Morality in a Museum?

A museum about the Holocaust recently opened in Los Angeles, called the Museum of Tolerance. With its whirring computers and flashing lights the place looks more like a video arcade than a museum. It's designed not just to inform people but to change their attitudes, to teach them tolerance. The lessons start right at the entrance. Visitors must choose between two doors marked "Prejudiced" and "Not Prejudiced." If you try "Not Prejudiced," however, you'll find the door locked. Everyone must walk through the door marked "Prejudiced." That's the museum's first lesson: Everyone is guilty. Visitors then proceed to a dark tunnel where recorded voices hiss out insults. "Dumb Polack! Lousy gook! Loud-mouthed kike!" The second lesson: It's no fun to be the target of prejudice. Next you enter a room full of colorful, touch-screen computers that invite you to confess all your politically incorrect attitudes-on issues from homosexuality to affirmative action to the Rodney King trial. Push a button and a computerized map lights up 250 hate groups across America. Finally you reach the Holocaust exhibit itself. The carpet gives way to rough concrete, and you find yourself in a mock gas chamber. The gray walls are lined with videos showing grim scenes from concentration camps. "Who is responsible?" asks an electronic sign. And a voice replies, "You are, you are, you are"-repeating the phrase in 30 languages. The Museum of Tolerance is earning mixed reviews. Youngsters raised on MTV love it. Scholars worry that the arcade style trivializes the evil of genocide. But what troubles me about the museum is the concept of tolerance itself. The problem with Hitler is not that he was intolerant (in the way the word is used today). The problem is he was wrong-morally wrong. And the only way we can stand against that kind of barbarism is with a strong sense of moral law. We must be utterly convinced that there is a law in the universe, which allows us to judge a Hitler's actions right or wrong. But that's exactly what the modern concept of tolerance denies. Today tolerance means we cannot judge anyone; we cannot say anyone is ultimately right or wrong. How ironic that a museum dedicated to preventing another Holocaust would propose as the answer the mushy notion of tolerance. Jewish thinker Hannah Arendt knows better. In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt says the only way to prevent another Holocaust is to find "a new guarantee of human dignity," grounded in "a new law." Arendt is right: Human dignity requires the protection of moral law. Not a new law, though, but a very old one: Do not steal, do not murder, do not give false testimony, do not covet. The Ten Commandments set up a fence of protection around each individual. If his neighbors breach the wall, we have a basis for saying it is wrong. What will never work is the modern notion of tolerance-where everyone and everything is accepted as equally good-even when it's taught with flashing computers and high-tech gadgetry. Jesus did not say we should overcome evil with tolerance. He said, "Overcome evil with good."


Chuck Colson



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