Christian Living

Why the New Definition of Tolerance Is Dangerous

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Author Amy K. Hall Published on 03/11/2016

I received an email objecting to one of Greg’s commentaries on tolerance. In the commentary, Greg explains that tolerance “involves three elements: (1) permitting or allowing (2) a conduct or point of view one disagrees with (3) while respecting the person in the process.” In other words, only disagreement calls for toleration; otherwise, it’s simply agreement (or apathy). But not according to the email I received:

You said on Feb 4, 2013—“Tolerance is reserved for those we think are wrong.”

Wrong. Tolerance is removing the right/wrong judgement from your view of other people & beliefs, as long [as] those people and their beliefs don’t impede the freedom or well-being of others.

What you’re describing is holding your nose and lying about being tolerant. That’s not tolerance, that’s empty condescension.

“We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”—Karl Popper

Of course, this response perfectly illustrates Greg’s description of the current understanding of “tolerance,” and it struck me, as I read it, how dangerous this view of tolerance is. Here’s what he’s really saying: “It’s wrong for you to think my views are wrong. Therefore, if you think my views are wrong, then I have a right to shut you up.”

Keep in mind that his complaint here isn’t even about “intolerant” actions; it’s about beliefs. He argues that “intolerance” means holding a judgment in your mind against someone else’s beliefs. And intolerance (i.e., incorrect beliefs), according to him, should not be tolerated. How far people will go to uphold this new “tolerance” remains to be seen. Considering the fact that 40% of Millennials favor government censorship of speech, the future doesn’t look promising.

Notice also that his reasoning doesn’t work the other way around—i.e., Greg wouldn’t be allowed to say to him, “’Tolerance’ means that if you think I’m wrong, then I have a right to shut you up,” because baked into this new definition is a preference for a particular set of political positions (i.e., anything his side deems essential for the “well-being of others”). If you agree with those positions, you’re declared “tolerant.” If you disagree, you’re intolerant.

This new definition of tolerance is nothing but a political tool to accomplish the very opposite of tolerance.