Friends and Tolerance


This article is going to be a rough response to the comments I got on my article on dating outside of the Church. I got some comments on that essay, which seemed rightly to accuse me of being a little too afraid of non-Catholics. In this article I’m going to tackle the issue of non-Catholic friends and tolerance. I’m going to write about tolerance which I think has become an overrated word and basically a cover for relativism. I’m also going to write about what I think real tolerance might look like.

I had said, “while I thought that I could become more tolerant, I learned that dating a non-Catholic can destroy one’s faith. The same could be said of spending a lot of time with friends outside the faith or worse opposed to it.” I think this led some people to wonder how deep my faith could be. I don’t believe there is a one size fits all solution to this. Just how much time we spend with non-Catholic friends may depend a little on our circumstances such as our age. I still stand by this statement and believe a lot of time with someone who has different values can be corroding.

Fake Tolerance

When people make statements such as “I have a lot of X friends” or “I have a lot of friends who do X” (with X being whatever view they don’t hold or whatever it is they wouldn’t do), they are saying I’m a very tolerant person. I often find this statement slightly off putting. This is what I would call fake tolerance.

I don’t take issue with the tolerance of people who say things such as the above, but I take issue with the relativism that seems to lie behind their statement. I often feel that the people who make this statement are trying to mask a discomfort they feel for another person’s point of view, lifestyle, or actions. However, instead of examining this discomfort, they let it be. There is no effort to seek the truth.

This tolerance is also rather hypocritical because at heart it seems to say I feel good about not being “X” or not doing “X” while I also feel self-congratulatory about not judging. In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the main character begins to fall victim to this pretentious tolerance. The “patient”, as he is identified, begins to make very secular friends. This makes him feel very proud, but the source of his pride is really that he feels himself to be a “well-balanced person” because he remains in his mind a very religious and spiritual person at the same time. Wormwood’s instructor tells him to dig deep into this pride.

He [the patient] can be taught to enjoy kneeling beside the grocer on Sunday just because he remembers that the grocer could not possibly understand the urbane and mocking world which he inhabited on Saturday evening; and contrariwise, to enjoy the bawdy and blasphemy over the coffee with these admirable friends all the more because he is aware of a “deeper”, “spiritual” world within him which they cannot understand. You see the idea—the worldly friends touch him on one side and the grocer on the other, and he is the complete, balanced, complex man who sees round them all.

A Christian is always in danger of falling into this hypocrisy with secular friends—in fact, with Catholic friends too. I admit that at certain times in my life, I’ve relished living this double standard, both the spiritual one and the one making the jokes everyone enjoys. At such times, the knowledge that I am somehow “deeper” can make me feel not only different from those in the room, but even better about myself.

This hypocrisy is supported by the idea that any anxiety about our choice of friends is “puritanism.” After all, we are constantly told that we are a better person if we are more open. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes about this as well.

In modern Christian writing . . . I see few of the old warnings about Worldly Vanities, the Choice of Friends, and the Value of Time. All that, your patient would probably classify as “Puritanism”—and may I remark in passing that the value we have given to that word is one of the really solid triumphs of the last hundred years?

It could be said that today the older puritanism that called us out for associating with sinners has been replaced by a kind of modern puritanism that tells us we must associate with them. Even if we feel that something doesn’t make sense in someone’s actions or life choices, we must be tolerant of it.

Apostolate Through Tolerance

Obviously, tolerance is a good and necessary thing. One of Jesus’ clearest messages is not to judge lest we be judged, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt 7:1). He went further than simply not judging. He sat with tax-collectors and sinners. He scandalized the Pharisees by talking to and eating with sinners.

An active apostolate, like that of Christ, requires the same attitude that Christ had towards sinners. It means having that conversation with a fallen away relative and being open to friendships with people with different points of view. I admit I’m not always sure what this tolerance is, but I believe that it exists, and I strive for it. I believe it is possible to be open to people in all walks of life without falling into the relativism of tolerance in which we cease really wanting the best for the person because we simply want to agree.

Christ said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). I believe a good friend can be that doctor. This seems to be of the very nature of truth as Jesus speaks truthfully to the Samaritan woman at the well. Yet, while Christ speaks the truth he remains firm in his conviction. He shows true genuine interest while remaining rooted.

A Few Final Points

When I said secular friends can corrupt us, I was thinking of a few practical considerations. The first question, I might ask myself is what generally happens when I’m around these friends. If 9 of 10 times I find myself falling back into “X” vice, I need to consider whether these friends are good for me. Second, I need to consider the time and the place in which I see these friends. Finally, and most importantly, I must consider the purpose of the friendship. C.S. Lewis had friends who didn’t share his beliefs, but I believe the purpose in his conversations was to seek the truth. If the purpose of my friendship is developing a skill or exploring a hobby, there may be a lot of good to come from it. A great way of exploring these points further is C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves.

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

10 thoughts on “Friends and Tolerance”

  1. I’ve just been through an experience that you talked about in this article. I was friends with this girl (who is a non-Catholic), and we’d hang out & do things together…walks, beach etc. The whole time I kept trying to convince myself that I was helping her to learn about the Faith. But when we got together one evening with a couple of other Catholics & the discussion was more about the things I like & believe in, she got upset & had to leave because, as she put it, I was giving her “bad vibes”. I now see how I was falling into the deception of becoming like her instead of staying strong in my beliefs. I was following the PC code of tolerance even while I claimed to stand against it.
    This has been a great eye opener for me. I thank Our Lord & His Immaculate Mother for showing me the right path before it was too late.
    Thank you for your great articles!

    1. Hi Angie,

      Thanks so much for your comment. You seem to have made the right decision with this friend. I’ve had the same experience of finding the conversation slip into the PC code. If someone says they can’t take your point of view, I think you’ve kind of hit a brick wall with that person. Thanks for your feedback and story. It is helpful for me.


  2. Guy McClung is quite right. There are none so bigoted as “tolerant” leftists. The only thing they are really tolerant of is license and hedonism. In charity, I do not seek to attack their attitudes unless they intrude on someone else or are so careless as to ask my opinion. Unfortunately, we are living in a time when the prospect of a return to reasoned discussion of differences is remote.

  3. Paul, your essays continue to be very difficult to parse.

    You seem to equate non-Catholicness with various evils that you are unwilling to be “tolerant” of, and you insist that your personal view is the “right” view. What a terrible closed-minded attitude. There are a myriad of issues where the Church has no opinion whatsoever, but it seems to me that you believe that because you’re Catholic, that your views are somehow “better” and must be preserved from corruption by those terrible non-Catholics and non-Christians.

    A reset of your priorities and attitudes is sorely needed. Try viewing others for the individual children of God that they are, not labeling them by their religious preference.

  4. Pingback: SATVRDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  5. The politically correct “tolerant” liberals and other totalitarians are not tolerant of “we as Christians.” And to be thus intolerant is PC virtue. If we as Christians try to speak our views, our speech is not tolerated, it is labeled “hate crime.” Paul K-loved your writing, now do one on bilbilcal “admonishment” of those who are in error; or “you go to bed with dog, you get up with flea.” Guy McClung, Texas

  6. I completely agree that tolerance is a mere coverup for relativism. I will go as far as saying tolerance no longer has the same meaning it once had. Today, the word tolerance means acceptance. Accept what I do, or you are a bigot. It is impossible to practice authentic tolerance under today’s false definition of this word. Until we as Christians “take back” the true definition of these key words that have been hijacked for the purpose of sowing division and confusion, we will never be able to have an honest conversation with anyone whom we disagree with. It’s sad really. Great article!

    1. I think you nailed it when you said that tolerance means acceptance in today’s culture. We need to return to the right definition as you say. I think sometimes acceptance is actually a less loving response. Thanks for the feedback!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.