Quote of the day – Tolerance – revised and expanded!

OK, it turns out the original quote was out of context (Hat tip: Alan, editor-in-chief).  I can’t remember if the source I got it from had it out of context or if I misread it. Either way, my bad. 

But all is not lost.  The quote was still poor, just for different reasons.  And I didn’t even need the quote to make my original point; it was just a good catalyst.   

First, comments from Alan about the quote:

He is talking about academia, in general. The article, titled “One University, Under God” begins by examining the separation of church and state, and how that separation has changed over the last 15 years in politics. Then he moves to how the relationship between the academy and religion have also changed. He’s been talking about the fact that religion has always been an object of study in the academy and then he says….

Now, the original quote in bold plus the context around it:

“But it is one thing to take religion as an object of study and another to take religion seriously. To take religion seriously would be to regard it not as a phenomenon to be analyzed at arm’s length, but as a candidate for the truth. In liberal theory, however, the category of truth has been reserved for hypotheses that take their chances in the “marketplace of ideas.”

Religious establishments will typically resist the demand that basic tenets of doctrine be submitted to the test of deliberative reason. (The assertion that Christ is risen is not one for which evidence pro and con is adduced in a juridical setting.) That is why in 1915 the American Association of University Professors denied to church-affiliated institutions of higher learning the name of “university”; such institutions, it was stated, “do not, at least as regards one particular subject, accept the principles of freedom and inquiry.”

What that meant, in effect, was that in the name of the tolerant inclusion of all views in the academic mix, it was necessary to exclude views that did not honor tolerance as a first and guiding principle.

Walter Lippmann laid down the rule: “Reason and free inquiry can be neutral and tolerant only of those opinions which submit to the test of reason and inquiry.” And what do you do with “opinions” (a word that tells its own story) that do not submit? Well, you treat them as data and not as candidates for the truth. You teach the Bible as literature — that is, as a body of work whose value resides in its responsiveness to the techniques of (secular) literary analysis. Or you teach American Puritanism as a fascinating instance of a way of thinking we have moved beyond.”

Stanley Fish, “Chronicle of Higher Education”

His reasoning is flawed because he dogmatically states that religion cannot be a candidate for truth.  All religions make truth claims, many of which can be tested.  Christianity, for example, is historical and evidential.  Not everything can be verified, but by using the same criteria we apply to other historical works and events we can validate a great deal. 

For example, archeology has been called “the Bible’s best friend” (Note to self: do a post on that someday).  If you can find a historian that thinks the tomb wasn’t empty on Easter morning, I’d like to hear his reasoning (I’m not aware of any who make that claim).  There are at least six non-Biblical historical works that refer to Jesus, so we can say with confidence that we are dealing with a real person in history.  The quality and quantity of the New Testament manuscripts far exceeds that of any other works of antiquity.

His notion that Christianity doesn’t take its chances in the marketplace of ideas is simply wrong.  Christianity freely submits to the test of reason and inquiry.  Contrary to the myths, the Bible teaches us to think critically.  Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • We are to love God with our hearts, souls and minds.
  • In Acts 17:11, The Bereans were lauded for critically examining what Paul taught to determine if it was true.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:21: Test everything, hold onto the good.

And I still think the original quote sounds mushy regardless of the context.

Back to my original rant comments.  I’ll revisit the tolerance and postmodern topics later.

The classical view of tolerance was to respect people even when you disagreed with their ideas.  After all, you can only tolerate something if you disagree with it.  If you agree with it, there is nothing to tolerate.  The new, twisted definition of tolerance is to disrespect the people who hold different beliefs and the ideas they hold.  Which, of course, isn’t tolerance at all.  It is arrogance, pride, oppression and fear masquerading as tolerance.

Also see The Intolerance of Tolerance by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason.. 

17 thoughts on “Quote of the day – Tolerance – revised and expanded!”

  1. To paraphrase another expression – The problem with tolerance is that it’s wasted on the intolerant.

    Or maybe it’s the other way around…………

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  2. “The classical view of tolerance was to respect people even when you disagreed with their ideas. ”

    Agreed. So let’s say we form a group of people to discuss some issue. We include people who are intolerant (using your definition) of other people’s ideas. That is, by your definition, we include people who *do not respect* people who disagree with their ideas.

    Sounds like a fun group to be part of, eh? 🙂

    I’d love to see the context of the quote, by the way. I searched the Chronicle online and found nothing.

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  3. Oops, I found it…It’s the Jan 7, 2005 issue, vol 51, issue 18, p C.1.

    This quite is completely out of context.

    He is talking about academia, in general. The article, titled “One University, Under God” begins by examining the separation of church and state, and how that separation has changed over the last 15 years in politics. Then he moves to how the relationshihp between the academy and religion have also changed.

    Here’s the quote, with a few paragraphs around it to provide some context.

    He’s been talking about the fact that religion has always been an object of study in the academy and then he says….
    “But it is one thing to take religion as an object of study and another to take religion seriously. To take religion seriously would be to regard it not as a phenomenon to be analyzed at arm’s length, but as a candidate for the truth. In liberal theory, however, the category of truth has been reserved for hypotheses that take their chances in the “marketplace of ideas.”

    Religious establishments will typically resist the demand that basic tenets of doctrine be submitted to the test of deliberative reason. (The assertion that Christ is risen is not one for which evidence pro and con is adduced in a juridical setting.) That is why in 1915 the American Association of University Professors denied to church-affiliated institutions of higher learning the name of “university”; such institutions, it was stated, “do not, at least as regards one particular subject, accept the principles of freedom and inquiry.”

    What that meant, in effect, was that in the name of the tolerant inclusion of all views in the academic mix, it was necessary to exclude views that did not honor tolerance as a first and guiding principle.

    Walter Lippmann laid down the rule: “Reason and free inquiry can be neutral and tolerant only of those opinions which submit to the test of reason and inquiry.” And what do you do with “opinions” (a word that tells its own story) that do not submit? Well, you treat them as data and not as candidates for the truth. You teach the Bible as literature — that is, as a body of work whose value resides in its responsiveness to the techniques of (secular) literary analysis. Or you teach American Puritanism as a fascinating instance of a way of thinking we have moved beyond.”

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  4. Thanks, I’ll tidy up my original post tonight (this pesky job gets in the way during the day – I can just take a couple minutes now and then). I can’t recall where I originally got that quote, but I agree that it was out of context and wouldn’t want to use it as such (when I see “good” quotes I save them in a separate file for future reference). I have just a few other sources by which to make the same point.

    Interestingly, his premise that Christianity doesn’t take its chances in the marketplace of ideas is a straw man. And the original quote, in context, is still lame.

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  5. “His reasoning is flawed because he dogmatically states that religion cannot be a candidate for truth. All religions make truth claims, many of which can be tested. Christianity, for example, is historical and evidential. Not everything can be verified, but by using the same criteria we apply to other historical works and events we can validate a great deal. ”

    I don’t think that’s what he means. It isn’t that he’s saying that Christianity makes no claims that can be verified. (BTW, did you happen to catch the really cool show about the Exodus on the History Channel the other night? Way cool.) However, his contention is that the ultimate claims of Christianity: God created the Universe, Christ saved us from our Sins, the Holy Spirit works in our lives, etc. are objects of faith and not open to the same types of critiques that other claims of other “fields” in academia are subject to. By definition, Christianity requires faith in certain things that are not seen (Hebrews 11).

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  6. Didn’t catch the Exodus show. Thx for the tip. I assume it is one of those things they’ll replay quite a bit.

    Have you ever seen/heard Dr. Paul Maier? He is a prof at Western Michigan who writes archeological ficton and non-fiction. Great sense of humor and incredible wealth of knowledge.

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  7. I haven’t, but thanks for the tip.

    The premise of the Exodus show (I think it was just called “The Exodus” or something like that) is that there is a great deal of archeological evidence of the exodus, but that scholars have been looking in the wrong time-frame for it. Once you revise the time frame, all sorts of evidence presents itself. Not being an archologist myself, I couldn’t really evaluate the claims, and the whole argument hinges on a lot of “if this happened, then this…then this…” kind of reasoning. That always makes me nervous because the show’s writers were definitely building a house of cards. However, nothing says a house of cards can’t stand just fine, as long as all the cards are in the right place. 🙂

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  8. Morning folks,

    Not sure how this fits into the discussion but I’ll throw it out for your consideration.

    Back in the 1800’s a professor at Harvard’s law school named Simon Greenleaf (author of Treatise on the Law of Evidence, still used today) set out to disprove the “myth” of the resurrection using the the same methods for evidence that would be used in a court of law. He examined the gospels & subjected them to the same tests as any other statements or accounts would be to determine truth.

    When he concluded his investigation he wrote a treatise called The Testimony of the Evangelists (still available). His conclusion was that if the gospels were to be introduced into a court of law as evidence for the resurrection, and were subjected to the same methods as any other evidence, an unbiased jury would have no choice but to conclude the resurrection was a fact of history.

    My point is this. Maybe we can’t test all facets of faith by the same methods as other “fields”. But where we can test & examine the claims of the Bible using methods applied to other fields or disciplines & those claims/facts/events/etc. prove to be true (as Greenleaf determined with the resurrection), it makes no logical sense to assume that the untestable claims would be untrue. I hope you see what I’m getting at.

    The key in this whole exercise of course would be to find “unbiased” people willing to look at the proofs for the testable claims.

    By the way, Greenleaf spent much of the rest of his life as a proponent of legal apologetics for the Christian faith.

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  9. I think you’re right Woz, and from my reading of the Fish article, that’s what he’s saying as well. (Maybe my reading is too optimistic?)

    That is, it’s perfectly OK to discuss and critique religious claims on academic grounds, as you suggest Greenleaf did. However, teaching the faith itself, is not something the acadamy should be doing because the Christian faith itself is not subject to the same sorts of arguments as other fields.

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  10. Another problem I see is we to define our terms. Personally I see a huge difference between the “Christianity” in the marketplace & the Christianity as set out in the Bible. In fact, I’m not really sure with everything going on out in the culture (marketplace) I could even define Christianity if asked to do so. Kinda gets back to the denominational thing I mentioned the other day.

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  11. Again, I agree. I think that Fish is writing about religion in a very specific and limited way, and not the way we typically mean it in every day language. When we talk about our religion we generally mean everything from the cultural heritage, history, faith, theology, etc. of it. He’s talking specifically about the faith claims.

    Don’t get me started on what I usually call “God Bling” ie. the schlock they sell at Christian Bookstores. Seeing potholders with silkscreened hands with nails in them is so offensive… 😛

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  12. Hmm…. the “sticking the tongue out” emoticon looks happier than I intended. I was going for more of the “sick to my stomach sticking my tongue out” idea. 😀

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