People have radically different ideas and ideals about relationships. One highly educated woman glowingly described her small-group writing course at a leading university in our city:
- We’ve really bonded as a class. No one judges anyone else…all expressions of feelings, thoughts and actions are equally acceptable.
She evidently felt very accepted within this group, and because of this, she valued the group very highly. Of course, this made me wonder whether we Christians are too judgmental.
I visualized myself in such a group responding to one of the writers happily describing his adulterous affair. Even as I visualized the group affirming him and bonding with him around his very human feelings, I knew that I couldn’t, even though it would certainly mean the disapproval of the group. (Odd how everything is acceptable accept non-acceptance!)
Was there something the matter with me because I couldn’t always give “warm fuzzies” and adopt the prevailing norms? Perhaps, if these norms promoted bonding and a mutual sense of caring for one another, I was missing something.
I knew how I would be regarded in such a group – rigid, ignorant, judgmental, condemning, and perhaps even up-tight. I was unwilling to let myself go to enjoy what the group was sharing together. I smugly judged from above.
I didn’t like seeing myself through these eyes. I experienced their contempt, but was it a well-deserved contempt? Was I lacking in appreciation of what they shared? I wondered if this sense of “bonding” could be brought home to their wives, husbands and children. And would it remain the same if these students had to live together, clean house, share groceries, and formulate house rules about guests, hours, noise...?
I think that even they would admit that it wouldn’t – it couldn’t! Well, if this experiment couldn’t be brought into the real world of dirty toilet bowls and unwashed dishes, what then should we think of their class “bonding?” Shouldn’t we conclude that there is something unreal, even illusory, about their classroom experience?
At this point, I can hear my friend saying,
- Well, what if it is something that we can only experience in such an artificial environment? What if it isn’t reality? So what! Can’t we just enjoy it for what it is? Can’t we merely piece together our affiliations in isolated islands of peace, even if removed from the rest of our lives? What’s the matter with that?
Perhaps nothing? We go to movies and enjoy entering into someone else’s fantasy for two hours and might even shed some warm, comforting tears. We might even draw some lessons from what we have seen. However, we are still able to differentiate the fantasy of the movie from life.
However, I was beginning to wonder whether my friend was able to maintain the distinction between her group and her life? Non-judgmentalism worked in the group. It seemed as if she was suggesting that, because it worked in the group, it should be able to work in our real lives.
Even worse, if radical tolerance is the answer to our social/relational problems, then any form of intolerance isn’t the answer! This means that we shouldn’t censure the adulterer. (Only our non-accepting husband, who is not progressive enough!) Perhaps by merely showing the adulterer radical acceptance, he will naturally abandon his adulterous affair?
Of course, this is patently ridiculous! If this formula was a solution to our social ills, then we should rid ourselves of the police, the courts, jails and any form of punishment and moral instruction. Just love and accept people to death! One size fits all!
Once society accepts these idealistic norms, it surrenders its resources to deal with the problems and will eventually self-destruct! In contrast to radical tolerance, the Scriptures provide a very different wisdom – that love requires that we set limits and pass laws. Love doesn’t allow its infant to cross the street unattended; it doesn’t allow its teenager to throw drug-infested parties. Instead, love warns of dangers and provides vital instruction:
- Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deut. 6:4-7)
If there is wisdom, then there is also the absence of wisdom – folly. If wisdom protects, then folly removes that protection. Radical acceptance and tolerance represents a refusal to make the critical distinctions. My friend had asserted that “all expressions of feelings, thoughts and actions are equally acceptable.” If this is so, then wisdom and discernment have become meaningless, and maturity is only a matter of leaving your mind at the door.