I look forward to D. A. Carson’s new book, The Intolerance of Tolerance. I’ve written often on this subject and Carson has helped to shape some of my thinking. I see it at the heart of a kind of strategy to transform society. In a piece from Touchstone, Ken Myers picked up on this when he wrote about the tyranny of tolerance. Myers offered reflection on A. J. Conyers’s book on the modern preoccupation with tolerance, The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and Profit.
Conyers suggested that,
“The modern version of toleration is all about power—the power of individuals to be free from interference and the power of governments to guarantee individual autonomy by stripping all other sources of authority. Tolerance (as a modern doctrine) has little to do with the survival of minority groups and everything to do with the centralizing of power. Tolerance is not so much a virtue as a strategy. What happens to a society when the strategy of tolerance has been practiced for so long that no truths are any longer self-evident?”
In January of 2011, I wrote a piece titled: Whatever Happened to Tolerance. I suggested that in the American melting pot of ethnic, religious and ideological diversity, a strange version of intolerant tolerance has been enlisted as the gate keeping virtue for pluralistic civility. But this version of tolerance has clearly failed to deliver. It’s well past the time for us to recognize that a form of intolerance disguised as tolerance has been forced on America. I am certain Carson’s book will help.
How much more irrational can it be than to demand zero-tolerance toward intolerance with no exceptions being tolerated?
In a free society, people want to know who gets to set the morals that everyone must tolerate. Who defines what we must accept as lawful and good?
The popular version of tolerance has left many feeling that they’re 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.
The true virtue of tolerance
We need to understand 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. 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.
Tyrannical versions of tolerance lead to duplicity as people increasingly 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, trouble is ahead when laws are made that unilaterally overturn the collective will of the people. We must improve at respectful and open dialogue over our differences. We must do a better job at teaching and modeling the virtues of respect; honor and neighbor love. These qualities support true tolerance.
Millersville Bible Church
Millersville, PA. 17551