Whatever happened to tolerance?

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?

Societal coercion?

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.

Steve Cornell
Senior pastor
Millersville Bible Church
Millersville, PA. 17551

See: Culture of honor vs. Culture of law

“Tolerance is the virtue of those who don’t believe anything”

G. K. Chesterton

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in 44th President, All religions the same?, Culture, Culture of Honor, Cynicism, Democrats, Equal Rights, Equality, Freedom, Partisanship, Republican, Tolerance. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Whatever happened to tolerance?

  1. Biren J says:

    Hello Pastor Steve,

    I have noticed from personal experiences that being “tolerant” towards judging all moral values as a matter of personal preference leads to a state of confusion in one’s mind. In this state, there is no room for meaningful discussions about the differences in value systems. When this happens, the individual’s intellectual capacity to discern the right from the wrong is reduced. And that, in turn, leads to a state of spiritual chaos within the individual simply because they do not know what to believe.

    How do you suggest we engage in respectful discussions with others whom we strongly disagree? Focus on the common grounds? Explore each others’ differences?

    Thanks for keeping the blog updated on a daily basis.

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  3. Richard B. says:

    I think all fair minded people will agree, that tolerance is part of any thoughtful and non-bigoted conversation or culture for that matter. Where problems arise with this point of view, is when laws are created that seem to value or promote one culture or race or persuasion as somehow being or getting preferential treatment.

    This notion then often leads to a modern interpretation, that if you feel a law is unjust or unfair….that is within your ‘RIGHTS’ to simply ignore the law. WE (the US) being a nation of laws, therefore ….will continue to have conflicts so long as the notion that multi-culturalism is what has made this country great. The fact that we have this HUGE melting pot of races, creeds, credo’s, values, morals, ethics, etc. should NOT be what defines us as a nation. ‘One Nation Under God’……was the motto and foundation that our founding fathers put forth for us. Now 230+ years later, we seek to redefine, reduce, and revoke this foundation as antiquated and out of date for our modern world. When everything around us is crumbling and our very foundation is shaken by those that refuse to pledge their allegiance to a country and ideal that uniquely defines us as AMERICANS…..is it any wonder that many feel threatened or cast aside? Is it any wonder that values and morals are replaced by self indulgence and narcissism?

    In order to establish justice and insure domestic tranquility, we need look only to our Constitution and return to the doctrines and principals of our founding fathers. They understood tyranny and they understood freedom. Today, people somehow have decided to re-interpret the word freedom to infer something that it is not. Freedom is definitely not FREE, as their are requirements and responsibilities that go along with freedom. Thomas Jefferson stated, that this democray would not long endure if the citizenry would not understand the need for individual self-governance and self reliance.

    • Yes, and the problem is that laws WILL “value or promote one culture or race or persuasion as somehow being or getting preferential treatment.” Not sure it’s possible to make laws without sooner or later stepping on someone else’s sense of freedom (with the twisted version on hand). It seems then that we need a vigorous reintroduction of what it means to be “One Nation Under God.” Or, perhaps this is too idealistic given the ever growing religious pluralism. Perhaps then the best we can hope for on a national level is renewed exposition of and commitment to the “requirements and responsibilities that go along with freedom.”

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