If you’ve read The New Absolutes by William Watkins, then you may recognize “tolerance” as one of the most noticeable “absolutes” of our day. Of course, the irony is that these “new absolutes” appeared after those with relativistic ideas rejected truth and divine authority in favor of individual choice. In this view, each each person lives under those values that work best for him or her…except!
These outspoken relativists, when it comes to tradition or faith, reject values and instead demand we live by a new set of values. Tolerance epitomizes the irony of all this. Those who espouse tolerance are generally less tolerant, and they express their intolerance with political correctness. Two discussions have kept me thinking about the intolerant proponents of tolerance: a recent on-line dialog and a book.
The dialog began with a general statement saying all of a certain description were intolerant. I have hated this kind of labeling for a long time, largely because of its condescension and condemnation. It doesn’t matter whether it refers to those with whom I have closely associated, like fundamentalist Christians, or to those I’ve not, such as Muslims. I have observed and even tried to challenge some of my objections to the one, where I may have had some influence, and I’ve tried to be fair to the other. Is that tolerance? Actually, I don’t think so.
Dictionary.com offers this definition for tolerance: “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.” Generally, this is what most people practice in their day-to-day dealings with people, unless those people insist on flaunting disagreeable behavior. Ironically, those demanding “tolerance” are often not willing to respond in kind. So gay rights activists may seek tolerance for openly lewd behavior; yet they are intolerant of those who have not concluded that homosexual behavior is or ought to be a protected human category and even seek punishment for those who hold to this position.
As both a teacher and as a pastor, I’ve had to put up with objectionable behavior, and I’ve had to draw the line and refuse to accept behavior that became too offensive. While I might call the former, tolerance, this isn’t what the arbiters of tolerance want. They want unthinking acceptance of behaviors and attitudes and the cultures behind them. Believing there is no truth and no basis of value, we are to value everything equally. Why? Well, because they say so; they themselves have no basis for authority in their demands. Furthermore, while the definition and the rhetoric might both imply it, no one seriously expects tolerance of law-breakers, except in certain social categories. Tolerate a murder? Of course not, unless it is a Muslim killing as an act of faith.
I am a Christian who has given my life in faith to Jesus Christ. Even if you reject the spiritual aspect of this, it still means I strive to obey Jesus’ teachings, the greatest of which are, “Love the Lord God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and “Love one’s neighbor as oneself.” This latter means we must accept, respect, encourage, help, and care for people, even enemies. It also means we seek what is good for them. It does not require we simply accept everything they do and say. Indeed, if we love them, we will not. A “tolerant” person might accept another’s decision to jump off a bridge to commit suicide; a loving Christian will not!
Recently, as I read Tammy Bruce’s The New Thought Police: Inside the Left’s Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds notes the intolerance of those demanding tolerance. Ms. Bruce was the president of the Los Angelos chapter of the National Organization of Women, and she significantly increased her chapter’s membership and influence. Unfortunately, she dared to ignore the “party line” of the NOW leadership, who in turn rejected her, both privately and publicly. In her book, she documents numerous cases where the goal was not mindful support of various issues but absolute conformity to the Left’s agenda in every area. As a result, the highly intolerant “political correctness” has replaced the free exchange of ideas and intelligent discourse in the women’s movement and in many other Leftist causes.
“Tolerance” represents a typical problem among today’s conflicting points of view. It, as do so many other words, has two applications, one for them and another for us. Those of us who hold to traditional values, have faith in God, and insist on maintaining our historical constitutional form of government, we are told to tolerate those who reject values, worship other gods or none at all, and seek a growing and changing constitution. They, however, do not have to tolerate us!
Tolerance where it become multiculturalism verges on the insane and self-destructive. Wishful thinking might lead one to hope that Muslims who come to the United States are no threat, but letting them use our foolish notions to, in turn, overturn those very ideas says nothing good about us. Few Christians, for example, would take “turn the other cheek” so far as to allow murder, in most cases. It is not a victory for our culture or way of life to allow those of another culture to destroy ours. I firmly believe that my Christian faith is absolutely and ultimately true, so that I may trust God to protect me as I obey him. I do not hold the same degree of faith in American culture; I do not believe passivity in the face of violence will be rewarded with the conversion of our enemies to our way of life. On the one hand, that gives too much credit to the superiority of American or Western culture which contains not a few features that I, along with many Muslims, find detestable. One the other hand, the notion of a passive victory underestimates the zeal and devotion of the Muslims who crave our destruction. In this situation, tolerance isn’t admirable; it’s just stupid.
Intolerance or overt bigotry is not commendable, nor am I suggesting it is. I have little patience for the church that protests military funerals with signs that say, “God hates fags” (and they’re not even the funerals of gay people!). I find groups like the Ku Klux Klan equally unappealing. Yet, as much as I’d prefer they just go away, I will not demand they be silenced. The First Amendment’s free speech provision protects them, as it should anyone who disagrees and wishes to express disagreement about anything. In my judgment, enforcing silence on disagreement of even unpopular opinions assures their later explosion into the oppressive society. Demanding so-called tolerance via politically correct laws is oppression and is itself intolerant. People who hold views that disagree with yours may seem to you to be intolerant, but intolerance like so many things is in the mind of the beholder. Tolerance may be a virtue in some situations; intolerance, say of child molesters, may be the virtue in other cases.
Awhile back, a young woman asked me about the commandment to honor father and mother. At the time, she was struggling to deal with her mother, who had abandoned her during her childhood. Now, the woman herself was married and a mother of two children of her own. The mother had come back into her life, and she had accepted her up to a point. At the time of this discussion, the grandmother had taken it upon herself to intrude into the mother’s discipline of her children. The mother felt this was out of line, but she was troubled by her duty to “honor” her mother. I suggested that honoring her mother did not require her to permit her mother to do things she ought not to do, such as interfering in her daughter’s home and family. I have no doubt that this aging parent was regretting her own failure to be a mother and was trying to “make up” for it with her grandchildren though, of course, she had lost that opportunity already. I encouraged this woman to let her husband deal with the mother-in-law, as much as possible, and to recognize that restricting her mother’s interference was not “dishonoring” her. The ethical judgment, in this case, was far more complex than simple “tolerance.”
Genuine ethical discernment requires maturity and wisdom. Those who begin by rejecting all values are not likely to gain such discernment, making it easy for them to become authoritarian in their judgments. Perhaps this is the root of “intolerance” and political correctness for some. For others, I suspect it is their ardent “faith” in a different way of life, one they seek to impose on a large part of the America population. I might wish that they would look at the prevalence of failed historical examples before they press their agenda upon us; this path has never worked, never produced social “tolerance,” and has always led to oppressively intolerance societies that, for the most part, have been rejected and overthrown by the people.
I believe Jesus when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” I do not reject people who don’t agree with me or share my belief. I will love them, befriend them, and try to show them the loving Savior I follow. Should they still not agree, I will still love them and befriend them, hoping and praying that time and my example of love will persuade them. So Jesus dealt with the repentant murderer on an adjacent cross. So will I deal with a gay friend or a Muslim friend or a pro-abortion Marxist friend. I would even attempt to deal with a “God hates fags” proponent or an anti-Semitic or overtly racist person. Perhaps so would not tolerate me, but I will do my best to practice the love of my Savior. Personally, I think that is preferable to the inconsistencies of the dubious “virtue” of tolerance.