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It is customary to regard the principle of toleration as ...
It is customary to regard the principle of toleration as the reasonable and humane solution to the religious strife that ravaged Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The real history of toleration, however, is considerably more complicated. Professor Conyers shows that the new nation-states of early modern Europe—comprehensive, jealous, and demanding—propagated a novel version of toleration based on indifference to all values other than political power and material prosperity. By dissolving the loyalties that bound men to their church, their family, and the other intermediate institutions, toleration produced the modern "bi-polar society," in which the isolated citizen confronts the unmediated power of the state. In its modern form, then, toleration is not a virtue but a strategy for the relentless imposition of secularism in the service of power and profit.
Professor Conyers attacks the modern superstition that our only choice is between bloody sectarian conflict and the suppression of all transcendent concerns. A more authentic model of toleration is to be found, surprisingly enough, in pre-Reformation Christianity, which preached humility rather than indifference.
Author Biography: A. J. Conyers is a professor at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Among his previous books are How to Read the Bible, The Eclipse of Heaven, and The End: What the Gospels Say About the Last Things.
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