Tolerance used to mean putting up with ideas, ways and practices that are foreign to us. It was the gentle person’s solution for living at peace with others who believe and act differently. Especially in America, with our highly diverse population, tolerance is essential to peaceful relations with others. The word tolerance means much the same thing as manners.
Over the last 15-20 years, however, tolerance has come to mean something much different. The new tolerance means to consider all ideas and orientations to be equally valid and respectable. It seems to be saying something like, “None of us has the right to say that his own point of view is correct.” The sentiment sounds very humble and meek. The only problem is that if I didn’t think my view was correct, it wouldn’t be my view. Is there such a thing as truth if nothing is false? But the new tolerance is not only, or even primarily, about respecting the views of others. It is also a subtle way of downgrading established beliefs.
Let’s say there are 1000 religions. If, according to the new tolerance, we conclude that they are all equally true, then none of them is true. Either Jesus was and is God, the Creator of the universe, or He is not. Jesus made exclusive claims to divinity and truth (John 14:6). If moral relativists really mean what they say, their statements refute themselves, since they claim that the Christian religion is a valid as the next. But of course, they don’t really believe that. There are plenty of religions (Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, to name two) that claim Jesus is not God. The Bible and the Book of Mormon cannot both be true. One is true and the other false. Reality is not a malleable thing. We are either operating in the light or in the dark.
But if I hold up the assertions in the Bible, I have become intolerant according to the new cultural definition, because the Bible says Jesus is God, and other religions say He is not. My assertions call those religions false, and that is “intolerant.” Now I don’t just have to put up with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I have to put on a mealy-mouthed face and mumble timidly, “Well, their beliefs are just as valid as mine.” But if I make that statement, I’m saying that there’s no substance to what I believe. This is all like a ride on a merry-go-round.
Of course, the idea of tolerance cannot possibly get us anywhere in the real world. We would have some real problems if a person from an isolated tribe in the African bush came to the United States and found out about the new tolerance. There would be some pretty stiff resistance if he began happily practicing human sacrifice the way his tribe had at home. I can already hear people screaming “apples and oranges!”, but human sacrifice is a sacred religious ritual for some African tribes, and the fact is that relativists have made religion and morality the focus of their crusade to “level the playing field” by declaring everything equal. As absurd as the example is, it sheds a definitive light on the philosophical thrust of the new tolerance.
And here is where we get to the heart of the matter. Tolerance as a concept has been adapted for popular use, not as a tool to accept, but to be accepted. We’re not overlooking things we disagree with; we’re using social pressure to force others to accept what we believe and calling it fair-minded. Therein lies the moral distinction between the old and the new. One is about my concern for the way I treat others (gentleness), the other is about my concern for the way others treat me (demanding). One is selfless, the other selfish.
I’ll go with gentleness.