It will also help in our thinking task for today's American freedom-lover to understand what hatred, intolerance, and having an "anti-someone" attitude actually are. It is painful to see modern Americans characterizing their political opposition in these terms. Hatred of a politically actionable kind isn't the feeling that someone disagrees with you. Hatred looks like the corpses of Jewish women strewn on a floor at Auschwitz. Hatred looks like the mass murder of 5,000 Tutsis who took refuge in a church in Rwanda in April 1994.
Intolerance looks like burning Protestants at the stake in England in the 1550s, or the massacre of Catholics in Baghdad in 2010. Intolerance looks like the nearly half a million Vietnamese "boat people" who perished on the seas fleeing the Communist takeover of South Vietnam in the mid-1970s.
Being "anti-someone" looks like Iran hanging men from industrial cranes for being gay. It looks like the pogroms under the Russian Czars against Jewish communities. It looks like the atrocities against Christians, Jews, businessmen, and ethnic minorities committed by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s, or those committed by the Castro regime in Cuba over the past five decades. Being "anti-someone" looks like the depredations of the Soviet Union against Eastern Europe in World War II and the Cold War, from mass executions, raids, and theft, to deportations that drove women and children to starvation and death at internment camps in Siberia.
Americans living in freedom and comfort but without the universal approval of their fellow countrymen cannot seriously claim to be suffering these terrible impositions. By no reasonable standard is there an epidemic of vicious hatred or intolerance in the U.S. As much as Christians are to live in sympathy and kindness with others, we're not required to accept distorting, demagogic language about their travails.
Tolerance, meanwhile, starts with the individual and the moral underpinnings of society. It is not a product of democracy or free elections, but a precondition for their success. It cannot be forced. People either agree voluntarily to the principle of tolerance—meaning others get to disagree with us and even disapprove of us—and then actually control ourselves and give each other leeway, or there is no tolerance or freedom.
It has been quite a while since Americans seriously thought about these ideas, and frankly, it shows. We are caught up every week in some public dispute in which the media encourage us to snipe at each other like children: "Racist! Idiot! Homophobe! Fascist! Misogynist! Hater! Moron! F****t!" Emotional rants have even begun affecting our public policies. We have lost sight of the seriousness of government and the need for accountability in its actions, treating it as if its function is to express feelings, regardless of the precedents that may set.
No society's situation has ever been safe from this political incontinence, and ours certainly is not. There is no self-correcting "freedom mechanism"; there is only character and wisdom in the people. Christians, of all people, are equipped to know that it is not "unfair" to be disagreed with or to have one's proposals for reordering society rejected. Each one of us endures disagreement and rejection over a lifetime, but the love of God upholds us in spite of it, and is truly and tangibly more important than all the injuries men can inflict.
To preserve religious and intellectual freedom, the key is rigorously restricting the role of the government in disagreements and rejections among the people. Our competence to stand in an intellectually coercive relation to each other, with the force of the state behind us, is extremely limited. We inevitably turn this power to evil when we wield it over others. We should, moreover, resist on principle seeing our social interactions in these divisive terms, and should refrain from joining in mob fury over disagreements and rejections, whether government is involved or not.
In doing this, we can take Jesus as our model. He could never be induced to join in a self-righteous anger- or blame-fest. His one occasion for righteous anger, with the moneychangers in the temple, was based not on a prescribed "righteousness checklist" derived from the law, but from his upwelling of personal, filial care for what was holy to the Father. In living as citizens of a free republic, let us seek to follow in his footsteps.