Toleration and Indifference by Monsignor Ferrarese

A word that is often used in a positive sense is toleration. To be intolerant is considered a bad thing. Of course, in a pluralistic society such as ours a measure of toleration is important and is even admirable. Even further, we should value the good we find in others who may not be from our culture and our way of life and resist the need to impose our modus vivendi onto others.

But, in some ways, this conception of toleration reveals a form of relativism in regard to what is true. If something is true than the opposite has to be false. Otherwise, the very structure of being and non-being is called into question, which is absurd.

It is possible, therefore, that one can be tolerant of wrong and evil as well. If we hold this to be admirable, the whole system of ethics and morality collapses as an unnecessary quest for uniformity.

For example, the question emerges whether the Catholic Faith is the true faith. If it is we should do our best to share it and to persuade others to join us in the truth of our convictions. If all faiths are equally valid and are interchangeable paths to the same reality than trying to persuade or at least want others to join us is futile and even pernicious.

But if we truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and that belief in Him is essential for the progress of all peoples and admittance to eternal beatitude in the world to come, why would we not want to share this knowledge with others? This is not to say that our brothers and sisters in other walks of faith are bad or evil. Quite the opposite, they are admirable in that even with part of the truth they may far exceed us in works of justice and charity and service to God as they (perhaps wrongly) construe Him to be. We should always respect our neighbors and their faith and not try to belittle the reverence they have for their beliefs. But as the Scriptures state: we should always provide reasons for the hope that we have. Our lives should be a testimony to truth for our brothers and sisters so that they can choose freely join us in our beliefs.

Toleration must never lead us to an indifferentism that basically says that all faiths are the same and it does not matter what you believe as long as you follow your conscience. For, some faiths have beliefs that are contrary to the Truth of God’s revelation. There are religions in the world, for instance, where slavery is accepted and legal. Should we be indifferent to this? And we must always remember that anyone can have a badly formed conscience. My favorite example is the Corleone family. They considered themselves good Catholics and allowed killing as just ‘business’. They were following a badly formed conscience. Should we not seek to correct this and thereby save lives?

In the end, it is a matter of charity. For proclaiming the truth of our Catholic Faith is an act of liberating love. And it is in this love that we must find the prime motivation of our sharing of faith. It must never be with an arrogance in giving to others the truth as if it is our prime possession that no one shares in. For members of other faiths and of no faith can be pleasing to God when they strive humbly by the light of reason alone to follow the will of God. If they are truly open to the Truth, it will eventually set them free.

But there is so many darkness on this path. The light of faith which seems like obscurity to those without it is so necessary and important in the journey to God. To be satisfied with the path of reason alone is a terrible mistake, opening up chasms of worry and uncertainty to the journeying soul.

Hence the great gift of the Magisterium of the Church which explains, summarizes and often applies the teaching of Christ found in the Scriptures to the daily life of the contemporary Christian. It is like a highly valuable map that helps us to avoid unnecessary detours and dead ends.

While reliance on Scripture is a truth, it is only a partial truth since the interpretation of the truth must be guided by Tradition to keep it from splintering the Church into thousands of pieces (as has happened in Protestantism).

Hence it is not a contradiction to say that while we value the goodness found in other faith traditions (a healthy toleration), the truest and fullest road is to be found in the Catholic faith.

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