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Fall 1995 · Vol. 24 No. 2 · pp. 102–4 

Book Review

When Tolerance Is No Virtue: Political Correctness, Multiculturalism and the Future of Truth and Justice

Stan D. Gaede. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993. 119 pages.

Reviewed by Jay Beaman

Stan Gaede, former sociology professor and presently provost at Gordon College, is no stranger to conservative Christian audiences including Mennonites. His doctoral dissertation was a study of Mennonites. One of the themes from Gaede’s previous book, Belonging: Our Need for Community in Church and Family (1985), was the privatization of faith. He {103} has also published Where Gods May Dwell (1985) to clarify for Christians the assumptions underlying social science thinking. Gaede’s latest work is also about community and truth, or conversely, the privatization of truth in the public square. Gaede speaks directly to the current sensitive issues of multiculturalism and political correctness. Sadly, Gaede notes that Christians are polarized around multiculturalism in much the same way as the larger society.

Multiculturalism critiques a cultural tradition favoring white European males, a legacy contaminated with racism, sexism, heterosexism, and imperialism (p. 34). Proponents would promote a variety of perspectives on truth, each of which gives voice to women, the poor, minorities and others . . . whose voice is suppressed (p. 34).

Gaede feels caught. On the one hand, the incarnation leads Christians to be open to the perspectives of African, Native Americans, and women, among others (p. 35). On the other hand, there is an agenda of pragmatism in multiculturalism that Gaede faults for confusing means and ends. Such pragmatism has sociological roots given the necessity in an increasingly diverse society of promoting cooperation among conflicting groups and efficiency in the workplace. The means of sensitivity towards the ends of justice, is replaced by tolerance as a philosophical end in itself. This leads to deep moral and ontological relativism and undercuts the possibility of truth claims. But there can be no justice without a moral foundation which requires investigating truth claims.

The goal of multiculturalism is . . . to enforce a uniform standard of tolerance, regardless of race, gender, cultural background or sexual orientation. The problem is that the items in this list—race, gender, cultural background and sexual orientation—are not precisely parallel to each other (p. 22). Political correctness may be the contemporary social norm relating to intergroup conflict: do not offend. Each individual in every group has an assumed right not to be offended (p. 22). Gaede sees this as the privatization of conviction (p. 22). Everything is to be tolerated except for perceived intolerance.

What central Christian truths are both a stumbling block for relativists and crucial to maintain if we are to promote justice? We need to emphasize creation in the image of one God, universal human sinfulness (e.g., humility), and truth and love in Jesus Christ. Christians who defend multiculturalism will not be judged by getting the right answer, but on how they implement that truth in action. Moreover, those who argue that their faith in Jesus Christ causes them to avoid multiculturalism need to make sure they are not just covering racism or hatred, something Gaede suspects. In fact, he suggests, “we ought to feel multicultural in our bones.”

I was somewhat perplexed in reading the second part of the book {104} where Gaede explained how the eighteenth-century American situation produced tolerance. Rejecting specific religious traditions such as the Quakers, Anabaptists, and Baptists as the main source of tolerance in this country, he suggests that tolerance here arises mostly out of necessity. So many different groups lived side by side and had no choice but to coexist. Gaede speaks nostalgically about a time when people both argued the rightness of their own group’s beliefs and summarily condemned the beliefs and people of other groups, and grudgingly accepted tolerance to the point of not killing each other. But there is a tacit utilitarian admission in Gaede’s admiration. Gaede almost appears to admire them for the tenacity with which each group held to its parochial version of the truth. Many of them were patently wrong. Yet Gaede applauds them, but that is not the issue here. The matter at hand was not the content of what was believed, but the confidence levels of those who believed it. And my thesis is that eighteenth-century America was unusual in its ability to cultivate both robust truth commitments and a tolerant public square (p. 107). So, was that a time when tolerance was a virtue? If so, while being more limited in scope than today’s tolerance, yesterday’s version appears to share the sociological source which Gaede finds so troubling today.

Jay Beaman
Assistant Professor of Sociology
George Fox College
Newberg, Oregon

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