The Art of Tolerance

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, January 5, 2017 0 comments

by Steve Risner

Last week, we started discussing the Enlightenment and what that era and the “Dark Ages” were really like. (Go here to read that post.) This discussion is based on the following statement from an atheist: “The Enlightenment was a time when people started to question the translated tales and discovered how the natural world actually worked.”

In that blog post, we discussed rationalism and reason and that they are not the same thing. Rationalism is basically an over zealous or hyperactive form of reason. Reason is a tool we can use to discover the world around us, analyze processes that make the world around us work, and understand God. When used appropriately, reason is a powerful tool for us.

Another idea that was birthed out of the Enlightenment was tolerance. This might sound like a good thing on the surface, and it is. Tolerance means we can live together with different ideas and beliefs and be at peace. But “tolerance” is nothing of the sort today. To me, it seems like tolerance has defied our first staple of the Enlightenment—reason. We have decided as a society that anything goes; you must be tolerant of everyone's ideas and views. This is nonsense and has made a mockery of Western society. Tolerance doesn't mean anything goes, and it certainly doesn't mean that all worldviews or belief systems are equal.

As a side note: it's because of the Christian foundation of our nation that we have written tolerance into our Constitution in the Bill of Rights. You would be hard pressed to find other faiths that are as accepting or as tolerant as Christianity. You may think this is crazy talk—that Christians are well known to be hateful, intolerant people. Even Voltaire, who is credited with the movement of tolerance, said, “Of all religions, the Christian is without doubt the one which should inspire tolerance most, although up to now the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men.” We, as Christians, are human and we get it wrong sometimes. We also get a great deal of credit when we do it wrong. But this isn't an accurate representation of Jesus Christ.

We need to be clear that Jesus was accepting to those who were deemed “sinners” by society if they were humble and repentant. He was very intolerant of the self-righteous and prideful. You can read more about that in Matthew 23. The whole chapter is eye-opening. Tolerance is an act of love. However, correction and even punishment should be an act of love as well. A loving parent disciplines their child (see Hebrews 12:4-11). God is no different, aside from the fact that He is perfect in His discipline and in His responses to us, where as a human parent I know I get it wrong sometimes.

But Jesus demonstrated perfect tolerance. He was perfect—sinless—and had done no wrong, yet He submitted to the intolerant government that would butcher and mutilate His body before killing Him on the cross. He was tolerant. This means Christians can be sure of the truth of the Gospel as Christ was sure of His divinity and authority and be open minded and tolerant. But let's not be so open-minded that our brains fall out, as my pastor is fond of saying. Tolerant obviously doesn't mean you must accept everyone's ideas. It does mean we should give them the right to have those ideas. But we should also be able to discuss ideas and expose ideas that are clearly askew and to reject those ideas. Christ has shown us that God accepts us through the sacrifice of His Son, but will absolutely respect the fact that He has given us the right to choose. If we choose poorly there are consequences, but we are welcome to make that choice. Strangely, people will often scoff at God for giving us a choice and that He then respects the choice we make by giving us what we've asked for.

Notice that “tolerance” in America means you must accept whatever nonsensical idea comes down the pike unless it's Christian in nature. Today, we have people who are extremely intolerant of others' ideas and beliefs that need “safe spaces” so they can color and get hugs and play with Play-doh. That's not tolerance. We have people forcing their beliefs on others while claiming to be tolerant. That's not tolerance at all. We have people marching and rioting and chanting nonsense, all the while claiming to be the civil and against the intolerant. We have artists demanding public figures return artwork. We have endorsements being withdrawn. We have people crying and taking time off work or class to cope with their intolerance. We may live in the most hypocritical society the world has ever known. You can bash a Christian or a conservative and that's the “moral” thing to do. But if you show them your worldview is Christian in nature in an attempt to expose someone's warped philosophy, you're intolerant, hateful, and a bigot. That's how “tolerance” works in the United States. For the most part, those who cry “Tolerance!” are the least tolerant people around. Take a look at the nation after the election on November 8th, 2016. Compare that to the nation immediately after the election in 2008 or 2012. Who is tolerant?

The art of tolerance is being able to discuss different ideas without being hostile. It means you can show someone why you disagree with them and still be friends. We should be able to have differing ideas and still work together. In fact, I believe there can be great strength in diversity. However, if someone has a belief that is erroneous, we should be free to show them this in love. If they reject your evidence for the insanity of their worldview, that's on them. However, I feel if I know you are wrong about something that is critical, I am obligated to inform you of this. The old analogy works perfectly here: If I walk by your house and see you laying on the couch asleep but notice there is smoke billowing out of the upper windows, should I tell you? You're happy. You're unaware of the problem. Should I be “intolerant” and wake you up to tell you there's a big problem that you will suffer terrible consequences for? Or do I just let the house burn to the ground while you're inside? Of course the only right answer is to take action and help you. Once I inform you, my hands are clean. The course of action you take is up to you.

Again, this all must be done in love and not from an arrogant heart. That's the tricky part sometimes. Many of the discussions that take place concerning issues regarding worldviews get very heated very quickly. People will jump all over you for asking them a question that exposes the contradictions in their beliefs. They get very defensive if you simply want to engage in an intelligent conversation on a topic just because they can see the discussion will not go their way. Can't we be honest about it? Why would someone be offended if you show them they have a big problem with their worldview? It means I care about you if I show you something you're basing your life or your eternity on is not consistent. If I didn't care, I'd let you walk in darkness without saying anything.

What I am not saying here is that we should try to argue people into the Kingdom. That doesn't work. Discussing worldview issues is wonderful. But when a discussion gets into insults or personal attacks, the conversation needs to end. This is hard for me sometimes, especially if the person I'm talking with is making terribly inaccurate statements (much like the statements I've been referencing in this series of blog posts from my high school friend). If someone misrepresents Jesus Christ or His people, it's difficult for me not to say something. I'm getting better at it, but I still have a lot of work to do. Learning to communicate the truth of the Gospel with oversensitive people has been a challenge and their numbers continue to grow. Tolerance has been replaced with hypersensitivity and intolerant bigotry.

The Enlightenment did have some great ideas that, when applied via the Biblical worldview, are wonderful things that Jesus Christ Himself demonstrated perfectly. However, like so many other things, mankind has distorted and twisted those things to be something irrational and just wrong. Let's view the world through the lens of the Bible. It's literally the only way to make sense out of this place.

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