Ten Mangled Words – “Tolerance”

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 neighbour, but muzzles any criticism he might have of his neighbour. 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 behaviour, 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. Sometimes this is evil; sometimes it is not. The question before us not, should we tolerate intolerance (for it is unavoidable)? The real question 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.

  3 comments for “Ten Mangled Words – “Tolerance”

  1. Rob Wilcox
    February 7, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    Good, insightful thoughts on the intolerance of today’s so called tolerance. I have passed it on to my daughter who must soon navigate college in this climate, albeit a Christian college, but even on these campuses the influence of post-modernism is not absent. May the good shepherds voice be heard above it all. Thank you David for echoing that voice.

  2. Jack Mastrangelo
    February 7, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    Thank you, David, for your insights. In my experience, true “tolerance” applies to mutually exclusive ideas. Those mutually exclusive ideas, at best, might be forced to co-exist to prevent anomie. But unfortunately, at least in a Satan-driven Secular Humanist Society like today’s USA, such coexistence is a pipe dream at best. Rather, profound hatred is very much what most oftentimes occurs. And such hatred is almost always directed against the true Christian, her/his LORD, and, that LORD’s Lordship and Kingdom. This continues to escalate, and will never wane this side of Heaven. After all, THE LORD’s timetable is not cyclical, as “fairy-tale-it’s will try to persuade, but rather, is absolutely linear – we are moving to the end, very rapidly – like it or not…
    Our cries of, “Maranatha”, will continue to tug at our LORD’s Heartstrings until then. May it be so, and soon – Very soon…

    • David
      March 10, 2017 at 3:35 pm

      Indeed. Come, Lord Jesus.

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