According to the dictionary, tolerance is “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.”
I consider myself a very tolerant person, but that wasn’t always true of me. Having been deeply involved in Fundamentalism—which by its very nature is intolerant—the practice of tolerance was not always part of my mindset. After all, the hallmark of the Fundamentalist belief system is: “We are right, others are not.” Period!
Leaving Fundamentalism has been a process, and I’m learning to embrace our diversity and value our distinctions. In doing so, I’ve come to see the insights of other perspectives, the depth of other beliefs, the lessons of other experiences. It's not about my sexual orientation or your religious beliefs. We are different, but I see us both as God's creation.
To me, that tolerance.
With that said, I want to add this crucial caveat: my tolerance has limits. I don’t tolerate those who promote intolerance.
Sound like a paradox? Perhaps even hypocritical?
Actually, it’s not.
Just like red can’t also be blue, and dog is not also cat, tolerance does not...cannot...MUST NOT include intolerance, else the word loses all meaning.
A few weeks ago, a young Fox News commentator, who’s also gay and Republican, made the statement that we (I guess he means “we” gay people, as if he speaks for all of “us.”) should be more tolerant of those whose religious beliefs cause them to refuse service to gay couples.
I can’t speak for all gay people, but for myself, I say to this young man: No! Discrimination of any kind should not be tolerated; that violates the definition of tolerance. (e.g., Back in the 60s, owners of white restaurants felt they had a right...even a moral and religious obligation...to refuse service to “colored people.” But the law of land endorsed tolerance.)
Author’s Note: Today, if a white supremacist refused to serve a black couple, it would be renounced as discrimination. But somehow, there’s a mass movement to give Fundamental Christians a “Free Pass” when it comes to their bigotry against gay people.
This is America, and people are free to believe what they choose. But if those beliefs/opinions involve restricting the freedom of other Americans, or excluding those who believe differently, or imposing those beliefs on everyone, or marginalizing people based on any aspect of who they are (gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, etc.), then we are not required to tolerate such intolerant beliefs. We certainly don’t want these beliefs codified into law; to do so violates the very foundation of our country. These intolerant expressions should be confronted, challenged and exposed. Then, they should be rejected.
Example: Anti-gay activist Theodore Shoebat was asked recently if it’s okay when Christians in other countries physically beat gay people, and would he like to see that happen in America?
He answered: “To the first question: yes; to the second question: yes, absolutely.”
Does he have a right to his opinion? In our country, yes he does.
Do I have to tolerate it? Hell no!
I see tolerance as a valid means of civility, an avenue for understanding one another. At the very least, it can create a platform for peaceful co-existence.
Everyone has a right to their own opinion.
I might listen to the opinions of another; that’s graciousness.
But tolerance has limits, and doesn't require I accept, respect or condone all opinions.
An opinion may not be Fact or Truth or Logical or Reasonable.
An opinion might hurt or harm others who don't share that opinion.
An opinion might not be based in reality.
Some say rape can’t produce pregnancy. Some think our planet was visited many years ago by extra-terrestrials. Some are convinced that white people are superior to people of color. Some hate that I can marry. Some are firm that a woman's place is in the home. Some assert the holocaust never happened. Some tell us that all Muslims are terrorists and all immigrants are dangerous. Some believe the world was created in six days, and is only a few thousand years old. Some proclaim gay people have a specific “lifestyle” and a mysterious “Agenda.” Some like Adam Sandler movies.
“I think” (opinion) or “I feel” (emotions) or “I believe” (beliefs) should not have the same weight as “I know," which involves evidence and the benefit of proof. Faith is a wonderful element in our lives, but it's personal, individual and spiritual; it's unseen and can't be proven. (cf: Hebrews 11:1) Therefore, it's unacceptable to confuse opinions and beliefs with Verifiable Facts. While we can respect a person's faith or acknowledge their feelings, it's not mandatory that we tolerate opinions based on those beliefs or emotions. (e.g., “I believe homosexuality is a sin” and "I am uncomfortable around gay people" is different than saying "I don't think gay people should have equal rights.")
“Agree to disagree” can be a valid means of avoiding an argument, especially on matters of opinion. (e.g., vanilla ice cream over chocolate; Kirk over Picard). But that ploy is not valid when one opinion is wrong (or stupid!) based on science, evidence, research and/or verifiable facts. The same goes for the trite phrase “everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”
It’s not intolerant when a teacher tells a student their answer is wrong, regardless of how adamant the student is about the incorrect answer!
It’s not intolerance for a drunk driver to have their driving privileges restricted for breaking the law, regardless of whether they think they deserve such retribution.
It’s not intolerant to require a Christian business owner to provide products and service to LGBT people.
We should seek to exercise tolerance toward others who are different than we are, who believe differently than we do, who come from a different culture than we do, who dress differently, who love differently.
And those who refuse to do so, those who would seek discrimination because of those difference and then have the audacity to insist that we "tolerate" their unwillingness because of their beliefs, their faith, their feelings must be rejected. That is not tolerance!
True tolerance refuses to validate or support people, groups, policies, political parties, beliefs or opinions that are inherently intolerant.
It’s not about denying the right to have a variant belief. It’s not about negating another’s opinion. It’s not about demeaning the dignity of others, or dismissing their feelings. It’s the realization that when intolerance is deemed valid, then tolerance becomes meaningless.
“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them…We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”
~ Karl Popper, British philosopher in “The Open Society and Its Enemies”