The Rights of Error and the Death of Tolerance

That’s the title of my latest installment over at The Catholic Thing. Here’s how it begins:

Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew
“You can’t open your mind, boys
To every conceivable point of view”
– Bob  Dylan, “High Water (For Charley Patton),” 2001

Many years ago I was a guest on a national radio show to discuss one of my books. I forget which one, but I vividly remember an encounter I had with a listener who called the program. He was clearly upset that I was offering reasons for the sanctity of unborn human life, that I was explaining in some detail why I believe that the preborn human being has a personal nature and that abortion is unjustified homicide.

After some initial small talk, and my answering his question about human personhood, the caller asserted with obvious exasperation: “Dr. Beckwith, you’re just intolerant. You seem so sure that you are right, and that everybody else is wrong.” For someone like me, who moonlights as a philosophical comedian, this sort of assertion is almost too good to be true. It’s the type of clichéd, mindless platitude that has kept the book I wrote with Gregory P. KouklRelativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, in print for fifteen years.

I answered the caller by asking this question, “Am I wrong in thinking this way?” It is an interrogative response that Greg and I have employed on numerous occasions and have shared with many an audience. The caller replied, “Yes.” I then said, “Then, you’re exactly like me. You think you’re right and I’m wrong. The difference is that I actually admit I believe something is true. You, on the other hand, believe something is true, but act as if you really don’t.”

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Stephen H. Webb: In Defense of Dylan's Voice
Strengthen the Things That Remain (Thoughts on Chick-Fil-A and Religious Liberty)
Bob Dylan's amazing live version of Mr. Tambourine Man from 1995
Great cover of Bob Dylan's pro-Israel song, "Neighborhood Bully."
  • Irksome1

    Perhaps you mistitled this post. Since error has no rights, there can be no toleration of it. In a confessional state, it would have to be subject to the brute subjugation of the government’s police power, lest the error proliferate. Therefore, it appears as though a truly pluralistic, tolerant society is hopelessly utopian. We are reduced to arguing for the merits of one hegemony over another.

  • Barfly_Kokhba

    Nice article, sir, thank you for it. This is the best sentence I’ve read in quite a while: “Because the Church’s critics confuse cosmetology with anthropology, they wind up calling for forced conformity in diversity drag.”

    I’m stealing that for future paraphrasing, if I can remember it.