Enforcement vs. Discovery
The need for balance between practice and theory can be seen in the contemporary exaltation of tolerance. By emphasizing experience over theory, personhood is tyrannized and suppressed in light of demands made by the individual. In this manner, tolerance produces the ironic result of suppressing what it is ultimately after–freedom.
In the Iliad, Priam and Achilles exist as enemies. Yet, after years of battle they experience a moment of deep personhood, a moment of recognition and shared humanity. This occurs when they discover each other as a victim of the war, as having lost, and thus as having loved. But notice, this only happens because of the death of Hector, Priam’s son, and the death of Patroclus, Achilles’s dear friend. This recognition (one which did not occur between Achilles and his own men) came about through suffering and mutual acceptance.
True recognition of personhood is ultimately costly, for it requires a death of the self, in order that a new and fuller self may emerge.
Tolerance, on the other hand, makes no self-sacrifice. It only makes demands, and one of those demands is the death of the other. Tolerance ultimately forces unquiet feelings, thoughts and realities underground, and thus attacks the landscape in which personhood might emerge. It does this, not because it is wrong to tolerate, but because it uses shame as a kind of battering ram against the human conscience.
Finally, the falseness of such recognition demanded by tolerance is belied by the fact that it ends in rejecting otherness. Tolerance rejects those it views as intolerant. Rather than reject intolerance, it ends in the rejection of the person who is considered intolerable.
In contrast, the recognition of Achilles and Priam takes on transcendent proportions because it occurs in and through the context of otherness. They remain in military opposition to one another even as they stand face to face in shared grief. Thus their connection takes on a cruciform structure.
This is the true love of neighbor to which we are called. Love of neighbor is the metaphysical and historical source of tolerance, and is truly and radically tolerant. For implicit in this calling is to discover one’s neighbor in one’s other; it calls upon us to love even of our enemies and ideological others. Such cruciform love promotes the emergence of personhood rather than the flattening of it.
This is not to reject the great progress that has been made in protecting individual freedom, rights, and safety, but to suggest that such is only political progress. Real progress operates at the level of the human heart and only exists when it goes hand in hand with truth.
It is in the cross that God demonstrates that the individual and the universal do not stand in eternal conflict. Truth and love are united there. On the cross, God also demonstrates that it is only when personhood is contextualized in the transcendent personhood of God that such truth and love is possible.
The recognition of this reality can never be forced or coerced because it can only be recognized through the free gift of God. We begin to recognize this when we see that Jesus freely chose to become our neighbor, even by submitting himself to our misunderstanding and rejection. In this way we can truly say: Behold the Man!
Every man and woman is called to discover personhood through the cross by which our reconciliation is brought about, and we are called to know this in theory and in practice. We are called to see that we all share in a common humanity, and to discover the meaning of this in the context of a God who became man in order to restore us to our true common dignity. This dignity is contextualized in the gift of personhood made possible through the person of the Son.
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