Our politically correct culture has spawned a number of myths and misconstrued ideas. Perhaps the most insidious of these is the notion of “tolerance”. Now, it’s not that tolerance is a bad or false idea or that it shouldn’t be practiced. Rather, it’s the modern understanding of tolerance that causes the problem. Contemporary society’s version of tolerance understands tolerance as “neutrality”. Under this view, the tolerant person occupies neutral ground — complete impartiality where each person is permitted to decide for himself — with no judgments allowed and no “forcing” of personal views. Each takes a neutral posture towards another’s convictions. Carried further, we are expected to treat all views and beliefs as if they are equally valid. Anyone who either expresses disagreement or attempts to point out the errors in another’s beliefs is quickly labeled “intolerant. But this modern view, besides being irrational, is a distortion of the proper definition of “tolerance”.
As Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith explain in their book Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, according to the definition found in Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, “tolerance” means: to allow or to permit, to recognize and respect other’s beliefs and practices without sharing them, to bear or put up with someone or something not necessarily liked.
As we see then, tolerance means putting up with or permitting a conduct or a point of view that you think is wrong and also respecting the person in the process. Tolerance does not mean “being accepting of all views” or acknowledging that all views are equally correct or morally right. By definition, we can only tolerate others who we disagree with. We cannot tolerate those who share our same views. Disagreement is a critical aspect of tolerance and has been lost in the contemporary misunderstanding of the concept.
In the present social climate, if you merely think someone is wrong you’re labeled intolerant. Yet, by definition, one cannot be tolerant unless they believe another is wrong. But, according to politically correct society, believing someone is wrong makes one intolerant. The whole concept as currently practiced in contemporary society is nothing but nonsense.
To get out from under this irrationality we must understand that the true definition of toleration can be equated with “respect”. We respect people who have different beliefs and opinions than ours and we treat them politely and allow their views to be heard, but there is nothing wrong or intolerant about strongly disagreeing with them or debating their ideas in the public arena. We can interact with and respect people or groups who, on rational grounds, we disagree with. In fact, this belief that two or more opposing views cannot all be right is the catalyst to engage in meaningful discussion. It is through meaningful discussion that different views and beliefs can be aired. This rational exchange is what challenges all of us to examine our beliefs and determine which ideas and beliefs are correct. Human knowledge and understanding is advanced by healthy debate and exchange of competing ideas. There is certainly nothing intolerant about two people holding opposing views or beliefs.
Unfortunately the distorted view of the concept of tolerance held by many in today’s society is not tolerance at all, but rather a form of censorship. In order to silence opposing viewpoints and avoid intellectual discussion, many individuals and groups try to stifle those with opposing beliefs by hurling insults and labeling them as hate-filled, bigoted, racist, narrow-minded, and intolerant. Ironically, those who clamor for tolerance and employ this tactic of personal attack are themselves the truly intolerant ones. They are not allowing or permitting other beliefs. They are not bearing or putting up with things they disagree with. And they certainly are not respecting others and their beliefs. Moreover it’s a sign the person does not have a good, rational, and well-thought argument for their own position or view and/or is not capable of intellectually defending their position or view.
Here’s an easy way to expose the hypocrisy and irrationality of the modern day purveyor of tolerance: When they label you intolerant, personally attack you with name calling, and attempt to silence your view, simply ask, “If it’s intolerant and somehow morally wrong to disagree with someone else’s view or to think another’s view is wrong, then why are you disagreeing with my view and telling me my belief is wrong?”