Tuesday, November 27, 2007

True Tolerance

Tolerance is a virtue that we rightly prize. In an intolerant society, all dissent and disagreement would be suppressed and free speech undermined. But I think that there has been a subtle shift in the meaning of tolerance in the last 20 years or so. It used to be the case that tolerance was all about enabling people who disagreed about truth to live in harmony. Mr Jones thought that he was right and Mr Smith was wrong and Mr Smith believed that he was right and Mr Jones was wrong. They had an honest disagreement. But they would not fall out over this. With a little bit of tolerance, they could still remain friends. Nowadays there is a tendency to say that when it comes to religion and morality, there is no such thing as truth - it is just a matter of what is "right for me". In that case the views of both Mr Smith and Mr Jones are equally valid. Tolerance has now become acceptance of the thought that it is virtually impossible to know what is right and wrong. We do not like exclusive claims to truth and while we may rightly tolerate people of all faiths and none, we will not tolerate anyone who says that theirs is the true faith. Not too long ago, Prince Charles said that he wanted to be called Defender of Faith rather than Defender of the Faith when he becomes king. Sounds very tolerant, doesn’t it? But all faiths have competing truth claims. They cannot all be right.

The modern (or postmodern) idea is that all religions point to the same mysterious spiritual reality. The choice of one faith over another is not about truth, but personal preference. Anyone who suggests otherwise is sadly dismissed as a dangerous fundamentalist and a menace to society. Such people are not to be tolerated. But surely there is a contradiction here, isn’t there? Are we saying that the only absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth? Hmm.

Tolerance means coping with real differences over what constitutes truth, rather than pretending that all views are equally well-founded. As a Christian I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and appointed him the world’s true Lord and Saviour. This is an exclusive stance. Only Jesus can bring us to God and give us eternal life. But Christianity is compatible with tolerance because we do not believe in imposing our faith upon others. All we have at our disposal is the compelling power of gospel truth. You may disagree with my beliefs and I with yours. But that should not stop us living harmoniously together in society. Now that is true tolerance.
An edited version of Morning Thought from BBC Radio Wiltshire's Breakfast Programme.


Anonymous said...

Excellent....the intolerance of the tolerant!....Don Carson says that the Postmodernist view of tolerance is completely and fallaciously illogical as tolerance assumes value differences. His lectures are available somewhere on MP3 but I can't rememeber where.

This postmodernist tolerance is of course totalatarianism.


Guy Davies said...

What an acute source critic you are, JP. My thoughts owe just a little to the Don on tolerance in The Gagging of God!

Anonymous said...

Wasn't trying to be smart or anything..conicidently I was just listening to him in the car on Tuesday evening! I have never read the book...its so...big! and I don't expect its an easy read...nevertheless would you reccomend I work through it?

The lectures I was listening two were in Section 2 Part 6 from this page

The scarey thing is of course that at least here in the UK we can see this "tolerant totalitarianism" worked out each and every day in our government.


Guy Davies said...

Hi JP,

You are smarter than you think! I haven't listened to the lectures, but is seems like he is saying something similar to what you'll find in Gagging. Yes, it is a big book, but don't let that put you off. It's full of good stuff. Have a go, it won't hurt you (unless you drop it on your foot).