Tolerance, what is it? One would assume that the definition of a word would not change over time however in society today the word tolerance now has two definitions. Tolerance today means different things to different people. Why was there a need to change the meaning of this word? Is the general public aware of this change? Or has this meaning been so subtly introduced to society that we are unaware? What is the reason for this dual definition? Could it be evidence of the denial of something greater like “knowing right from wrong” (Wegter & Lorenzini, 2008, p. 1)? Why is identifying this important to society? What can it mean? Several years ago the word tolerance meant to “bear or put up with someone or something not liked” (McDowell & Hostetler, 1998, p. 2). Today the word has been redefined to mean that “all values, all beliefs, all lifestyles, all truth claims are equal” (McDowell & Hostetler, 1998. p. 2). Today however, if a person denies the fact that “all values, all beliefs, all lifestyles, all truth claims aren’t equal” (McDowell & Hostetler, 1998. p. 2), then that makes that person “intolerant and thus worthy of contempt” (McDowell, 1999, ¶ 1). How does one combat this new twist to tolerance? Is it important for individuals to recognize this clever redefining of terminology? According to Josh McDowell (July 2001), in our present culture, there is a new “virtue” which undermines and opposes everything Christians believe. The new “virtue” is tolerance (personal communication).
Traditional “Negative” Tolerance vs. New “Positive” Tolerance
Webster’s dictionary gives the traditional definition of tolerance which is now identified as “negative tolerance” (Wegter & Lorenzini, 2008, p. 2). This definition says that tolerance “recognizes and respects the beliefs and practices of others without necessarily agreeing or sympathizing with those beliefs” (Webster, 1984, p. 719). In simple terms, everyone has a right to his own opinion. That definition has been the manner in which individuals have looked at tolerance for years. Every individual has been entitled to his or her own opinion regarding their beliefs. Every individual has been given the right to understand that someone else my have other beliefs, all the while not consenting that beliefs other than his own are correct or true. This definition of tolerance has been understood however today a new definition of tolerance has been introduced into society. Traditional tolerance is “respecting and protecting the legitimate rights of others, even those with who you disagree and those who are different from you. Traditional tolerance exhibits that kind of loving acceptance of people as individuals, while not necessarily accepting their beliefs or behavior. Traditional tolerance differentiates between what a person thinks or does and the person himself” (McDowell & Hostetler, 1998, p. 16-17).
The new tolerance is known as ““positive tolerance.” This tolerance can be summed up as follows: Every single individual’s values, beliefs, lifestyles, and claims to truth are equally valid. So if a person claims that any individual’s values, beliefs, etc. are better or more correct than another’s; that is hierarchy and constitutes bigotry. Thus a bigot is one who believes in moral hierarchy thus saying that there is a lifestyle, belief, etc. that is greater than another’s” (Wegter & Lorenzini, 2008, p. 2). This new definition of tolerance is based on the belief that “truth is relative to the community in which a person participates. And since there are many human communities, there are necessarily many different truths” (Grenz, 1996, p. 43).
Don Closson (2008) of Probe Ministries says that “Since there are multiple descriptions of reality, no one view can be true in an ultimate sense…Since truth is described by language, and all language is created by humans, all truth is created by humans”( ¶ 4). “If all truth is created by humans, and all humans are “Created equal” (as the American Declaration of Independence says), then what is the logical next step? It is this: All truth is equal” (McDowell & Hostetler, 1998, p. 19). Each individual is given the right by the United States Constitution to hold his own belief. Positive tolerance contradicts that by saying that “all beliefs are equal in the sense that they are morally equivalent” (Wegter & Lorenzini, 2008, p. 3). This is in direct contrast to traditional “negative” tolerance, which asserts that everyone has an equal right to believe or say what he thinks is right; the new tolerance says that what every individual believes or says is truth.
Problems with New Tolerance
How is it that “"Mom and Dad" as well as "husband and wife" effectively have been banned from California schools under a bill signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who with his signature also ordered public schools to allow boys to use girls restrooms and locker rooms, and vice versa, if they choose” (World News, 2007, ¶ 1)? How did saying mom and dad become intolerant of alternative life styles? Is this very law not intolerant to conventional lifestyles? Also in California, “homecoming kings now can be either male or female – as can homecoming queens, and students, whether male or female, must be allowed to use the restroom and locker room corresponding to the sex with which they choose to identify” (World News, 2007, ¶ 21). Students in California can also decide to change their names to better identify with who they wish to be sexually and school officials are not allowed to contact the student’s parents regarding the name change. These and many more ludicrous laws have been signed into effect all in the name of new tolerance. In the very nature in which they are written, are they not contrary to the new definition of tolerance?
This new positive tolerance demands that everyone praise and approve all beliefs and lifestyles. It (new tolerance) demands that “I do not disagree with you”, therefore if one cannot disagree, then obviously one cannot hold his own beliefs. Not only can one not disagree, but he is not allowed to state his own beliefs in the process of disagreeing because that too is being intolerant.
“The confusion inherent in “positive tolerance” is captured in a quote by National Public School administrator, Frederick Hill, “It is the mission of public schools not to tolerate intolerance.” This is a logical contradiction. To be intolerant of intolerance is itself an act of intolerance which is wrong. The position of positive tolerance violates the traditional view of tolerance. Now postmoderns no longer recognize and respect someone who has a differing belief when it comes to the issue of tolerance. Instead, in their quest to be “tolerant” they are unjust because they are being intolerant of someone simply because they have a different belief when in the past under negative tolerance that would have been accepted. Subsequently justice and “positive tolerance” are incompatible. They are, in fact, antithetical. This is because to make justice possible, one must make a moral judgment on right and wrong. But “positive tolerance” does not allow one to make moral judgments. It actually forbids moral judgments. So the irony here is that the more open-minded you become (not making moral judgments), the more close-hearted you become (don’t care about justice for people). The end result of positive tolerance is moral and intellectual intimidation or bullying to get you to no longer hold to moral standards or pursue objective truth. The insight into the cause behind this trend and where it will lead our society can be found in Romans 1:18-32 (Wegter & Lorenzini, 2008, p.4).
18-23But God's angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn't treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand.
24-25So God said, in effect, "If that's what you want, that's what you get." It wasn't long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out. And all this because they traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them—the God we bless, the God who blesses us. Oh, yes!
26-27Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn't know how to be human either—women didn't know how to be women, men didn't know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.
28-32Since they didn't bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it's not as if they don't know better. They know perfectly well they're spitting in God's face. And they don't care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best (Romans 1:18-32 The Message)!
“Issues arise whenever an individual or a group attempts to check or to interfere with the behavior or practices of others which they dislike or of which they disapprove. They also arise when an individual or group resists the interference and control of others regarding their own behavior. These questions acquire a political dimension when two opposing parties fail to find an accommodation, either by tolerating each other’s views, or by means of repression. If neither party gives in, political authority is called upon to solve the conflict. Questions of toleration become directly political when the third party is a government or a political agent” (Galeotti, 2008, p. 1). The very nature of bringing in the government to solve issues of intolerance is introducing political liberalism. “Political liberalism, on the one hand, adopts a minimal approach to ensure that citizens can exercise their rights to form or endorse their own conception of good in their private domain. On the other hand, political liberalism demands a higher degree of “tolerance” of diverse cultural values in the public domain” (Li, 2005, p. 24-25). When tolerance is forced by the government via laws and regulations extreme, special care should be made to ensure that all groups are protected. That is not happening in today’s society. Today conservative, Christian views are being opposed while liberal views are welcomed. Parental views are opposed. Heterosexual views are opposed. If this type of tolerance is continued, tomorrow another group’s view could be added to the intolerant list.
Conclusion and How to fix it?
People are not “born with bias, prejudice or intolerance - it is a learned behavior. When an individual decides to fly a plane into the World Trade Center because of his learned values, beliefs, life-style and truth claims are we to say, “Its OK, he just believes differently than we do. This act is neither right nor wrong. After all he really believed in what he was doing” “(Paquet, 2002, ¶ 17). This argument is ridiculous. As a Christian to fix this problem of an askewed view of the world, we must seek truth. Even though sometimes the truth may be difficult to speak to others, we must. The Bible says that the truth will set you free. So in a chase for the truth Christians can, no, Christians must, speak the truth in love with gentleness and respect.
We should love others as Christ loved us, realizing that they have immeasurable genuine value as a human. What they believe, how they behave, the lifestyle they live nor their declarations make them a person. Humans are made in the image of God. Christ died for all of them. Whether they have similar beliefs or not, they have worth. Christians understand that they are to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5 New King James Version) but we must also remember to “…Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39 New King James Version).
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