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Voices Online Edition
Michaelmas 2001, Volume XVI No. 3

Tolerance, anyone?

By Joanna Bogle

Our newest contributing editor, Joanna Bogle, is one of the best known Catholic journalists and lecturers in England. Her books include A Book of Feasts and Seasons, a number of historical biographies (including one written jointly with her husband Jamie), and under her pen name, Julia Blythe, We didn't mean to start a school, a book for girls aged nine and up ($10, available by post from: Mrs. J. Bogle, 34 Barnard Gardens, New Malden, Surrey, KT3 6QG England). Joanna broadcasts with the BBC and with Mother Angelica's EWTN radio on which she has a "Catholic Heritage" series featuring places of pilgrimage and of historic interest in Europe. She is active with WFF's sister organization, Association of Catholic Women, and with pro-life movements in Britain.


The lady at the cocktail party was lyrical in praise of modern tolerance. People today, she claimed, were more tolerant than ever before. I wondered if she were right: at a recent discussion group I was shouted down and told my views were unacceptable because I supported the Church's teaching on a male priesthood. I described the incident to her. "Well, of course", she snapped back at once, "the Church must obviously change its teaching on women priests". She was not a Catholic and had no intention of tolerating Catholicism.

Today some folk actually make a virtue of their intolerance. "Sexism simply isn't tolerated here", I was told smugly at one school. I had expressed a view that lifelong marriage was worthwhile, achievable, and important. I can't see that this is "sexist" -- except that possibly women have benefited more than men from the Christian view of marriage. But why was this view of marriage not to be tolerated?

Tolerating something doesn't mean you have to agree with it. It simply means that you endure it. What is dishonest is the claim to be tolerant when in fact you are nothing of the kind. We have seen something of this in public life in Britain. People who cannot bear Catholic doctrine or morals and want to ban Catholics from sitting on -- for instance -- a public committee looking at bioethics, are not being tolerant. And there is a growing recognition of this. To be intolerant of certain Christian moral teachings is now seen as a virtue. A person who took a public stance in defense of marriage and, for example, asked an unmarried couple to refrain from sharing a bedroom while guests in his house, would certainly be widely regarded as nasty. Those who denounced him would be widely supported, and if they claimed financial compensation for hurt feelings would probably get it.

Even thoughts come under this new approach. A poster in the London Underground funded by a homosexual lobbyist group warns people against "homophobic thoughts". I am not sure what these are. Might they include the thought that homosexual activity is sinful? Elizabeth I, who persecuted Catholics so mercilessly, nevertheless once claimed that she didn't try to "make windows into men's souls". Today that claim isn't even made -- the poster is trying to force the windows open. It is reassuring that, so far at least, medical science has not been able to break their seal.

Catholics, meanwhile, try to live by the rule of genuine tolerance. That means enduring things which, while wrong, cannot be altered without harm. But we need to keep alert. Society should not tolerate child abuse, or slavery. We may, for example, find that we have to tolerate a "gay rights" march in our town. But why can we not ask that homosexual activists dissociate themselves from those who advocate pedophilia -- in the same way that pro-life activists have vigorously and repeatedly dissociated themselves from violence or arson at abortion clinics?

Of course, we can mostly afford to take things in our stride.

Some years ago I was part of a team running a big International Congress for the Family. We were picketed by shouting, screaming militant homosexual activists, hurling abuse at parents and children as they made their way to the conference hall. "Mummy", one small girl asked anxiously, "Why do they want bigger trees"? Her mother was baffled -- until she realized that her daughter had been puzzled by the shrieks of "Bigotry! Bigotry!" hurled at the families.

We're going to get plenty of attacks over the next few years -- physical as well as verbal. I've been spat at -- it's messy but bearable. Threats of violence are nastier, and vicious phone calls -- especially when you're alone in the house -- somehow nastier still. I imagine that the lady at the cocktail party would be genuinely surprised to be told that her own immediately intolerant attitude towards my religious beliefs actually worried me. She so obviously assumed that the Catholic Church simply didn't have any right to an unchanging belief in an important doctrinal area, and that people had been correct to shout me down. Her immediate assumption that my Church lacked basic rights made a tiny but relevant contribution towards a general Catholic-bashing that is going to be a horrid part of life over the next years.

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