By Jeff Olson
English is an interesting and unique language. Not only can one word have more than one meaning, but the meanings can change over time. For instance, words such as joint, mouse, family, and even family values have changed or expanded in their meanings in recent history. Have you ever stopped to think just how and why this has happened? There can be several explanations offered, but essentially it comes down to a change in cultural/societal norms and customs which originate primarily from and survive through the religious/moral foundations and health of a culture.
Another such word which has undergone a transformation is “tolerance.” Webster’s definition of tolerance includes “to recognize and respect [others’ beliefs, practices, etc.] without sharing them” and “to bear or put up with [someone or something not especially liked].” In other words, respecting and protecting the legitimate right of others, even those with whom you disagree and those who are different from you. The Bible teaches this in such verses as Romans 12:16-18 and, in Romans 15:7. As the Bible illustrates, tolerance values and accepts the individual without necessarily approving of or participating in his or her beliefs or behavior. Traditional tolerance differentiates between what a person thinks or does and the person himself/herself. Scripture does not teach that what we do constitutes the whole of what we are (Isaiah 59:2). If it did, then Christ could not have separated our sins from us and thrown them into the sea of his forgetfulness (Micah 7:18-19). Hence, He loved us but hated our sin.
In its gradual transformation within the American lexicon, “tolerance” has taken on a totally different meaning and often under a platitudinous and benign stealth. When you hear “tolerance” used in its “politically correct” context, it may sound like the traditional tolerance but it is vastly different. In the words of author Stanley J. Grenz, in this new tolerance “truth is relative to the community in which a person participates. And since there are many human communities, there are necessarily many different truths.” Another author noted, “….since truth is described by language, and all language is created by humans, all truth is created by humans.” Thus, this new tolerance finds the cornerstone of its foundation in the secularization or death of what I call true truth. With this death, no longer are right and wrong absolute and unchanging nor are they communicated to men and women by God. Men and women, not God, become the final arbiters of truth and morality which are relative and at the discretion of their own subjective and vacillating whims and opinions. To be tolerant requires not only patience and fairness towards opposing views, but an endorsement of them as morally equivalent to all others. In the Scriptures, God revealed to mankind that there are certain absolute truths – truths that are true for all people, in all places, and for all time (Exodus 20:12-17, Leviticus 19:11, Ephesians 4:32, Philippians 2:1-11), and above all; John 14:6. Compromising God’s eternal truths at the altar of tolerance will only undermine the very foundation upon which man’s inherent value, dignity, and rights exist as well as the fundamental core from which all legitimate claims to tolerance begin.
As the late Francis Schaeffer said: if there is no absolute moral standard, then one cannot say in a final sense that anything is right or wrong. By absolute I mean that which always applies to all people at all times – that which provides a final or ultimate standard. There must be absolutes if there are to be morals, and there must be absolutes if there are to be real values. If there are no absolutes beyond man’s ideas, then there is no final appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict. We are merely left with conflicting opinions and man, not God, becomes the final arbiter.” Schaeffer is right. In the end, it is the one(s) who has the loudest voice and the most strength and influence whose “values” will dominate. In other words, might makes right.
This new version of tolerance is fast becoming a norm of our society and it is finding fertile soil in the minds of our young, eroding the foundations of truth on which our faith and morality have been based. F.J. Kinsman stated, “To tolerant everything is to teach nothing,” which leads us to conclude; if there is no truth, then what is there to teach? With this new brand of tolerance, we are seeing not just the death of truth but we are also seeing a decline in virtue, justice, and conviction because these can only exist when there is a universal standard to define them by. “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions,” as G.K. Chesterton put it. The privatization of faith, the tyranny of the individual, and the disintegration of human rights are also victims of this counter-culture war. The great English writer Dorothy Sayers put it this way. “In the world it is called tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.” And, as one American statesman said – the new tolerance is not the opposite of intolerance, but the counterfeit of it.