Tolerance: Narcissism in Disguise

ToleranceWe live in a highly individualistic age, an age which fancies itself tolerant. The sad description of Israel under the Judges could equally well be said about our selfish generation.

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)

There are really only two options: either you live by self-chosen standards or you walk according to the Law of the Lord. Many people in our time have deliberately rejected the latter in favor of the former (though it’s impossible for us to keep God’s Law; Romans 3:19-20). To reject God’s Law, whether deliberately (outright antinomianism) or not (Romans 7:14-25), is particularly insidious for Christians, since living to please one’s self amounts to idolatry and is a rejection of Christ as King (1 Samuel 8:7).

The standards of living we set up for ourselves appear good at first, but they always end up being ruthless tyrants. Samuel warned the Israelites. He told them they would be better off with the Lord as their King. He said,

hebrew-slaves-building-pyramids-001“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:11-18)

But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel (1 Samuel 8:19). They thought they knew best. They were wrong.

Times haven’t changed. Everyone still does what is right in his own eyes. But we don’t like to hear that we are just as foolish as the primitive Israelites. We are much more sophisticated. We like to think of ourselves as enlightened. Israel may have been narcissistic and self-serving, but not us. No, we’re tolerant. That sounds much better.

SinatraBut tolerance and narcissism are very closely related. After all, we expect others to treat us as we treat them. Tolerance these days is rarely about sticking up for the marginalized. It’s a self-serving, quid pro quo arrangement. If we refrain from judging the behavior of others, what right do they have to judge ours? “Live and let live” is about securing for ourselves the right to live however we please, judgment-free.

Absolute tolerance is a myth. The unforgivable sin of postmodernity is to tell someone they’re wrong. You are free to do and believe as you please so long as it doesn’t threaten the sovereignty I exercise over my own life. That’s intolerable. Judgments undermine autonomy and strike at the very heart of narcissism, one of the most durable idols from generation to generation.

However, everyone is subject to the judgment of God—atheist, Christian, and otherwise—like it or not. The doctrine of tolerance, of living a judgment-free life, is an illusion. God is not tolerant of sin.

The rhetoric of tolerance is appealing, but it’s often just narcissism in disguise. Sin always presents itself as attractive (Genesis 3:6). Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). If we are to learn anything from the mistakes of Israel, those kings which would reign in the mortal body always turn out to be ruthless taskmasters (Romans 6:12). Even if you manage to live like a king in this world—with all the earthly riches and pleasures imaginable (Ecclesiastes 2:1–11); according to your own rules (Ol’ Blue Eyes); without suffering from any pang of conscience for 80 years or so (Luke 15:7, 18:11)—one day you will die and suffer eternal torment in Hades (Luke 16:19–31).

Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, but small is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life (Matthew 7:13–14). The way that leads to destruction is broad because the sinful flesh hates obedience and doesn’t want to submit to any law other than which it’s chosen for itself (Romans 7:23). Tolerance isn’t inherently evil (and we ought never be hateful), but neither is judgment. We dare not tolerate those things which God finds intolerant (Jeremiah 6:14); that’s the opposite of love (Revelation 2:4–5). The only thing to do with self-serving tolerance is to repent of it (Matthew 4:17). Repentance does not come easily to sinners, but unlike the tyrant known as Autonomy, Christ is a gracious Lord and His reign is benevolent (Exodus 34:6–7; Psalm 146; Isaiah 32:1).


Tolerance: Narcissism in Disguise — 6 Comments

  1. Great article, but in defense of Old Blue Eyes (even though he’s hard to defend at times beyond the music), Paul Anka actually penned the lyrics to My Way- as if he were in the persona of Frank. “At one o’clock in the morning, I sat down at an old IBM electric typewriter and said, ‘If Frank were writing this, what would he say?’ And I started, metaphorically, ‘And now the end is near.’ I read a lot of periodicals, and I noticed everything was ‘my this’ and ‘my that’. We were in the ‘me generation’ and Frank became the guy for me to use to say that. I used words I would never use: ‘I ate it up and spit it out.’ But that’s the way he talked.”

  2. When it comes to confronting gay people, just the fact that one disagrees with their lifestyle is taken as nothing less than hatred. If a Christian decides not to cater a gay wedding, they get death threats from the gay community. Who’s the intolerant one, who’s the hater?

    Years ago, lots of guys thought I was gay; I am not. You know who didn’t call me those names? The Christian kids, that’s who.

    Try asking a Muslim baker to make a cake for a gay wedding. Try to have a Jewish kosher baker make a cake for a KKK rally. What about having an African-American baker decorating a cake with the Confederate flag? Would you expect service with a smile in any of those cases?

  3. @Chuck Braun #2

    Why should a Christian baker sell a cake to any sinner (non-Christian)? Why should a LCMS baker sell a cake to a ELCA apostate?

    Should Christians be tolerant or not?

  4. I found these comments by Dr. Scott Yakimow, Associate Professor of Theology at Concordia University, Portland, quite helpful and a position to which I tend to agree.

    “FWIW, in my mind, no business that serves the public has a right to refuse service to any individual except for health reasons (no shirt, no shoes…) or other instances of disruptive, degrading, abusive, or offensive behavior that is occurring at that time in that place. There may be a couple other instances, but you get my drift. If people want to serve the public, they must serve all manner of the public, even those who do things with which they disagree.

    I also think that the Christian baker should have baked the cake and that the Christian florist should have made the arrangement. Or maybe made two. Or maybe even went and made sure everything went as smoothly as possible. This would have given her/him the opportunity to speak to the individuals and show a generosity of spirit normally not associated with Christians in much of the secular world today.

    However, I do not agree that the government should coerce private businesses to service events (not people, but events) that violate their consciences, and this includes the baker, the florist, the photographer, etc. Government-enforced violation of one’s conscience is dangerous territory and should only be done extremely carefully when there are legitimate reasons for doing so. Making sure that blacks (people) have public accommodation is a reason why this should be done, for example. Making sure homosexuals (people) receive service is another. But making a Muslim caterer cater a “Free-Thinkers Conference” (an event, not a person) dedicated to the celebration of free speech through the construction, presentation, and discussion of cartoons denigrating Muhammad would be an injustice. There is no compelling reason why the government should do so.”

    “I should mention that this approach is not without its definitional problems. What constitutes an “event” is a fair question to ask. What if a gay man walked into a florist and asked for some flowers. The florist responds: “What’s the occasion?” He says: “It’s my and my partner’s anniversary, and I want to surprise him.” Should the florist then be able to say: “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t supply flowers for that event”?

    I think not.

    So what constitutes an “event” needs considerable examination. It seems that “public” would have to be a part of the definition. Perhaps “ceremony” and “conference” should also be part of it.

    In any case, while I think the distinction between a “person” and an “event” is a very helpful one here, definitions become crucial.”

  5. “There are really only two options: either you live by self-chosen standards or you walk according to the Law of the Lord.”

    Or option three: Christ

    “though it’s impossible for us to keep God’s Law”

    Evidently we have to try to do that or we forfeit our salvation. So Christ must be just a good start in our quest to do the impossible: keep the law

    “To reject God’s Law, whether deliberately (outright antinomianism) or not (Romans 7:14-25), is particularly insidious for Christians, since living to please one’s self amounts to idolatry and is a rejection of Christ as King”

    See comment #2 – if you don’t try to do the impossible and keep the law you negate the promise given to you by Christ. Evidently that promise was conditional upon your behavior and law keeping.

    Now that we have established that we have to keep the Law in order to “merit” or “keep” what Christ freely gives to us by His grace, we can all start becoming lawyers and arguing about what the law actually means. The ELCA says the law means “loving” or “tolerating” everyone that supports their political agenda: Communism. The LCMS says the law means supporting criminalizing social vices and supporting all invasions of other nations who are no way a threat to us. It seems we all have a different view of what God’s law says but fortunately we all agree that the “third use of the law”, “sanctification ladders” and law keeping is the real thing of Christianity.

    How are we supposed to climb the sanctification ladder to heaven if we don’t get the law right!

    Gee, we probably need a supreme judge here on earth to tell us exactly what the law means and what works we are supposed to do to satisfy the laws requirements. Yeah, he can be like God’s representative on earth telling us what law means today so we don’t screw it up and lose our “free gift” of salvation. If we screw up, perhaps he can allow us to perform some minor work to appease God – but only if we are really sorry about it. Something penitential perhaps. Then maybe, God’s law interpreter on earth can give us a free pass to “indulge” ourselves to break the law some…..


    The Law evidently is the real stuff and we do save ourselves by keeping it.

  6. Good article. It’s important to understand that there’s a distinct difference between “tolerance” and “agreement”. That we are all subject to God’s judgement, and living a judgement-free life is an illusion are true statements. Unfortunately not everyone sees it that way. I don’t agree with them but I tolerate it because they have the right to think what they want. I continue to minister and witness, which can be very daunting in today’s plualistic culture. Again, the fact that I am tolerant of others views does not, in any way, mean I agree with them.

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