Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Tolerance as Religion

Lavar Christensen has gotten a bit of a beating over a remark he made. "Tolerance is the religion of people who no longer believe in anything."

I don't know Mr. Christensen. I'm only examining the phrase he is reported to have uttered. I think that the phrase, rightly examined, seems perfectly reasonable. I suppose that what everyone is attacking is what they suppose the phrase says rather than what it actually says. (How's that for mind reading?)

Here is what he didn't say:
"Tolerance is dumb."
"Tolerance is for people who don't believe anything."
"People who have beliefs shouldn't be tolerant."

None of those are in the quote.

His point, I believe, was that tolerance becomes the primary virtue for someone without a bedrock set of principles they believe to be undeviatingly correct. (I'm guessing the the part of the quote "no longer believe in anything" is hyperbole, which I find to be an acceptable rhetorical device.)

Imagine a bakery has just been robbed. The owner is filing a report with the police. Now imagine an onlooker who doesn't believe in property rights. Our onlooker sneers at the bakery owner, "You intolerant jerk. You know that nobody would steal from a bakery if they weren't hungry." Because he doesn't value property, tolerance can become his chief virtue--his religion, if you will.

We see this same confusion over the term "choice." I think choice is a wonderful thing. My theology as a Mormon hinges on my free will. Without choice, my life would be meaningless! But I also believe in consequences. If you believe in choice instead of consequences, then you've made choice your "religion" where I have not. Even though choice is fundamental and essential to my religion, it is not the only virtue.

So it is with Tolerance. I believe in it. I advocate it. But I won't be tolerant of the rights of terrorists to blow up buildings. In other words, I believe in other things more than I believe in tolerance. Don't you?

4 comments:

Tyler Farrer said...

That is fantastically perceptive post. I think those that have been critical of Christensen haven't even tried to see the truth in what he said. It's hard to judge from one sentence exactly what was meant, but it is unneccessarily intolerant to not give him the benefit of the doubt, as you have.

Reach Upward said...

I don't have much of a problem with what Christensen said. I have felt that the intolerant response to him has been over the top. I perceived Christensen as speaking out about those that use 'tolerance' as a club to beat others into submission -- if not agreeing with them, at least too afraid to speak out against them. I think the response to Christensen quite aptly demonstrates this.

Darrell said...

You guys would suck up to Christensen no matter what. You guys probably find Ann Coulter refeshing.

Miller was right on money.

Annie said...

This quote sounded so familiar I decided to google it. It appears that it originates with G. K. Chesterton. I like this comment, found on another blog:

"There is precious little tolerance in the doctrine of new tolerance. Acceptance in this realm is unilateral. Liberal ideologies must be unquestionably accepted by those who espouse traditional views, but never the other way around. The new tolerance is one-way tolerance; blatant hypocrisy at its best. Where is tolerance for the unborn? Where is tolerance for religions and organizations that teach that homosexual behavior is wrong and harms individuals who participate? Where is tolerance for the parents who object to their children being ualized by the educational establishment under the guise of education? Where is tolerance for traditional moral values when media seeks to glamorize deviancy rather than decency?

We have become so hypnotized by the incessant mantra of "tolerance" that we are losing sight of our moral compass and are mindlessly embracing anything.

We are drawing ever closer to G. K. Chesterton's claim: "Mere tolerance is the virtue of men who no longer believe in anything."