Tolerance has long been a hobby horse of many within the evangelical movement (to make fun of and hate it) and the liberal movement (to advocate it).
Recently my friend and former pastor Peter Baranowsky have been blogging about the book the new tolerance and it seems to me that Peter and possibly the authors of the book hav confused what tolerance means. The main argument seems to be that if you are to tolerate people's different point of views (because there is now ultimate truth according to the post-modern philosophy) you must also accept these views as your own.
My experience is however that this is not what tolerance means or what is the practice of tolerance. The traditional dichotomy is that according to conservatives tolerance is evil and should be avoided as you will be forced to accept unacceptable truths and the liberals argue that tolerance is good because it promotes love and understanding.
I want to argue that tolerance in general only lays the foundation for bigotry, hatred and holier-than-thou attitudes. Tolerance simply isn't good enough to be worth our time and effort.
To tolerate something is simply to allow it to co-exist while still not accepting it. To tolerate someone is to deign to co-exist with them as an act of charity on your part. The language of tolerance is always hierarchal in that condescending top down way. Next time you meet a friend try to “tolerate” their clothing:
Me: I am ok with you wearing that shirt, in fact I actually have several friends that wear shirts like that and I am ok with them. Even if I would never wear a shirt like that, I have no problem with you wearing it.
How would your friend react?
Tolerance is neutral at best and can be pharisaical, bigoted and downright racist, sexist, homophobic etc. at it's worst. Tolerance is aimed at the periphery, on external qualities and behaviours instead of core issues like human value, dignity and sacredness. No, tolerance is simply not good enough by Christian standards.
Jesus commands us to love one another. Love is the standard by wich we must live and co-exist. The funny thing about love is that it does not require us to agree or to accept whatever external, peripheral value or behaviour as our own it only requires us to accept that this person is a living being, created in the image of god with the divine right to exercise their free will as am I, and as do I. Love is graceful, it accepts brokenness as brokenness. You are the person you are right now, just as you are, worthy of love and grace. This does not mean I want to be you or have your brokenness (I am quite busy with my own, thank you). It simply means that I get to live you regardless.
Me: I love you!
Friend: What do you think of my sweater?
Me: I hate it.
So I agree with the conservatives who say that tolerance is evil, not because it forces me to accept opinions I do not agree with, precisely the opposite, because it allows me to pretend to be nice and still judge them.
So I agree with the liberals we need to love our neighbours and grow in understanding when it comes to customs and ideas we are not familiar with but tolerance, I find, is not the way to go as it does not help me to love but rather builds a barrier where I do not need to even try to understand.