On resisting the call to tolerance. Please do it!

Tolerance is very much in vogue. But, my hope is that you, and I, are saved from tolerance. I don’t want to be tolerant and, perhaps more importantly, I don’t want to breath in the toxic air of someone else’s tolerance. Yet, in secular Britain, as a person of faith, I suppose that tolerance, in large measure, is the best I can hope for.

If I react against secular tolerance how much more do I recoil from religious, ecclesial or denominational tolerance? Loads and loads is the answer.

But why do I feel so uncomfortable with the highest secular virtue? The answer to this is that tolerance is not a theological virtue. Think St. Paul for a moment: What dis he endorse? Faith, hope and above all love (1 Corinthians 13). In Paul’s scheme faith, hope and love work in combination, with pride of place being given to love.

Faith without love is straightforward belief. It is far easier and less demanding to believe than it is to have faith. Hope without love is simple wishful thinking. The apostle James also knew that faith without love was straightforward and uncomplicated belief, for after all ‘even the demons believe,’ (James 2, 19). James famously remarked that ‘faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead,’ (James 2, 14). Love is the animator or instigator of faith and it’s natural, or should I say supernatural, consequence. John also makes this point repeatedly in his first epistle. 

So it seems that Paul, James and John all knew the power of love and, the calling to love.

So this is the big question: is toleration a manifestation of love? No.

Love celebrates the mystery of creation in believing that all men and women are made in the image of God.

Love reenacts the incarnation through simple acts of kindness, hospitality, charity, friendship and so forth. Love compels us to see the beloved other as a ‘thou’ (Martin Buber).

The true lover understands where they stand in relation to both God and neighbor.

Tolerance, by contrast:

Is offered from a position of power and authority. ‘I am being tolerant because I can, even though I disapprove.’ 

Tolerance, unlike love, can only stretch so far. Because God is love, the elasticity of love is infinite, because tolerance is a secular / political ‘virtue’ it’s elasticity extends to the limit of my / our / your prejudice. 

The natural extension of tolerance is intolerance and the natural extension of love is………well, there isn’t one because love is the defining, ultimate, virtue (the alpha and omega).

Tolerance is frequently a mere facade masking the most dishonest form of intolerance (in some ways acts of hatred are more honest!). This facade is often articulated through one of the most nauseating of all phrases: ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’

Will you join with me in rejecting tolerance?


2 thoughts on “On resisting the call to tolerance. Please do it!

  1. I sometimes think that when someone says they are being tolerant they often mean they are indifferent. It doesn’t matter to them one way or the other because they have no firm conviction or view on the issue they are being “tolerant” about. Being gracious is something different. To me it means holding strong convictions but giving space for disagreement and sometimes speaking truth but always and in the end “letting God be God”.

    • I think that tolerance probably has both a passive and an active stream. Passive = I don’t really care,so can’t be bothered to make an issue of it. Active = I really care and if I wanted to apply sanctions I could. I suspect that active tolerance carries a set of assumptions such as I know the truth, you don’t, I have the upper hand, you don’t. I am being gracious, so you should be grateful. I also worry that in order to be tolerant it is necessary to first articulate difference, how does this work theologically? I suppose my final worry is that tolerance is frequently a ‘virtue’ adopted by those who struggle with ambiguity. Is it easier to establish a ‘truth’, which can be disagreed with, rather than accepting we might be wrong? Tolerance for me is a negative virtue that can be underwritten by law, but not fulfilled because this is the role of love. I suppose my worry is that tolerance assumes I am right, know the truth etc….Just some musings. Thanks Rob for engaging.

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