I have experienced on many occasions when conversing with individuals on their worldviews or beliefs the need for tolerance. The term “tolerance” can be defined in many different ways but it is defined generally in this context as sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own (Webster Dictionary). The interpretation of this definition is generally where people have an issue. For instance, I interpret these words as meaning that I can have a disagreement with an opposing set of beliefs while not attacking the individual who is opposed to my worldview or faith. Others however have understood the definition of tolerance quite differently. Tolerance to them would be defined as not critiquing the belief because it may offend someone. In other words we can disagree with a belief or worldview but we are not allowed to demonstrate why we disagree and why we feel our belief is accurate and theirs isn’t. This is the mindset of our society today in light of the relativistic culture we live in. They believe there is something inherently wrong with attempting to prove that your views are ‘right” and that the other individual’s views are “wrong”. The idiom “I respect your beliefs but you have to respect mine”is quite a favorite among these folks. I have no problem in “respecting” someone’s belief in that I allow them to give their reasons for it. This is far different than saying I have to think it is correct and disagreeing fervently with their positions. The question is: how tolerant are these folks who require tolerance from their opposing views?
We see this, for example, with the homosexual movement. If someone is to say that they believe that homosexuality is a sin or that they disagree with same-sex marriage, is their view tolerated? In most instances that I have experienced or articles that I have read, there is no tolerance afforded to the Christian and regularly there is not even a dialogue allowed on this topic. There is generally much name calling but no tolerance or conversation is allotted. Another example is people who hold to New Age Religions. I was approached awhile back by a lady wanting to discuss her worldview with me. She was trying to persuade me that her new age spiritism was good for me. I made her aware that I was a Christian to which she replied that all faiths were appealing to her. I told her that New Age religions didn’t appeal to me and I disagreed with those perspectives due to the fact that I believed in the laws of non-contradiction. Our gods were just too dissimilar for both to be true! She was a law student and you would think would have liked to weigh the evidence with me however she screamed at me and told me I was intolerant and she stormed off not tolerating my views on the issue. Another example was a meeting I had recently with a member of the Watchtower Society who stressed to me the importance of tolerance when it came to her beliefs especially not celebrating holidays or birthdays. I was a bit taken back seeing that if anyone reads Watchtower or Awake magazines, you will not find much “tolerance” towards my beliefs rest assured! What you will find is their publication stating that my “religion” is the whore riding the beast.
Tolerance is a two way issue and if it is not found in this way then it is no longer tolerance. Tolerance is also not the idea that we can’t say anything negative towards the other individual’s beliefs but that we should speak, as the scripture tells us, with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3:15) I believe dialogue to be important in our society since it brings about understanding and in my mind, understanding brings about tolerance.
I came across a post on D.A. Carson’s blog awhile back where he deals with the subject in a little more depht. The excerpt I believe is from Dr. Carson’s new book “The Intolerance of Tolerance“. I particularly enjoyed this portion of the blog post:
The problem of what “tolerance” means is in fact more difficult than these few comments on dictionary entries might suggest. For in contemporary usage, both meanings continue in popular use, and often it is unclear what the speaker or writer means. For instance, “She is a very tolerant person”: does this mean she gladly puts up with a lot of opinions with which she disagrees, or that she thinks all opinions are equally valid? A Muslim cleric says, “We do not tolerate other religions”: does this mean that, according to this cleric, Muslims do not think that other religions should be permitted to exist, or that Muslims cannot agree that other religions are as valid as Islam? A Christian pastor declares, “Christians gladly tolerate other religions”: does this mean, according to the pastor, that Christians gladly insist that other religions have as much right to exist as Christianity does, or that Christians gladly assert that all religions are equally valid? “You Christians are so intolerant,” someone asserts: does this mean that Christians wish all positions contrary to their own were extirpated, or that Christians insist that Jesus is the only way to God? The former is patently untrue; the latter is certainly true (at least, if Christians are trying to be faithful to the Bible): Christians do think that Jesus is the only way to God. But does that make them intolerant? In the former sense of “intolerant,” not at all; the fact remains, however, that any sort of exclusive truth claim is widely viewed as a sign of gross intolerance. But the latter depends absolutely on the second meaning of “tolerance.