Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Intolerance of Today’s Tolerance Movement

Unfortunately, true tolerance has become so perverted over recent times that a counterfeit tolerance has emerged. This false notion of tolerance has actually led towards true intolerance. In order for authentic tolerance to once again be embraced by our culture, people first need to understand what it actually is, and what it is not.

Basic to its understanding, one must first look at how tolerance is applied. As outlined by Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason, there are three possible applications of tolerance: always towards a person; and always towards either a behavior, or an idea. True tolerance – as classical defined – must be done with civility, respecting the person in the process, and must offer the freedom to express one’s ideas without fear of reprisal, yet without necessarily putting up with every type of behavior.

Some behaviors violate the sanctity of the common good. That is why we have laws on the books. For instance, one does not have the right to dump anything they want in our common rivers. As Lincoln said, “There is no right to do wrong.” A major implication of the proliferation of today’s definition of tolerance is that many deleterious behaviors have been overlooked. The list is long: from speeding to felonies. Un-enforced laws lead to a greater violation of those laws by those tempted to break them. The lawbreaker could reason, “If I’m not being punished for the behavior, then it must not really be a bad thing.”

The irrationality and absurdity of today’s definition of tolerance has also led to a modern myth that true tolerance consists of neutrality. But nothing could be further from the truth. As Koukl points out, the essential element of tolerance is disagreement. Tolerance is defined by Webster as “to allow or permit, to recognize and respect other’s beliefs and practices without sharing them, to bear or put up with someone or something not necessarily liked.” Think about it for a second. Isn’t it true that one cannot tolerate something unless one disagrees with that thing? One cannot put up with something unless they disagree with that idea or behavior – in other words, they think that idea or behavior is wrong.

Yet if you accuse someone – either implicitly or explicitly – of saying that another person is wrong, the person will most likely say, “oh, no! I don’t think they’re wrong.” They say this because the forces of political correctness have intimidated them. Many folks in our culture have sadly been duped into believing that if they are thought of as thinking someone is wrong, then they will be viewed as intolerant. And they would never want to be labeled intolerant, because afterall – and here’s the irony – that would be wrong.

Isn’t this politically correct thinking just ridiculous? If one doesn’t think another is wrong, then wouldn’t he or she think this other person is right? And if he or she thinks this other is right, then what could they possibly be in need of tolerating? We don’t “tolerate” people who share our views. They’re on our side. There’s nothing to put up with. Tolerance is reserved for those we think are wrong. How can we tolerate something unless we first disagree with that thing? That thing can be either a particular conduct or maybe it’s a point of view one holds. How can we tolerate an idea unless we first think that idea is wrong? One must first think someone is wrong before that person can exercise tolerance; yet expressing those thoughts brings the accusation of intolerance in our society.

This popular, yet perverted, view of tolerance today, not only leads to a passivity toward harmful behaviors, and suppression of the reality of real disagreements, but it also demands all views, or beliefs (mine included), be accepted as equally valid, or of equal worth or merit, as everyone else’s. But this is simply sheer nonsense!

Let’s say I actually give them the benefit of the doubt and test out what the “neo-tolerant” purveyors actually say the way the world really is. If their view were indeed correct, that is, that all views are right, then that would mean that my view is right. But here’s my view: I believe that not all views are right. (You heard me right. I’m not trying to “pull one over on you” with some fancy trickery or slight of hand. That’s why I’m writing it out. So you can read it, and re-read it, and more importantly, think it out, carefully.) In essence, my view would negate their view. If my view is the way the world really is, then that would make their view wrong. Conversely, if their view is right, in other words, the world operates in such a way that all views are right, then it would be impossible for someone to hold the view that I hold to – namely, that some views are wrong. But I do hold this view! Therefore, the sheer existence of my belief causes their “reality machine” to self-destruct.

Koukl further points out that this empty philosophy – which happens to be a modern convention of our post-modern, relativistic culture – advocates no morality, yet demands that no one ought to judge anyone else. They fail to realize that the word “ought” they use implicitly conotates a moral claim. So the next time someone tells you “you shouldn’t judge,” ask him or her if they consider themselves tolerant. And if they say yes, then ask them why they are pushing their beliefs on you. Don’t be surprised if they give you a blank stare. After the shock wears off, be sure to invite them to put on their thinking caps. To argue that some views are false, immoral, or just plain silly does not violate any meaningful standard of true tolerance. To argue to the contrary simply lacks good, old-fashioned common sense.

To learn more clear-thinking from a Christian worldview – from which I derived most of this thinking myself – go to Stand To Reason’s website at:

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