Intolerance is a dirty word in today's liberal culture. Live and let live, everything's okay as long as it doesn't hurt someone, anti-racism, anti-homophobia, you name it and there's a movement demanding tolerance in it. This is generally touted by secular culture as humanity's moral pinnacle - the creature of a society in which no one is offended and everyone is prepared to see things from the other guy's point of view without allowing for personal bias and thoughts of superiority.
It sounds great on paper but when examined carefully it is quite a dangerous philosophy. For one thing, it doesn't exactly generate a lot of creative or constructive energy. If everything's groovy then there's nothing much to strive for. For another thing, it leaves people enamored by such thoughts in a very vulnerable position. Another philosophy, one that is aggressive and judgemental, could easily sweep in and take over as it pushes the milquetoast liberalism aside. We are witnessing this in parts of Europe as a vibrant and very opinionated Islam makes steady progress in intimidating the essentially valueless atheistic culture that replaced Chrisian and fascist nationalism after World War 2.
In fact, if you wonder why some atheist groups are so militant it is exactly for this reason. They are well aware of the saying in the Gemara (somewhere): "don't be too sweet lest you be eaten up". They know that only by assuming an aggressive posture of their own can they survive against people who actually have a core dogma. Thus they have created one of their own out of the framework provided by political correctness and begun to inflict it on general society. Clearly they are still working on their self-confidence as to date the most the atheist liberal lobby has managed to accomplish is a sustained attack on the sclerotic remnants of Chrisian culture while deftly ignoring any real threats under the rubric of multi-culturalism. However, there is no reason to believe they won't increase their assertiveness in coming years as it becomes clear that a new culture has come to town and intends to replace secular liberal norms with its own.
Where do we as Jews fit in?
On one hand, the culture of open tolerance has been good to us. Judaism is a rich national philosophy and as such it is automatically a threat to any other such dogma. That is one reason for the long and miserable history we have had in Chrisian and Muslim lands. One can trace the rise of Jews in Western societies directly to the decline Chrisianity has suffered in the last 70 years or so and it is not hard to see that the lowly dhimmi position of Jews in Muslim countries has not changed because public religion remains very strong there.
On the other hand there is a dangerous seductiveness to secular liberalism. Read through the lyrics of John Lennon's Imagine and it's all right there. It's much easier to believe in nothing than to actively hold a serious of views that are contested by the world around you. It's easier to say "live and let live" than to take a stand on an issue and maintain that one view is right and one is wrong. Perhaps that's one reason for the decline of public religion in the West. Laziness and selfishness are essential human traits, the principle tools of the yetzer hara. To have values takes energy and often requires confrontation. It demands sacrifice and personal deprivation at times. It sometimes insists that reward for proper behaviour is deferred and it intimates that bad things sometimes happen to good people for reasons we cannot understand. Better to stand for nothing. It takes less time and effort. A random universe in which things just happen doesn't have to be justified, just survived. Party now because there's nothing after.
Despite heterodox views to the contrary, Chanukah is not a holiday celebrating religious freedom. It is a commemoration of a war between two cultures, one the forerunner of today's "Pleasure first and second" society and the other our ancestors who were trying to uphold the laws of our Holy Torah. The Greeks saw no value in self-abnegation. For them the physical was everything and the idea that a culture would hold that unlimited enjoyment of the physical world was wrong was incomprehensible to them. For us it is the opposite. We are special creations of God, the ultimate purpose of all He made and we cannot be like animals that have no greater goal than survival, the next meal and procreation. Being human means restrictions and being Godly means lots of them but that is the highest goal. The Greek system was not only different, it was wrong. It was incompatible. One could not be a good Greek and a good Jew. A choice had to be made.
Nowadays we are quietly faced with the same struggle. Secular views constantly wash up against our Torah bulwarks and sometimes drops splash over. The new fashionable struggle to find a way to somehow create the openly gay Orthodox Jew, for example, is one such drop. Another is the effort to create egalitarian worship in a culture that values and emphasizes the uniqueness of each gender and its contributions to the whole of the Jewish nation. Worst are the values known as "It's only illegal if you get caught" and its innovative cousin "It's only illegal if there's a statement b'feirush in the Shulcan Aruch". The idea that one can cheat on taxes, cheat on someone from a different cultural group, and it's okay to lie and cover it up, is one that has come in from society and been turned in some quarters into a Torah value. All of these are examples of how the mityavnim have resurfaced in our day and age to pervert our Judaism slowly, a bit at a time. The goal of mutual tolerance is not something we see as positive. We know what is right and what isn't and have to stand up for those ideals.
Therefore as Chanukah descends on us and our arteries slowly sclerose from the unending barrage of oil goodness we are about to consume we should take a step back and ask ourselves if our daily behaviour is as pure as we like to think it is or have we incorporated a practice or two without even realizing it that doesn't belong there? If there is a time of year for such introspection this would be it. The light of the flame from the Menorah in the Temple (may it be speedily rebuilt) was pure and unadulterated. That purity is our goal.
May we all have a meaningful and fattening holiday.