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Tolerance (1)

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series

"Ten Mangled Words"

You can read more posts from the series by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

Words are more than names. Words are things that either correspond to something in reality, or fail to. When words fail to correspond to something true about God’s reality, they become part of the darkening of human understanding. Like a sign pointing the wrong way, like a faulty map, the mangled word gives the human mind a false inner reality, and distorts the truth.

One of those words is tolerance. Tolerance, today, means something like embracing and approving of people and ideas without criticism. The tolerant man is the one who does not merely live peacefully with his neighbor, but muzzles any criticism he might have of his neighbor. That’s about as close as one can get to defining the modern idea of tolerance, because it is more of an elastic sentiment than a clear idea, one which morphs according to the target of its protectiveness, or, as the case may be, its inchoate resentments.

This idea of tolerance is incoherent, and not even internally consistent. It will soon be apparent why.

First, there is no such thing as absolute tolerance. No one tolerates everything. Every society sets limits on its tolerance, and those actions or ideas it finds intolerable, it punishes. Few societies, at least in principle, tolerate murder or treason. No school tolerates all behavior, no employer tolerates all work, no country tolerates all views. When the point of intolerance is reached, some form of coercion follows: a spanking, a jail term, expulsion, public shaming, violence, or even execution. This is simply part of human life. The question before us is: when should we be intolerant?

Second, modern tolerance tolerates only versions of itself. That is, it tolerates only those who have imbibed its idea of tolerance. Any person or group that holds different views on what should be tolerated and when, becomes a target of its ire. Indeed, Christians who hold to the authority of Scripture soon find that their view will not be tolerated. It is the transparent contradiction that the tolerazis cannot see: they are viciously intolerant of those who don’t embrace their view of tolerance.

Third, modern tolerance cannot distinguish between tolerance and agreement. If one agrees completely with another view, tolerance is not necessary. Tolerance, in fact, requires disagreement to make sense at all. Tolerance involves forbearance with a view as it is expressed, or even with a practice, without resorting to any of the coercive methods that stop it altogether. The modern idea of tolerance insists that one must agree with the view, and that disagreement counts as intolerance. To truly tolerate under this regime, only silent disagreement is permitted. Furthermore, publicly prosecuting your own view, if it conflicts with others, constitutes intolerance.

Much of this stems from secular relativism. If absolute truth is impossible or non-existent, then every man is right in his own eyes. As such, to express disagreement with his ‘personal truth’ becomes a kind of violation of his being, since it is apparently true only in his being. Once truth has contracted to exist only in individual brains, the only way to protect it is to prohibit public disagreement.

Were we to take this farce to its logical end, we should end all debate, discussion or dialogue. Again, the fact that the tolerazis would disagree with this post, demonstrates that they have to equivocate on the meaning of tolerance.

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David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn currently pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

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