America has become an ethnic, religious and ideological melting pot and tolerance has been enlisted as the gate keeping virtue for pluralistic civility. In the wake of the shootings in Tucson, Arizona, however, we find ourselves asking why we’re so divided. How can we insure domestic tranquility? Has our emphasis on tolerance failed to deliver?
Or, are we actually promoting a form of intolerance disguised as tolerance? We demand zero-tolerance toward intolerance with no exceptions being tolerated. Sound confusing? It gets worse. The required form of tolerance mandates the treatment of all judgments about value and morality as expressions of personal preference. But we forgot that in a free society, people want to know who gets to set the values and morals that must be tolerated. Who tells us what is “in” and what is “out”? Who defines what we must accept as lawful and good? We the people?
The popular version of tolerance has left many feeling that they are under some form of societal coercion — forcing them to affirm a politically approved set of morals and values. And when people feel this way, they perceive it as a threat to liberty.
What we need to understand is that tolerance is a virtue that can only function in the context of actual disagreements. The virtue of tolerance is unnecessary to those who surrender or minimize their differences. Truly tolerant people treat respectfully those with whom they strongly disagree. Forced agreement only threatens true tolerance. And it will do no good to pretend that disagreements do not exist.
Robust and respectful conversations needed
When we feel a need to demand tolerance, it should alert us to a greater need to teach virtues that promote true tolerance. Virtues like respect, honor and neighbor love facilitate true tolerance whereas forced tolerance threatens these qualities. A shared commitment to honor and respect one another necessitates robust and respectful conversations about our common good. The tyranny of tolerance forecloses on those conversations.
Ironically, the tolerance being pushed today requires people to keep their differences to themselves. Instead of diversity, it fosters a monolithic culture where people feel pressured to conceal multi-cultural distinctions. How sad to end up with diversity we can’t talk about lest we offend those who disagree.
Even worse, tyrannical versions of tolerance lead people into duplicity as they learn to subscribe to one set of beliefs publicly and another privately. Is it surprising that this breeds resentment and sometimes violence? If you force a man against his will, he’s of the same persuasion still, and he is likely to get mad.
Obviously, in a civil society, laws must be enforced and not everyone will agree on those laws. But, in a free society, when laws are made that unilaterally overturn the collective will of the people, trouble is ahead. We must become better at respectful and open dialogue about our differences. And, we must do a better job at teaching and modeling the virtues of respect; honor and neighbor love. These qualities lead to true tolerance.
Millersville Bible Church
Millersville, PA. 17551
“Tolerance is the virtue of those who don’t believe anything”
G. K. Chesterton