On November 11th, Mary Eberstadt, a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, delivered a lecture titled “The New Intolerance” sponsored by First Things magazine. Christianity is under a frontal assault in the United States with religious belief increasingly being relegated to a private practice under the banner of tolerance.
For Eberstadt, “Of all the witnesses that can be produced to shut down the new intolerance, the most compelling of all may be the most hitherto unseen. These are the former victims of the sexual revolution themselves – the walking wounded coming in and out of those proverbial field hospitals, the people who are believers not because they want to jettison the Christian moral code, but because they want to do something more radical: Live by it.
The truth that has not been reckoned with by religion’s cultured despisers today is this: Christianity is being built more and more by these very witnesses themselves – by people who have come to embrace the difficult and longstanding Christian rulebook not because they know nothing of the revolution and its fallout, but because instead they know all too much.
These are the heirs to St. Augustine and every other soul who ever found in Christianity’s tough code a lifesaver, and not a noose.”
In an exclusive interview, she recently spoke with tothesource contributor Christopher White on what she has aptly described as “The New Intolerance” facing 21st century believers—and how we might be respond.
tothesource: What is “The New Intolerance” and what does it reveal?
Mary Eberstadt: “The New Intolerance” is shorthand for the chilled public atmosphere in which many religious believers now operate, particularly in the advanced nations of the world. We’re not talking here about the many Christians elsewhere who are persecuted and martyred for the faith, and whose plight pierces the heart of all civilized people. We’re talking instead about religious believers in societies from the United States to Europe to other citadels of Western civilization. These people face unique burdens of their own these that have only recently arisen – the burdens of ostracism, of losing the good opinion of their neighbors, of being trash-talked in the public square. Some Christians even face the loss of livelihood, or the constant threat and reality of litigation.
These and other penalties for being Christian are arising from the fact that the sexual revolution and Christianity are now clashing head-on. Sexual revolutionaries resent the traditional Christian moral code. So they are finding new ways of punishing Christians for it. In a way, the “new intolerance” is as simple as that.
tts: Can we transcend a reactionary posture without sidestepping the truth of what is going on and what is at stake?
Eberstadt:That’s a very important question. And I believe the answer is yes, we can indeed do something in the public square beyond pointing to the Christian moral rulebook and leaving things at that. The new intolerance has to be confronted and called out – and not just by believers themselves, but also by everyone else who cares about civility and decent treatment of others.
It’s slander, for example, to accuse people of “hating” others when they don’t, or of being bigots when they’re not – but this happens all the time to Christians these days, from television shows to tony society to campuses and lots of other venues. Smearing people for their beliefs is just that: smearing, and it’s wrong. In that sense, the new intolerance is an “everybody” problem.
tts: How might mercy aid us in this mission?
Eberstadt:Pope Francis has captured the imagination of the world by emphasizing over and over the need to treat every human being before us as a creature of God. In other words, as Cardinal Walter Kasper remarked recently, Pope Francis makes mercy the centerpiece of his pontificate.
And the critical thing about mercy is that it isn’t just for whoever sits in the drivers’ seats of fashion or politics or anything else. Mercy is another one of those “everybody” things. It applies across the board – or at least, it’s supposed to. The religious believers today who are mocked in public, whose pastors are threatened, who are called bigots and worse even when they aren’t: these people don’t deserve to take a permanent back seat in public life, which is what the new intolerance wants. Those believers deserve mercy from their fellow human beings too.
So far, the new intolerance isn’t showing them any. But if enough people stand up and demand it, we can change that.