Continuing from last week's subject of being tolerant of intolerance, I no longer see moral absolutes; I only see moral dilemmas. I think of honesty, generosity, tolerance, and other seemingly monolithic virtues as questions, not answers.
I have a new litmus test by which to judge candidate moral absolutes: if you can make an inescapably self-contradictory or hypocritical statement out of them then they can’t be moral absolutes.
- Even if honestly you need to lie, always be honest
- Do not be generous with yourself about your failures of generosity
- Be tolerant of intolerance
With any of these, you can honour one or the other mention of the virtue, but not both. If you should always be honest and you honestly need to lie, then honour your honest preference by lying, but then you’re not being honest.
So honesty is not a moral absolute.
If generosity were a moral absolute, then you should be generous no matter what, even if you were surrounded by ungenerous people taking everything away from you. Destitute, of course, you might consider being generous to yourself in self-preservation, but that would be ungenerous to others – which is unacceptable.
So generosity is not a moral absolute.
If tolerance were a moral absolute, then you should be intolerant of intolerance, including, of course, your intolerance of intolerance.
So tolerance cannot be a moral absolute.
In pure form, faith is commitment to a belief regarding some matter of consequence, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary. If all the evidence disconfirmed the belief and none of the evidence confirmed it, the faithful would hold to the belief anyway. Of course, evidence rarely weighs in decisively, so faith always has some grey areas. How much evidence should dissuade someone? Some say insanity is sticking to a strategy that repeatedly fails. On the other hand, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
In practice faith is certainly trying and trying again despite overwhelming evidence. One needs motivation to persist against overwhelming odds, and so faith tends to accumulate various motivators: Declarations of 100% confidence, denials of any counter evidence, pledges to never modify beliefs, belligerence toward challengers, self-certainty touted as moral absolute. Faith itself depends on a degree of intolerance.
In response to this all too human tendency toward intolerant self-certainty, many liberal minded, less confident types argue for tolerance of faith, simply because it’s bad to be intolerant. After all, intolerance (often religious) has caused too much damage already.
Tolerance is seldom contagious.
It’s rarely contagious with the highly intolerant such as fundamentalists of all dogma. It’s a very rare fundamentalist who takes your tolerance as an indication of any need to be tolerant of you. More often fundamentalists view your tolerance as a vindication of their position, gaining ground if not potential converts. To what extent does your tolerance encourage others to be tolerant? To what extent does it merely encourage them?
We (western civilization) have, through our rampant enthusiasm to be tolerant, unwittingly nurtured a level of tolerance that renders us incapable of defending our culture. The intolerant are intolerant of our tolerance and make the best of the situation to further their fight to annihilate our system.
It’s an age old battle, one that we are sure to lose by just being tolerant of intolerance.