There’s much talk today of the evils of intolerance. It’s the one thing our increasingly post-modern culture agrees is morally wrong. I think they are wrong, which I suppose makes me intolerant of their tolerance.
“Tolerance” means “the capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs of others.” (The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Ed.) “Respect” means “[t]o feel or show deferential regard for; esteem.” Id. So, to be intolerant means to fail to esteem the beliefs of others.
If I affirm some things, I am necessarily rejecting–or being intolerant–of other things. For example, for me to say my iMac mouse is white is to also say it is not black. To esteem the belief that the mouse is black when I know it is white is insanity. Likewise, for me, as a Christian, to esteem a religion that asserts there are many ways to God, or a way other than Jesus, when Jesus said no one comes to God except through Him, is to cut off the branch upon which I sit. Intolerance then is not evil but a logical necessity.
Intolerance is amoral. It is its object that determines in any given situation whether intolerance is good or evil. If I’m intolerant to injustice committed against the poor, my intolerance is good; if I’m intolerant of righteous acts my intolerance is bad.
There is something else wrong with the clarion call to tolerance. Tolerance is utterly impotent to inspire men to great acts. Who has ever laid down his life for tolerance? It is intolerance we have to thank for many of our heroes; it is the fuel of bravery. It was intolerance for Nazi fascism that inspired Americans to volunteer and risk their lives in World War II. It was intolerance for racism and injustice that inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. into the streets to mobilize the peaceful protests that would transform a nation. Tolerance compels no such action.
That is why tolerance will never abide as a virtue. It’s a chimera of a humanistic culture, unable to inspire men to greatness and so devoid of content as to make it useless as a virtue. The answer to bigotry is not tolerance but righteousness, or put another way, intolerance for bigotry.
So, next time someone accuses you of being intolerant just consider it an affirmation of your sanity. GS