Tolerance, at first, sounds like a good thing. The liberal society loves to advertise how tolerant it is and, more importantly, demands that everyone else be just as tolerant. In fact, the only thing it can’t tolerate is (what it perceives as) intolerance.
Basically, it says you can believe anything you want, as long as you don’t act on those beliefs. You can do anything you want as long as it doesn’t interfere with what others want to do (unless, of course, those ‘others’ are religiously motivated to undertake the action in question, in which case, they absolutely have to give way to you).
Even some of the liberals are starting to spot the inconsistencies in this worldview. Christians have to be tolerant of gays, but not vice versa? Muslims have to tolerate women dressing provocatively, but atheists can object to women wearing a full veil?
Atheist Henry Porter wrote in the Observer this weekend:
The [Belgians’] ingenious idea of banning the veil on the grounds that it addresses both equality and security is a sly hypocrisy, for the truth is that the instinct to legislate in this area and to police Christians’ objections to homosexuals belong on the same spectrum of intolerance as the one that authorises the stoning of women for adultery and the execution of gay men.
He later adds:
These issues would not be so fraught if we understood that it is to be expected that two rights occasionally clash and that our job is to make sure that neither one wins completely. The rights of gay people to receive counselling and to be treated equally under the law are now thankfully assured, but they should not always trump the rights of Christians to decline and demur because of their beliefs.
Because of course ‘tolerance’ is really to do with ‘rights’ – it’s not just that I ought to tolerate your lifestyle, but that you have a right to live however you choose, and I have no right to object (particularly if I have some kind of religious belief).
Tolerance sounds so great, but as I once heard Michael Ramsden say, even if it worked as it sounds like it should, no one actually wants to be tolerated. Would you like to discover that all these years I had only been tolerating your presence? The word itself suggests an antagonism. It speaks of irreconcilable differences, and ‘elephants in the room’ about which we mutually agree not to speak.
I don’t want to be tolerated. I want to be understood, accepted and loved. I don’t want to tolerate the homeless people living in my neighbourhood, I want to love them. I don’t want to tolerate colleagues with whom I disagree, I want to understand them, communicate with them, and love them.
Tolerance is what we ask for when we think we can’t get the harder, but greater, gift of love. We as Christians need to work hard to demonstrate sacrificial, Godly, tireless love, and help the world to see that it is possible, and that it is the only way of functioning together amid diversity.