Timeless words for our times
FR ROBERT MCTEIGUE, SJ JUNE 29, 2016
You can usually make a pretty fair guess at a person’s age by looking at him. Is it possible to guess the age of words? Let’s give it a try. When were these words written?
“Thinking … is a difficult task; it is the hardest work a man can do—that is perhaps why so few indulge in it. Thought-saving devices have been invented that rival labor-saving devices in their ingenuity. Fine-sounding phrases like ‘Life is bigger than logic,’ or ‘Progress is the spirit of the age,’ go rattling by us like express trains, carrying the burden of those who are too lazy to think for themselves.”
Would you like a hint? They were written before the advent of Twitter, a facet of social media that may be misused as a thought-saving device. Now try to guess the age of these words:
“America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance. It is not. It is suffering from tolerance: tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so much overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broad-minded. The man who can make up his mind in an orderly way, as a man might make up his bed, is called a bigot; but a man who cannot make up his mind, any more than he can make up for lost time, is called tolerant and broad-minded.”
Those words appear to be of a very recent vintage, don’t they? They seem to be a contemporary and quite contrary response to the celebration of “tolerance” (and its famous cousin, “diversity”). Words like “tolerance,” “diversity” and “progress” can surely be misused by those who would rather lean on slogans than walk with reason. The two paragraphs above were written at the same time—in the year 1931! Decades before the misuse of social media facilitated lazy thinking, energetic sloganeering and “the dictatorship of relativism,” a generation before the advent of television, these words were penned by then-Father Fulton J. Sheen in his prophetic book, “Old Errors and New Labels.”