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What is Tolerance?

February 7, 2017

There was a day when “tolerance” used to mean something like, “the praise-worthy virtue of demonstrating good will toward those you disagree.” Thus tolerance was the cornerstone of civil discourse and good neighborliness in our pluralistic society. However, today this word has been redefined. It now means something close to, “the adoption and adoption of  progressive values.” Therefore, any opinion or view that doesn’t accept what has been labeled as “progressive” is now viewed as “intolerant.” Thus, its seems only those who hold to traditional values can be labeled “intolerant.”

Surely, the insanity of this is obvious. We can’t call this “tolerance” because we are not asking people to “tolerate” anything. We are demanding they accept certain values or behaviors. But it’s impossible to tolerate something you accept, that’s acceptance not tolerance.

Classical tolerance was the ability to tolerate (by demonstrating good will) things you disagree with. Obviously tolerance has limits. For example, I can’t (and shouldn’t) tolerate child abuse that happens in front of me. (My duty to protect the weak and innocent is greater than my duty to tolerate my neighbor’s use of freedom). But in a free pluralistic society, we have to tolerate ideas and a great many behaviors, that we disagree with. We can’t be forced to affirm things we believe are evil; nor should we stop the peaceful demonstrations of ideas we disagree. Instead we must tolerate each other.

In Christianity, we are called to go even further. Jesus taught us to love and serve those whom we disagree. It is a sad truth that there are many examples of where Christians haven’t loved well or even tolerated those they’ve disagreed with. We must sincerely repent of this. However, we must reject the idea that we must accept and affirm things we believe are unwise, wrong or evil. We must be tolerant and loving, not spineless and compromising.

Today, many people do not believe that their values are reflected in the larger American society. Understandably, this has led to division and strife in our nation. But we can’t force people to change their values, and we can’t call people “intolerant” for simply having a difference of opinion. Historically, tolerance helped to keep our nation united and I believe recapturing this virtue will do so once again!

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