The New Intolerance


I have an ambivalent relationship with First Things magazine because contributors often seem duty bound to frame discussion within the categories of Roman Catholic cultural apologetics. Catholic social commentators are good at analyzing the social currents, but the cultural categories — the larger narrative in which they frame their analysis — often strikes me as too accommodating to the thinking of the current pope, whoever he may be. It’s more than the obligatory tip of the hat. I think it derives from Roman Catholic piety, the idea that the Pope is the man that God choose to lead Christendom and pious Catholics must measure their words by his.

So I debated a bit about posting this essay. The polarity between mercy and intolerance that Eberstadt constructs doesn’t really work it seems to me, but once you get past it the rest of the essay is quite good.

Source: First Things Magazine

By Mary Eberstadt

In November, Cardinal Walter Kasper gave a speech at the Catholic University of America in which he said, “Mercy has become the theme of [Pope Francis’s] pontificate. . . . With this theme, Pope Francis has addressed countless individuals, both within and without the Church. . . . He has moved them intensely, and pierced their hearts.” The cardinal added, “Who among us does not depend on mercy? On the mercy of God, and of merciful fellow man?”

Those questions move all people of good will, and they also go straight to the core of this essay. Pope Francis and Cardinal Kasper teach that mercy means meeting people where they live. We should take their counsel to heart and apply it to ourselves at the present time, looking at where many Christians in America and Europe and other places live today because they are Christians. We are not speaking here of the believers across the planet who suffer grievous harm for the sake of faith. We’re talking instead about something else: the slow-motion marginalizing and penalizing of believers on the very doorsteps of the churches of North America, Europe, and elsewhere, in societies that are the very historical strongholds of political and religious liberty.

Men and women of faith in these societies are well-off, compared to many others. At the same time, though, their world is unmistakably darker and more punitive than it used to be. Let us show empathy and solidarity with all people who need it. Repeating the cardinal’s watchword, mercy, we hope that moral and political and intellectual leaders of all persuasions hear it too.

For there is no mercy in putting butchers and bakers and candlestick makers in the legal dock for refusing to renounce their religious beliefs—but that’s what the new intolerance does. There is no mercy in stalking and threatening Christian pastors for being Christian pastors, or in casting out social scientists who turn up unwanted facts, or in telling a flight attendant she can’t wear a crucifix, or in persecuting organizations that do charitable work—but the new intolerance does these things, too. There’s no mercy in yelling slurs at anyone who points out that the sexual revolution has been flooding the public square with problems for a long time now and that, in fact, some people out there are drowning—but slurs are the new intolerance’s stock in trade. Above all, there is no mercy in slandering people by saying that religious believers “hate” certain people when in fact they do not; or that they are “phobes” of one stripe or another when in fact they are not. This, too, happens all over public space these days, with practically no pushback from anyone. This, too, is the new intolerance at work.

All these are facts of life for Christians and other believers in the West today. This is where a lot of real people now live, and where they need to be met.


Read the entire article on the First Things website.


  1. Michael Bauman says

    All well and good, but these types of essays are just rear-guard actions. The political solution has already been forged and it is not in favor of Christians.

    Accommodation or civil disobedience are the only actions left open to us. Unfortunately, for civil disobedience to be effective, there has to be at least a residual cultural conscience. I don’t think there is any. Those of us who oppose the solution are haters and bigots and deserve the consequences of their immoral behavior.

    In part this is due to the Christians accommodation with the sexual revolution in general. We ceded all of the moral high ground and joined everybody else in at least quiet acquiescence if not open approval: fornication, divorce, even adultery and abortion. Instead of fighting a moral and prophetic fight, politics were tried. We will always loose in politics because one cannot wield political power and remain much of a Christian.

    So, the way of the Cross remains. We have to learn to love those who hate us. Do good to those who abuse us, etc. In part that means serving them with all grace and mercy should they ask–all the while letting them know why we are doing it–not because we are forced but because we choose to despite our foundational disagreement with their actions and beliefs. Is making a wedding cake for a homosexual union ceremony really on par with giving a pinch of incense to Caesar and acknowledging him as supreme god? Maybe it is, but I don’t see it.

    In all likelihood, there will still be lawsuits, fines, sensitivity classes and closures no matter what because we don’t celebrate as we should, but that is really not our concern.

    It also demands that we more comprehensively and clearly articulate the Church’s reasons for our opposition and the merciful course of repentance she has always taught and practiced (in general) while at the same time opposing actual hatred from the likes of the Westboro (not) Baptist (not) Church family cult and the most egregious acts of public indecency.

    Still we will be pursued by the powers that be until the rage has run its course.

  2. Christopher says

    You say much of importance here Micheal, please allow me to respond to a few things:

    Accommodation or civil disobedience are the only actions left open to us.

    For the reasons you go on to argue, I don’t think either one of these is an option. As you say, the only real option left is the way of the Cross. However, I would add (though I know you did not leave it out) that this way also means martyrdom. Will the be crucifying us? No, at least not yet, but they will be destroying our businesses like they did to the photographer in my state (I am in NM where the photographer who refused to participate in a “gay wedding” and the subsequent court case is one of the motivating factors behind the Indiana and Arkansas laws ). We have to be willing to suffer these sorts of marytyrdoms.

    In part that means serving them with all grace and mercy should they ask–all the while letting them know why we are doing it–not because we are forced but because we choose to despite our foundational disagreement with their actions and beliefs.

    While I agree with this, I think it is important to remember that this will in no way convince those who hold to the New Anthropology and the New Intolerance that what they are doing is in any way wrong, nor will it slow the persecution in any way. If you have been following Rod Dreher’s coverage of this story (which has been quite good, though I have to admit I don’t always agree with him or his coverage of other issues) you will recall the story of the man who was loading firewood for the widow…

    Is making a wedding cake for a homosexual union ceremony really on par with giving a pinch of incense to Caesar and acknowledging him as supreme god? Maybe it is, but I don’t see it.

    I have to profoundly disagree with you here. I would say it is the opposite: while it is not entirely the same, the differences are not important at all. I was reading some hagiography about a martyr a while back and I recall that the Roman agent (can’t remember his title) who was sitting in judgement of the martyr, was trying to convince him that all he has to to is go make a flesh sacrifice to an Roman god. He told him he does not have to believe, just go through the motions, and his life will be spared. What is the harm in that he asked him? He quite rightly told him he could still believe in his God.

    This is of course Accommodationism, with a capital A. Really, what was the harm to the photographer if he had just had a “go along and get along” attitude? Would his faith in Christ been substantially effected, or that of others around him, or would God have truly cared? The answers to these questions, however much we do not want to admit it, are YES! That is the witness of the Holy Martyrs, that we can not – MUST NOT – accommodate these devils in any way, not even in small ways, and not in even the really important ways to our life like when our livelihood or or very life are threatened.

    Am I prepared to make this real, hard, consequential sacrifice? I pray so. Yesterday, I ordered a custom bumper sticker that reads: “A marriage is between a man and a women, and no amount of persecution will change this Truth”. Now, putting this on my car is not martyrdom. Worse case scenario, is that I suffer minor economic damage when my car is vandalized. Being an independent business person, I must be willing to go against the New Mexico “Human Rights Commission” that would have me violate my conscious and God’s Commandments. I don’t see how this is possible as I am wife’s business manager (she is a physician) so we would serve a “gay” person regardless. However, we must draw the line if we are ever asked to somehow economically participate in a “gay” ceremony (whether it is a wedding or something else) of some type. This would be the same as giving the pinch of incense…

    • James Bradshaw says

      Fair enough. Wedding cakes are not “critical services”. However, would you decline to participate in a Hindu wedding? We know that the religion is certainly pagan in nature (or pantheistic). Would you knowingly participate in the remarriage of a heterosexual man who divorced his wife to marry his mistress?

      If the answer is “no” to both, then congratulations. You’d be one of the few people I’ve encountered who are actually consistent in the application of your religious principles.

      • Christopher says

        You’d be one of the few people I’ve encountered who are actually consistent in the application of your religious principles.

        Well, as a secular modernist or liberal/modernist christian (you don’t really identify which you are yourself) you are never going to encounter anyone who is “consistent in the application of religious principles”. The reason is because you don’t understand them, and never will. The reason for that is because the modern mind has the almost singular ability among world views to misunderstand every other world view. The modern mind is uniquely narcissistic and arrogant, judging everything by it’s own yard stick. It has shown absolutely no ability to step out of itself, and see things from the point of view of another world view. It truly believes its own rhetoric and self understanding of being the pinnacle, the progressive development (and thus superior to) all other world views. This is of course the great myth of progressivism.

        Thus, when you encounter a person who is NOT modern, such as an orthodox Christian, Jew, or Muslim, you are truly dumbfounded. You then start projecting your ignorance unto the other, seeing inconsistencies and downright contradictions – which is of course correct in that the non-modern is not modern, and modernism believes its logic (although it measures everything by values which by modernism own self understanding are always “progressing” and thus always changing) to be the only logic – and thus what does not fit is the others error, not its own.

        You might as well give up, because you are never going to understand why an Orthodox Christian permits divorce (and a Roman Catholic does not – and a Muslim permits polygamy), and yet all three would never ever recognize a “gay” marriage and why it would be impossible for them to participate in such a rite. You simply don’t have the intellectual tools, and you are unwilling to live the life of, a non-modern believer.

        BUT, all that is OK, because as a “liberal” you can recognize that you don’t need understanding, you don’t need consistency from your point of view – all you need is to recognize that real disagreements exist, and that we have to make room for them if we are to live in a pluralistic, liberal, peaceful society…except modern “progressive liberalism” seems to have forgotten it’s religious plural roots. This seems to have occurred sometime between 1970 and the late 1990’s, at least among the current power brokers. Thus, modernism is now very very illiberal – it is totalitarian in nature, and willing to punish severely those who do bow to its Idols…

        • James Bradshaw says

          1) I’m not a “liberal”. I oppose legal abortion in most instances, and I’m fiscally conservative (favoring less government spending across the board).
          2) I wouldn’t consider myself a materialist or “secularist”, either. I think belief in intelligent design is rational but just feel that anything beyond that is pure speculation and wishful thinking.

          “you are never going to understand why an Orthodox Christian permits divorce”

          I don’t care what your rules are. I’m just asking you to at least abide by the rules you claim to follow. If your faith does NOT permit divorce, then don’t participate in civil divorces as an attorney or civil clerk. If you’re not going to permit interfaith marriages or heterosexual remarriages, don’t participate.

          Despite legal divorce, interfaith marriage and multiple heterosexual marriages, I’ve yet to hear someone argue that any of these infringe on religious liberty. Sure, some have made arguments about why they’re bad practices, but nothing related to how their commonality is somehow making life miserable for Christians who don’t wish to involve themselves with any of these practices.

          • Christopher says

            As an Orthodox Christian, the Faith does permit divorce. The previous sentence is a gross simplification, but for where you are coming from and in the context of this conversation, it is true. Now, the doctrine of the Roman Catholic church (which, you might be confused, is not the Orthodox Church, though a RC believer could be a small “o” orthodox Christian) does NOT permit divorce. Again, a simplification but for this context true. A Muslim believer is permitted to divorce, as long as he is a man. This is more of a straightforward statement. A secular divorce is not the same thing as a Church divorce. For example, my parents are divorced and have been for the last 31 one years. However, they are not, because their marriage has never been annulled by the Roman Catholic church in which they were married. Complicated? yes. “Inconsistent” or “incoherent”, not to me, but then I am not a modern person – I am an Orthodox Christian.

            Now, should the RC church be forced to recognize my parents civil divorce upon criminal penalty through some twisted logic of “non-discrimination”? Nope. Should a Christian business person be forced to directly participate in an unholy rite of a homosexualist “wedding”. Nope. Should a Jewish baker be forced to bake the Prosphora bread my congregation will use tomorrow morning? Nope. Should a Muslim t-shirt printer be made to put an image of the Prophet on a t-shirt for me simply because I as a Christian do not want to be “discriminated” against? Nope. Liberty, religious liberty, has to mean something.

            If a Christian of any type divorces, or has a mistress, or views pornography, or participates in the sexual revolution in any other way does it effect me? Yes, but not in a legal way – but your intuition is right, it is very very important and effects me in negative ways that are, to use a non modern word, “spiritual” (well, plenty of modern people believe themselves to be “spiritual” – I use it in it’s original sense). However, they are not using the legal code (that is, the power of the gun) to force me into a celebration of their unholy actions. A person/government who uses the gun to force me to directly participate in a “gay wedding” is doing something more – he is taking away my religious liberty. He is also doing something that is very difficult, if not impossible for a modern mind to understand: he is forcing me to “celebrate” his beliefs. A modern mind can not really understand this because it does not really understand symbolism, because the modern person is a nominalist. EXCEPT, that a modernist does understand this intuitively, thus it is really really important for the New Moralists to force unbelievers to celebrate with them. A Christian, Jew, or Muslim will all understand this celebration to be a sacrifice to an Idol.

            I hope this helps.

            • James Bradshaw says

              Christopher writes: “A modern mind can not really understand this”

              It’s really not all that difficult. There are times when the degree or type of participation in an activity will make someone feel complicit in an immoral action. I think we get it.

              In my conversations with activists on both sides of these issues, I can say that both sides are pretty consistent, although both have come to radically different conclusions. On the left side, they believe that businesses should be required by law to serve everyone, regardless of who’s asking. On the other, it is believed that businesses should have the freedom to reject anyone’s requests for service, regardless of who it is and what they’re being asked to provide. Each side seems to find these positions as absolutes and non-negotiable.

              It’s unfortunate. As such, the only to resolve is to determine who is theoretically more at risk for being deprived of equal protection under the law: those with the power and capacity to provide the services or those who must rely on others to acquire those goods and services.

              • Christopher says

                On the left side, they believe that businesses should be required by law to serve everyone, regardless of who’s asking. On the other, it is believed that businesses should have the freedom to reject anyone’s requests for service, regardless of who it is and what they’re being asked to provide. Each side seems to find these positions as absolutes and non-negotiable.

                Well, if this is what was actually going on it would be irreconcilable conflict. Thankfully, this is not what is actually going on. The error in “who’s asking” is the error on the left. It is not about “who”, but “what”. Thus, for the modernist, they don’t have to “feel” {which is the crux of everything for them, because at the bottom of their world view is simply a pleasure vs. pain foundation – which is why suffering (whether physical, or mental, or emotional, or that which centers around their “identity”) is the root of all evil for them. Notice for the non-modern: The Jew, Christian, or Muslim, suffering as such is not an evil, indeed as the Holy Cross reveals it is the gateway to all good!} rejected in their identity, they can simply acknowledge that they can’t demand certain behaviors from their non-modern neighbor (namely, they can’t demand that they participate in their unholy liturgies). Of course, they will have to admit that “the market place” is not some sacred ground for them where their own philosophy rules to the exclusion of every other world view. They will have to allow some nuance to “non-discrimination” legal code and not make it an unbending moral absolute, because again they are the ones trying to define what is “moral” and what is not in the marketplace. The hard part for them is that they truly believe a certain myth about racial discrimination and the civil rights movement. Interestingly, the real warriors in the civil rights movement reject this, as for example when the traditional african american community in San Antonio last year fought against the inclusion of “sexual orientation” in that cities non discrimination legal code. They understood that the analogy between racial and sexual “discrimination” is a strained at best. It was amusing when their liberal white political allies tried to shame them into thinking otherwise.

                On the non-modernist side, we will have to admit that there has been a crude, immoral, and reactionary stance against our modernist neighbors in the past. While racial discrimination was justified on “religious” grounds by some protestant sects, it never was by Rome to a significant degree (perhaps a RC can say more on this) and certainly not the Orthodox Church. Islam is also racially blind – they will enslave you no matter what your color. This justification was untenable and fell apart, mostly in the face of protestant religious opposition. Regardless, this history is there. Still, it is simply not in play today, and the exceptions simply prove the rule. The civil rights movement has to be the most thorough, successful, and swiftest moral crusade in history of the United States. No one, absolutely no one of influence seriously disagrees with it. What this all means is that we will have to be sure to treat our modernist neighbor with the utmost respect, and in most cases acquiesce to his requests in the market place.

                I think it is incumbent on both “sides” to develop a ground for “non-discrimination” that ensures religious liberty and protects non-discrimination theory from being used and abused by any and all “victims” and victim classes. Clearly, it is too wide open now, and there appears to be no limits as to what a victim can demand. A key aspect of this will the jettisoning of the idea that the market place is religiously “neutral” ground, because that is a modernist idea straight from his religion. To us non-modernists, it is simply a religious assertion that demands our religious viewpoint to take a seat at the back of the bus. We can do this to a certain extant, but not to the point of being forced to participate in the rites of a modernist. This will not happen easily however, because Corporate America – the most powerful interest group and political lobby by far in the United States, have decided they want the modernist religion to trump all others. There are several reasons for this, but non-modernist Christians, Jews, and Muslims will have to realize that BOTH political parties are really just mouth pieces for the business class, and look to defend our religious liberty without their help. This is going to get ugly I think…

  3. Christopher says

    Fr Jacobse,

    I believe the authors “Fact number three” is the most important thing she says. The temptation to “self censorship” is going to be the main temptation for the Faithful in all this. It is simply easier to have a “go along and get along” attitude, especially when working – as most of the
    Faithful are in Corporate America and it is exactly there that the pressure is the highest (just look at what is happening in Indiana and Arkansas).

    I don’t know if it is to be you, but someone needs to write a sermon titled “Why traditional Christians (and Jews and Muslims) MUST discriminate in all areas of their life, including the economic” This of course will mean “discrimination” as the legal code and the New Moralism defines it – that is discriminating against “gays and lesbians”, etc. This sermon should be read in every church this Sunday…

  4. Michael Bauman says

    Christopher, I understand your point and the question of what and what is not accommodation is a key one since you are quite correct that nothing we do will diminish or avert the rage perhaps the zero-tolerance you propose is necessary.

    The early Christians did practice accommodation up to a point. Sacrificing to idols or offering to Caesar was the that point as far as I read history. Is giving services to homosexuals for their union ceremonies that point.

    In the sense that homosexuality is a form of idolatry (which can be taken from Romans 1, IMO) then perhaps it is. We would be participating in idolatrous perhaps blasphemous acts.

  5. Christopher says


    I think participation in any way in a “union ceremony” or any other ceremony that affirms homosexualism as a good is that point. Coming back to the photophrapher, he intuitively understood that participating in such a “wedding”, even as a supposedly neutral/uninterested economic service provider, was crossing the line. As I understand it, he comes from an “evengelical” background, so his sense of the place and importance of ceremony, symbol, etc. is in all probability less developed than ours as Orthodox Christians.

    If we are honest, the New Moralists understand this as well. Thus, they are right in trying to coerce us into their symbolic liturgies because that is an important way to convey and convert the mind to the New Moralism/Anthropology. On the other hand , we are right to draw the line here, and not be sucked into the trap that it is “neutral” economic activity and thus the example of race and “non-discrimination” apply. It is not the same, and we must be prepared to suffer for it.

    Of course, as you rightly point out, if we are participating in other aspects of the sexual revolution without a second thought, then to what extant is our hypocrisy such that we simply do not have the moral strength to suffer in this? Still, hypocrisy in itself does not negate the good…

  6. Michael Bauman says

    Here is a real possibility: I sell health insurance occasionally. What if the government mandates as it basically has, that “married” homosexuals be granted the ability to have health insurance together, not just under the vague “domestic partner” status but as “Married”?

    Now, my boss may just decide to no longer offer health insurance where that to come and we would not loose much revenue. Still, worth thinking about.

  7. Christopher says

    It is always going to be bit messy around the edges I think. I would at first think that insurance policies and the beneficiaries of such are not really on the same level as being forced to directly participate in a homsexualist liturgy, as when you bake them the celebratory cake or photograph the religious ceremony. However, as you point out, “married” is right there. I think in medicine, perhaps even on the edge like the selling of health insurance, you are providing a service that is more akin to an act of mercy, and not akin to participating in and affirming a religious position. Perhaps however, I am simply rationalizing however…

    • Michael Bauman says

      Perhaps however, I am simply rationalizing however… and there is the difficulty. When the ACA health plans first came out, I read the coverage and exclusions of the company my agency represents with one purpose: was abortion covered. That was after all a piece of the ACA overhaul. My state had made the election of such coverage voluntary, but one never knows what insurance companies will do. I was heartened to find that abortion was specifically excluded.

      That will not be an option with the homosexual union. Right now, that same company has “domestic partner” language but that will not be allowed to pass muster more than likely.

      The big instances are quite clear. It is the pinch of incense and the temptation that it does not matter that makes for the difficulty.

      Thank you for your input. We all need to pray and search our hearts and talk with our brothers and sisters about such things–not in anger or judgment BTW.

    • James Bradshaw says

      Christopher writes: ” I think in medicine, perhaps even on the edge like the selling of health insurance, you are providing a service that is more akin to an act of mercy, and not akin to participating in and affirming a religious position. Perhaps however, I am simply rationalizing however…”

      When a bank robber is shot in the middle of a hold up, not even the most ardent supporter of the death penalty has ever suggested that there is a moral imperative for rescue services to let the man die on the floor. No, it’s reasonable to insist that doctors do what they can to save the person’s life and let the justice system play itself out accordingly.

      Yet, you’re struggling over whether medical care granted to a gay person and their partner is somehow a great moral evil?

      I’ll just say “Wow” … and leave it at that.

      • Michael Bauman says

        Mr. Bradshaw, not about the health care at all. Health insurance can be purchased by everyone, and I have no problem advising folks and selling it to anyone who qualifies. What I have a problem with as you really know, is the acceptance of homosexuals as married. Under ACA there are no family savings anymore–each person is charged the same rate for their age and tobacco use whether they are part of a family plan or not. That is true in both private and employer sponsored group plans. There is not even a savings on out of pocket costs in the vast majority of cases. The old rationale that only by including homosexual partners as spouses would they be allowed coverage is a lie. In my state private plans, on and off the exchange are less expensive than comparable group plans. And in case you have not noticed EVERYONE can get them with or without an agent. The only real advantage for the group plans is the employer subsidy, but the Marketplace subsidies can far out strip what employers pay.

        The is no reason for the designation except to support the false idea that homosexual unions are equal to or better than marriage. Your emotional commitment to your ideology on this matter blinds you.

        So I’ll just say “Wow” at how disingenuous and arrogant you are.

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