When the Category of Evil Disappears (Carson)

“The Intolerance of Tolerance”

Here’s a helpful discussion of evil, truth, and the “new tolerance”:

Once the category of evil disappears, our moral discernment has no structure. Strong fiber is reduced to mush; the skeleton of moral reasoning is taken out, and what is left is jelly-like protoplasm. We end up not only with rampant ethical relativism but with the anemic inability to feel or express moral outrage over pervasive immorality. The failure to recognize the evil in our own hearts is precisely what convinces so many of us that our opinions and motives are above reproach while those who contradict us are stupid or malign. A healthy dose of Augustinian realism about sin, as Mark Ellingsen puts it, could make America a better place: indeed, that is why the founding fathers cared so much about checks and balances, about constitutional limitations, about division of powers: they did not trust anyone precisely because the founders had a robust notion of sin.6 If in our environment the virtue of (the new) tolerance becomes absolute, then ostensibly moral discussions are brought round to this one consideration.

For example, in a recent report by the Australia Institute titled “Mapping Homophobia in Australia,” we are told that 62 percent of evangelical Christians are homophobic. The evidence? People were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “I believe that homosexuality is immoral.” If they agreed, they were classified as homophobic. In other words, there was no moral engagement with the complexities surrounding human sexuality, but merely a label used to brand an entire class of people with the supreme shame: intolerance. Again: Millions call themselves “pro-choice” in the matter of abortion. But that is coherent for them because abortion itself is morally neutral, and therefore the choice is devoid of moral significance except for its availability to the sovereign freedom of the individual will. Small wonder that we have arrived at the place where our medical experts can help generate life in the womb, and can kill a baby about to emerge from the womb, with no moral differentiation. It is merely a matter of personal choice.

D. A Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance, p. 130-131.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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