fundamentalist here in Holland a few weeks ago has sharpened the debate about free-speech and tolerance. There is much confusion because relativism and tolerance was supposed to guarantee the good society. But what is a good society?

Surely it is one that cultivates people of virtue: people who act justly, love mercy and live humbly. But if truth is simply up for grabs-if what’s true for you is not necessarily true for me-why not just do what’s best for you yourself? If there are no standards for justice, how do we act justly? Justice requires a moral foundation. Without truth, what is justice?

Shortly after the First World War was fought to appease the gods of nationalism, the rising gods of communism and fascism stirred the Irish poet W.B.Yeats to pen the following lines in his poem The Second Coming – infused with new poignancy by recent events:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming here is not the one you and I are waiting for. Yeats draws on spiritist and occult ideas to explain history, which he understands to follow cycles of two-thousand years. Employing imagery from the book of Revelation, he predicts the rise of a post-Christian beast from the vacuum left by Christendom’s demise.

The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Yeats accurately describes what happening when society loses convictions. But those of us celebrating the birth of God’s Son in Bethlehem this season do not share his fatalistic pessimism. The words of the angel Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1:31-33) assure us of the future and give us fresh hope:

You will have a son.
His name will be Jesus.
The Lord will make him king.
His kingdom will never end.

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

Till next week,

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