The New Tolerance

diversity“I have seen great intolerance shown in support of tolerance.” –Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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.

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About Douglas Abbott

I am a freelance writer by trade, philosopher and comedian by accident of birth. I am an assiduous observer of humanity and endlessly fascinated with people, the common elements that make us human, what motivates people and the fingerprint of God in all of us. I enjoy exploring the universe in my search for meaning, beauty and friendship. My writing is an extension of all these things and something I did for fun long before I ever got paid. My hope is that the reader will find in this portfolio a pleasing and inspiring literary hodgepodge. Good reading!
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3 Responses to The New Tolerance

  1. Robin says:

    Well, you’ve certainly touched on a sore subject this time. I’m not a fan of the word, “tolerance”. It seems to me, it now means, “Accept this!” Since most of the things I might be asked to accept go against my Christian beliefs, I tend to push back. While sometimes my big mouth may get me in trouble, I’m hoping the times I use it to defend what I know to be right (or wrong, depending upon the approach), according to the word, might balance things out a bit. My point of view is just that – mine. I don’t come by it randomly or willy-nilly fashion. I don’t ask that others like it, nor do I ask they change their own for mine.

    If/when the topic of ‘tolerance’ comes up, I’m inclined to suggest, “Let’s just agree to disagree” and call it a day. As for the “demanding” approach others might take – well, that would place me right back to the part about my mouth getting me into trouble, wouldn’t it? How about we just discuss the weather? It’s good this week. 😀

    • Douglas Abbott says:

      Loved it! Perfectly put. We can have a civil conversation provided there is mutual respect. When someone calls me a bigot for failing to say my beliefs are unfounded vapors, I get hot. At that point, it’s better to discuss the weather or the Dallas Cowboys. And since when do I have to keep my mouth shut because my assertions disagree with all of your postmodern claptrap? That sounds like tolerance of “everything but that which offends me.” Get a clue.

  2. Sarah Willems says:

    I think y’all are right on here. I an old enough and sheltered enough that I don’t have to really grapple in-my-face with the “new tolerance.” I have determined that God’s word is TRUTH, and it is a lens through which I view all other information. I will not be bothered much by this “radical” view, since I am an old women who is stuck in her antiquated ways. My grandchildren, on the other hand, will need to be equipped to defend their faith in ways that I could never imagine. This is terrible for America but really good for the Church of America.

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