Tolerance and Dialogue, and Simplicty
The smaller our world has become, the greater our awareness of the multiplicity of everything in our globalized world. Communities and societies have become multi -racial, multi -cultural and multi- religious. With globalization comes greater awareness of differences in all levels. Even business enterprises have become multi-national. Slowly we are exposed to the multifaceted ill effects of the phenomenon of humanity fractured by inequalities and greed. So often we miss the truth of everything. It (the truth) seems to be hidden under a thick crust of fear, mistrust, suspicion, intolerance, hatred and prejudice.
This atmosphere of uncertainty and insecurity makes people look for safe havens to feel at home and safe. The “search for those who are like us” can be seen everywhere, from the internet to religious groups. On the internet people surf around searching for others who share their interests and tastes. If differences emerge he or she is not more in our group of “like minded”. We find it difficult to share our communion with those who are different even within the Church.
Here we see the relevance of the twin virtue of tolerance and dialogue which can serve in promoting the good news that we belong to one another in God’s family. Like the fifth virtue of boldness and creativity this twin virtue of Tolerance and Dialogue is also after the truth. If tolerance is not based on the truth, it is not a virtue but a vice. In the common search for truth, tolerance must therefore partner with “dialogue” if it is to become a virtue in our times.
We normally understand the word “tolerance” as a disposition of mind, or an open-mindedness that enables a person to allow others freedom of choice and behavior. It appears like a positive attribute of a person. It is not an attitude that works for the sake of “peace at all cost”. Often the motivation of one’s act to agree is not based on the truth, but simply based on “accommodation” which might sometimes sacrifice the truth. If such is the case, tolerance then is no longer a virtue, but a vice. It is not about agreeing in order to maintain the status quo but about treating with respect those with whom we disagree.
Religious tolerance is not about agreeing with people from other religious traditions to our own. There is no need to be a religious pluralist in order to be tolerant of those of other faiths. The gospels must be our source of insight and understanding on tolerance as virtue. Jesus is our model to this virtue. He even saved a woman apparently caught in adultery from being stoned to death (Jn.8:1-11). He openly condemned hypocrisy and avarice. He was not simply tolerant with the business minded people in the temple (Jn.2:12-16). He openly criticized those who are insincere and hypocrites (Mt. 23:15-20). Jesus’ tolerance was not that of a “Roman tolerance” (Romans conquered lands militarily but allowed conquered peoples to keep their customs and religious convictions intact as a way of political accommodation. Paradoxically, it was the Roman policy of tolerance that led to Jesus crucifixion and death. The tolerant Roman government tired, beat, and brutally executed an innocent man in the name of maintaining peace. This type of tolerance is not a virtue.
For tolerance to be a virtue, it must serve the truth even if it hurts. Jesus was tolerant in this sense.
Just being tolerant is not enough to bring true peace and unity in our fractured world. It must work in tandem with “dialogue”. Dialogue is a means in the pursuit of truth. For a true dialogue one needs to know the truth of a situation. It is essential to have knowledge and discernment of the truth including both the good and the week points of the adversary. So, in order to dialogue as a virtuous person one requires a skillful application of the truth that one sees in discernment. To pursue the path of dialogue and peace in a violent and divided world is a call of the Gospel for today. It calls us to be prophetic in speaking against the evils that divide human race. Incarnation of the Son of God and his crucifixion and death and resurrection could be understood as concrete dialogue of God with humanity. Death and consequent giving of life to the other is the purpose of true Dialogue that Jesus taught us.
We are called to be prophets and disciples who are true imitators of Christ, who will reach out with love and compassion not only to the lost but to our brother or sister who might not share our thoughts or views. We need special efforts to live a life of Dialogue especially in multi-cultural religious communities. With the lack of tolerance for conflict and difference that pervades the religious communities; there is a great temptation to relate only with those who share our convictions. Dialogue stretches our hearts and minds, and expands our capacity to listen and to accept one another and ourselves in our differences and uniqueness.
Questions for Reflections:
1. What is my understanding on Tolerance? Is it based on biblical understanding and the teaching of Christ on this virtue?
2. Tolerance must serve the truth. Does my act of tolerance serve the truth or it just serve the human being?
3. What is my understanding on Dialogue? Is it based on theological and biblical understanding of Dialogue?
4. What hinters me in pursuing dialogue? How often do I say that “it is impossible to dialogue with this person”? What initiatives do I make it work?
5. Why am I tolerant? Why am I not? How I am successful in initiating dialogue? Why I am not successful?
Plan of action: Identify a person you find it difficult for a dialogue. Try to find out the reasons. Is there anything that you can do?
Prayer: Find out time to pray for persons different from you. Find out means to include him as a part of your life. Spending time for praying others before Blessed Sacrament is a wonderful methodology in growing in these virtues of tolerance and dialogue.
Simplicity is the condition or quality of being simple. It is the absence of luxury or showiness; it is the absence of affectation or pretence. This is a relevant and timely virtue (although it has its roots from the apostolic times) because Life as it is in our postmodern era has become so complex. In consecrated life we also see that the complexity of our world and a postmodern mentality produce, especially in the younger generations, a type of personality that is more complex and less defined, often characterized by extreme neediness, insecurity and narcissism. What virtue can we inculcate in our world, especially in consecrated life that will go against the complex effects of postmodernism in the psyche of our young aspirants to religious life?
As a matter of fact there is a certain attractiveness and beauty about things and realities that are simple and uncomplicated. That is evident in the monasteries of Buddhist traditions in the East. Even some of the catholic nuns decide to join Buddhist religious life in Korea mainly out of this fascination for simplicity of life. Is our religious life so complicated that its simplicity is gone? Do we not consider simplicity a virtue?
From a general and common perspective, who are endowed with this virtue? They are the poor and the simple. The poor of this world, amidst life’s demands and complexities, do have something to teach us. They remind us that we only need basic material resources to live. A religious who professed poverty and to live a life of simplicity proclaims this truth that the things that our materialistic and consumerist society offers are really not essential to life itself, they only act as a form of narcotic that distracts our attention to what is essential and true.
The virtue of simplicity invites us to return to God and to our true selves. This virtue has traditionally been understood as living in the presence of God and having the single intention of pleasing God in all that we are and what we do.
It is also a grace that makes us become like little children in its quality of innocence and openness, enabling us to be who we are before God without masks or pretensions. Simplicity therefore keeps us focused on what is essential to life and to our relationships with self, others, God and the whole of creation.
This virtue helps us discern the real thirst of our heart, which is to know and to worship the one true God
Relevance of this virtue in the context of today:
This virtue helps us to keep our attention on the presence of God in a world where new idols are being introduced for our adoration and which prevents us from adoring the true God. God is by nature absolutely simple and simplicity is even considered as an attribute of God. The simpler we become, the more our life is unified around God’s love and truth. By fostering this virtue we are invited to value the resources of the poor and the despised where God’s works and presence become more tangible and visible. In a world of consumerism especially when it encroaches all levels of human existence, this virtue is relevant and has something very important to teach us.
Not a new Idea:
Simplicity of living is not a new idea. It has deep roots in history. More than 2000 years ago, in the same historical period that Christians were saying, “Give me neither poverty nor wealth,” (Proverbs 30:8), the Taoists were asserting “He who knows he has enough is rich” (LaoTsu), Plato and Aristotle were proclaiming the importance of the “golden mean” of a path through life with neither excess nor deficit, and the Buddhists were encouraging a middle way between poverty and accumulation richness.
Simplicity according to Bible:
– A necessary element to enter the Kingdom (Mt.18:12)
– Opposed to fleshly wisdom (2Cor.1:12)
– Should be exhibited in preaching the Gospel (1Thes.2:3-7)
– Should be exhibited in acts of benevolence (Rom.12:8)
– People with simplicity are made wisely by God (Mt.11:25)
– Simple people profit by the correction of others (Prov. 19:25;21:11)
– Simplicity is exemplified (Ps. 131:1-2; Jer:1:6)
– Simplicity is illustrated (Mt.6:22)
Gospel poverty points to how one should live simplicity: having what one needs (1Tim.6:8). The Gospels, especially that of the fourth chapter of Mathew (Mt.4:1-17) tells us we have to let go few things to lead a simple life. Jesus renounces three things here: status, wealth and misuse of power. Letting go of acquisitiveness for its own sake makes one more receptive to the gifts of God and of others.
St. Francis has inspired, challenged us and emphasized the virtue of simplicity to all religious and to all modern day disciples of Jesus. In the missionary journey of St. Claret we witness how he responded to this challenge. Thorough out his missionary journey he travelled with the minimum things. He was content with a simple life even in his stay in the palace.
The virtue of simplicity as a life style:
A truly simple person has the freedom to be gentle, peaceful and joyful in the Lord. He or she is single hearted about life and uncluttered by material things or pursuits.
Practical part for personal reflections:
Simplicity today means certain concrete things to take place in our life.
- Find time to contemplate and appreciate God’s goodness in creation.
- Seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice through our lives of fraternity.
- Like Christ we are called to work, serve, and minister.
- We look for the opportunities to heal the wounded and to bind up the broken- the deeds of charity.
- We suspect our acquisitive and consumer society and learn the differences between what we need and what we want.
- We do not build structures that clutter our lives in their service make us dependent on them
- We have what is necessary to live with human dignity and share even that when we can.
- Our use of transportation, clothing and leisure reflect our identity as evangelically poor people.
- We choose housing adequate to our human needs, build neighborhood ties and open our houses reasonably to God’s people.
- Work creatively with our hands in matters of shared living.
- We celebrate life’s moments of simple joy and jubilee and support life’s sad and difficult times with a simple loving heart.
- We respect ours and others need for solitude with God as well as for communal prayers, meetings and friendship
- We do what we can. At the same time receive help of others gratefully.
- We avoid pre-occupation with “fulfillment” or our health or appearance, and above all with our image.
Plan of Action:
– By a simple manner of living, by denial of luxury and when necessary, acceptance of hardship, we have to witness both personally and as community to evangelical freedom and detachment. We want to simplify our existence more and more in the light of Jesus Word and example.
– “More with less” could be a timely philosophy for a Claretian missionary. It is a healthier living by consuming less, discarding less and learning to enjoy living with less. By seeking and living with fewer material things also makes our lives a more fertile ground for the cultivation of spiritual values.
– This virtue of simplicity calls for a simplicity of life, poverty and humility before God. It is literally the way of life demonstrated by Christ in the Gospels. We have to imitate his respect and appreciation for creation.
– We need to explore some of the practical issues involved in living a simpler life relating to finances, the environment, work and community and the benefits it bring to us.
We learn this virtue of simplicity only from a deep concern to transform ourselves with Jesus. We have to look at the cross of Christ and meditate on the historical Christ and encounter him. After reading these reflections the community can decide the way that is suitable to you.
-Manuel Ezhaparampil cmf