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The Reactionary Utopian (classic)
October 1, 2010

 Tolerance and Progress
A classic by Joseph Sobran
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Nothing is quite so tiresome and toothless as the Latest Thinking. We’ve been barraged with it for more than a century, by such advanced apostles of Progress as George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and Bertrand Russell, to name only a few of those who are still remembered at all. Their ideas have been adopted with disastrous results, but their faith goes droning on.

One of the founding fathers of the Latest Thinking is the American sex researcher Albert Kinsey, hero of a new movie. Kinsey’s famous 1948 study, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, has taught two generations that all sexual practices are natural, therefore okay. He professed to be a pure, value-neutral scientist, but it has since transpired that he was a pretty kinky guy himself who had an interest in abolishing distinctions between the normal and the abnormal. His study included sexual experiments on little kids, which, though highly illegal, was for some reason overlooked by the law. Maybe the magic word science immunized him.

In any case, the book’s implicit moral was hardly value-neutral, as everyone now sees. It was a thorough rejection of the very idea of virtue in the realm of carnal relations. Kinsey was an enemy of chastity, virginity, and innocence itself. The movie, judging by the reviews, plays down his own — what’s the term? — sado-masochism, as well as the kiddy sex. But then Hollywood has a long tradition of beautifying heroes, and the real Kinsey requires a lot of beautifying.

Socialism, once a cornerstone of the Latest Thinking, has been a bit tarnished by modern history, but the sexual revolution — once known as “free love” — is still going strong. Hey, if it feels good, do it. You can always get an abortion or penicillin later.

Those who still hold out against this revolution, which might also be called the Kinsey ethic, are now accused of “intolerance.” You see this every day on the op-ed pages, where red-state Christians who oppose abortion and same-sex “marriage” are said to be acting contrary to Christ’s teachings. Christ, after all, taught tolerance, which these people sorely lack. So we are told.

Actually, Christ never preached anything as mushy and undefined as tolerance, let alone Kinsey-style tolerance. He taught mercy, patience, charity — which cover a lot of ground, but are a long way from Kinseyland. He also condemned divorce, adultery, and even looking at women with lust. Pretty intolerant, according to the Latest Thinking. “Go, and sin no more.” These are sweet but stern words of forgiveness, even encouragement, but far from “Anything goes.”

The banality of the Latest Thinking

Why is tolerance supposed to be an unqualified virtue? Dr. Samuel Johnson, always ready to take a stand against the Latest Thinking in his own day, had tough words about “unlimited toleration.” As he put it to Boswell and other friends, “Old Baxter [the Reverend Richard Baxter, 1615–1691], I remember, maintains that the magistrate should ‘tolerate all things that are tolerable.’ This is no good definition of toleration upon any principle; but it shows that he thought some things were not tolerable.”

Unless we want to say that everything is tolerable, there must be some limits; and we should ask ourselves whether we have already tolerated too much. The answer depends on questions about human nature about which the Latest Thinking is itself none too tolerant. Do we have immortal souls? If so, are we at risk of damnation? And what sins increase the risk? Could sexual sins be among them?

The Latest Thinking answers such questions in the negative; or rather, it presumes negative answers. The Christian takes them seriously. If we are essentially more than animals, they have to be confronted.

Never mind the poor diseased and deserted losers of the sexual revolution, let alone the dead unborn. What about the winners? Does anyone really look up to such masturbation moguls as Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt? Have you ever heard anyone express admiration for these men?

We’re now living in the ruins of false Progressive hopes, in moral as in political matters. Yet such is the sway of these banal ideas that hardly anyone dares suggest that we reconsider the merits of such alleged advances as divorce and contraception, whose effects are worse than any pessimist predicted.

Tolerance may yet be the death of us. The Latest Thinking needs a lot of rethinking.

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This column was originally published by Griffin Internet Syndicate on October 28, 2004.

Copyright © 2010 by Joe Sobran and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.

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