My convert friend who attends a state university passed along a bit of disturbing, but not really surprising, news. He recently finished up a course that dealt with modern virtues in film. Early on the professor asked the students to name and describe what they thought were virtues. So my friend, understandably, begins to tick off the cardinal and theological virtues. But the professor cuts in and says, “No, no, I don’t mean that.”
It seems the professor had in mind the modern “virtues” of tolerance, efficiency, and the like. Which, of course, are just attenuated pieces or pallid versions of the traditional virtues.
Tolerance is the highest and most sacred of all the modern virtues. We already have “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” an articulation of a robust, manly virtue. But now we have tolerance, a truncated and flaccid version of the older virtue. Tolerance can be cast this way: “Don’t do unto others at all; just let them go their own way no matter what.” Tolerance is only a part of the older virtue, the part that requires nothing of us. It is anemic — and slightly effeminate.
Courage, or fortitude, is the cornerstone of the four cardinal virtues, and it is the element that seems to be missing in the modern “virtues.” It takes courage to do what you ought to do and to say what you ought to say — which, of course, implies action. Tolerance requires nothing. If it’s a virtue at all, it’s a passive one, a do-nothing virtue. Courage is a manly virtue because the masculine principle is active.
I can’t seem to find much tolerance in the New Testament. What I do find is our Lord getting angry and knocking over tables and pigeon cages and driving people out of the temple. And I see Him calling folks broods of vipers and whitewashed tombs. I also find St. Peter arguing (not “dialoguing”) with the Jerusalem contingent, and St. Paul falling out with colleagues over missionary tactics. But I don’t see much tolerance.
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