Tolerance is our culture's supreme virtue. Whether it is Glee plot lines about homosexual children or battles about the role religion may play in the public square—from Christmas trees to Catholic Charities—the buzzword is "tolerance."
Casual observers might note, however, that tolerance has undergone a change in meaning. What once meant recognizing other people's right to have different beliefs and practices now means accepting the differing views themselves. Vestiges of the old tolerance—conscience protections for medical professionals, religious liberty, and open discussions—are on the way out. Nowadays, conscience protections are frowned upon, threats to religious freedom prompt Congressional hearings, and "glitter bombs" replace meaningful debate.
This shift from accepting the existence of different views to believing that all views are equally valid is "subtle in form, but massive in substance," explains D. A. Carson in his new book, The Intolerance of Tolerance (Eerdmans). And it comes with a huge caveat: Under the "new tolerance," it's a sin not to accept the new definition. Sanctions can and will be imposed.
"What the new tolerance means," Carson writes, "is that the government must be intolerant of those who do not accept the new definition of tolerance." In this vein, tolerance becomes an absolute good with the power to erode moral and religious distinctives. Or, as the United Nations Declaration of Principles on Tolerance puts it, "Tolerance … involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism." Leave it to the U.N. to come up with a dogmatic and absolutist rejection of dogma and absolutism!
Take, for example, the growing phenomenon of campus policies requiring student organizations ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more